One of the things we wanted to try on this trip is traveling by ferry. Based on our itinerary, we had a couple good options – either from Iceland to Scotland or somewhere on the Black Sea. We didn’t have any luck on the Northern Atlantic, so the Black Sea it was.
Black Sea Ferry
Our original plan was to make our way from Odessa, Ukraine to Bulgaria or Turkey. However, our host in Saint Petersburg highly recommended visiting Georgia and even a particular family to stay with. After some research, we found a Ukrainian ferry company, UKR Ferry had a route from Ilichivsk (just south of Odessa) to Batumi, Georgia.
While UKR Ferry had a fairly informational website, it was pretty hard to tell what we were getting in to. When searching for ferry services, we ran across a few blog entries that really added some insight. A fellow Chicagoan and world traveler, Katie Going Global, only months earlier had taken the same route we were planning. Also, Derek, a motorcyclist from the UK had a detailed post on his experience purchasing a ticket.
Doing Business in Ukraine
Like conducting most business in eastern europe, purchasing tickets was a bit of a mysterious process.
First of all, we were trying to nail down the dates so we could tell our hosts in Georgia how long we’d be staying. At the time it was mid-June, we were trying to plan early-July, and UKR Ferry didn’t yet have their schedule up for July. After trading a few emails, we were told that the July schedule would be up at the end of June.
We made it to Odessa on June 29th, a Friday, and right around the same time the July schedule was posted. We decided that we should call them to figure out exactly what we needed to do to purchase tickets – something which I have no idea how you’d be able to do without knowing Russian. Even though we used the phone number that was posted on their home page, the man that answered the phone sounded very confused. He told us that he believed the ferry on July 5th to Batumi was sold out, but instructed us to call a different number on Monday. It turns out that it was Constitution Day in Ukraine so most people were out of the office.
Monday rolled around and we tried the number, just as instructed. Yet again, non of our questions are answered but we’re given even more numbers to try. After eight (eight!) phone numbers, we finally find out that we have to go in to the office “first thing tomorrow, before 10 in the morning”.
Getting to the Ticket Office
Since the office was in Illichivsk, about 20km south of Odessa and our hostel wasn’t even close to city center, we got up early. We arranged a cab to take us to the main bus station – cabs are a very cheap and efficient way of getting around Odessa. The cab took around 30 minutes and set us back only 30 UAH, less than 4 bucks. Then were were able to find a marshrutka to Illichivsk and told the driver we were headed to “Borey Business Center”. He wasn’t quite sure where that was but told us he’d let us know when we were in the neighborhood. Again, something I’m not sure you’d be able to pull off without knowing Russian…
About a half an hour in to our hot, sweaty, and smelly bus ride, the driver stopped abruptly and signaled to us that we needed to get off. We paid and got out, only to find a sparsely populated road. The non-descript marshrutka stop:
Thinking back to the helpful blog posts earlier, we were trying to match up their pictures with our surroundings. Nothing seemed to look familiar, so we walked for about 5 minutes to a nearby gas station only to find out we were walking the wrong way – and that the building we were looking for was actually right by the bus stop!
Borey Business Center, walking back toward the bus stop from the gas station (the bus stop is in the wooded area just before the building):
We walked in to the lobby of the building, which, by the way, must be a new office as it was in a different location than what the Derek, the man from the UK, described. The building you’re looking for:
The door man told us that they weren’t open yet – it was about 9:20 – and that they’d open at 9:30. There was a small crowd of people in the lobby and only enough seating for about 4 people. Promptly at 9:30 a bank-teller style window opened across the lobby and the crowd scurried.
The men ahead of us in line, presumably truck drivers were given a hard time by the woman behind the window. We were a bit nervous that we’d have a hard time getting what we wanted from her. I believe this is the “Natasha” that Derek was speaking of in his blog post. It sounds like she knows a little bit of English, but Lena spoke to her in Russian. To call her “helpful” would be a strong word, but she was much nicer to us than the truck drivers.
After stepping away from the window and getting on her computer for a few minutes, she came back with some paperwork for us. She instructed us to go to the next window, a bank, to pay and then come back.
We paid our fare, which came to about 3000 UAH (around $370). That included the private cabin and three meals per day. We then collected our tickets from Natasha and she told us that we’d be boarding in the afternoon of July 4th. We just needed to return to the office and a shuttle would take us to the nearby port.
We were hoping to spend the 4th in Odessa with some Americans and have a cookout… We weren’t planning on spending our evening in the port.
UKR Ferry Traveler Tips
If you’re planning on traveling on UKR Ferry, be flexible and persistent. If all of this sounds more stressful than what you’re up for, I’m sure you can find a travel agent to do it for you.
If you are up for the adventure, then I’d recommend taking a cab directly to Borey Business Center. Even though it was cheaper to take a marshrutka to Ilichivsk, it would have been much less of a hassle to just take a taxi there. Just do a little bit of homework, get familiar with the location on a map, and take the address with you. Call a cab company the night before and schedule your pick up.