My summer trip to Ukraine – Part 3: Zatoka and Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi

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It was time for the main part of my Ukraine Trip: Beach holidays at the Black Sea in Zatoka, 60 km (37 miles) southwest of Odessa. Read my experiences and recommendations.

 

Black Sea, here I come!

As I travel in Ukraine by train, I find myself at the train station of Vinnytsia on a warm summer noon, waiting for the flagship train of Ukrainian Railways to arrive: the Hyundai Rotem train which had been bought in preparation for the European Soccer Championship 2012 and is offered as IC+ train category. And it almost felt like a normal modern Western European train (if you ignore the bigger width of the wagon which allows for a 3+2 seat configuration), just with free and fairly good Wi-fi on board (do you listen, Deutsche Bahn?). Granted, you couldn’t recline the seats and there were no plugs to recharge your device which is on heavy duty utilizing the Wi-fi connection. But overall it was a nice experience. The train also has a bar where you can buy some hot and cold snacks and drinks such as hot dogs and sandwiches, Belgian and Ukrainian beer, soft drinks, water, coffee and tea. After about 4 hours I arrived in Odessa where I changed to the Elektritschka to Zatoka, also known under the name Bugaz.

Odessa Main Train Station. Elektritschka to the left, IC+ train to the right.

Odessa Main Train Station. Elektritschka to the left, IC+ train to the right.

The Elektritschka is a suburban train common in all former Soviet Union countries. It is slow and can be dirty. But it is also very cheap. The ticket from Odessa to Zatoka only costs 14 UAH and as I took a train in the middle of the day when there is low commuter traffic, it was also very spacious. The alternative would have been the Marschrutka, which runs much more frequently, but is more expensive and often very crowded. After sneaking two hours through urban and rural landscape which could be a scene from Fallout 4, I arrived at my destination.

Inside the Elektritschka. This one is actually in a good condition.

Inside the Elektritschka. This one is actually in a good condition.

 

Impressions of Zatoka

If you expect high culture and grand old buildings which are relicts from grand old times then you have set your expectations wrong. It is a beach holiday resort. Leave your brain at home and get burnt in the sand and the sun! That is the main purpose here. Also leave your English skills at home. Almost nobody in Zatoka speaks English. The only international tourists I saw were from Belarus and Moldova.

Fresh melons of all types were sold at the street.

Fresh melons of all types were sold at the street.

Massage parlor at the beach.

Massage parlor at the beach.

The beach is nice and gets better and less crowded the further south you are from the town center. It is a sand beach with absolutely no rocks, not even in the shallow water. In the more crowded areas you also find many of the typical beach activities such as waterslides, jetski-rides, massage parlors and vendors walking along the beach offering various snacks. Dried fish of all kinds is apparently very popular here, although I have seen no one eating it. When the weather is nice and sunny it gets about 30°C (86°F) and there is a fresh breeze gently caressing your skin. The water is also warm and free of any dangerous animals or undercurrents. This surely helps to make Zatoka popular among families, but this beach resort also offers nightlife options for the party crowd. Just don’t expect any sophisticated entertainment. Remember, you should leave your brain at home or at least switch it off when in beach resorts like this. And how to do this: Rent a hookah and sit down at the beach at night.

One of the beach clubs during the day.

One of the beach clubs during the day.

Sign of another beach club at night.

Sign of another beach club at night.

The center of Zatoka was also a fun fair day and night.

The center of Zatoka was also a fun fair day and night.

Talking about nightlife: On one of my strolls along the beach I found a fenced off area at the beach. It turned out to be the festival ground for the Anotherland Festival, a 3-week long event which offers its participants Yoga and Fitness courses during the day and crazy Goatrance and Techno parties during the night. Probably kind of a Mini-Kazantip. I wish I would have known about that before. Then I would have planned my whole holidays around it.

The beach section where the Anotherland festival took place.

The beach section where the Anotherland festival took place.

Simple holiday homes next to the festival area.

Simple holiday homes next to the festival area.

 

Daytrip to Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi

The weather forecast for the third day of my stay was not good for a day at the beach, so it was perfect time for a daytrip to nearby Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, the administrative center of the region. In fact, half a day is enough. You can either take the Marschrutka or the Elektritschka. A trip with the latter one costs 7,50 UAH and takes half an hour.

Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi is popular among vacationers for its big fortress from Ottoman times. This is also the place where you will spend the most time as the rest of the town doesn’t have that much to offer: one, two nice churches and a Scythian tomb which you can’t reach however as it is located within the port area which is not accessible by the public. What you will also notice is the huge amount of straydogs. One could get the impressions that more dogs than people are living here. But don’t worry: none of the stray dogs I encountered showed any sign of aggression. I could even just outright adopt some of them if my brain (which I just can’t leave behind) or the expected bureaucracy wouldn’t be in the way.

Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi is also surely good for doing all the necessary grocery shopping for your stay at the beach as the prices here are naturally lower than in the holiday resorts.

Akkerman fortress in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi

Akkerman fortress in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi

Stray dog in the fortress.

Stray dog in the fortress.

Stray dog in the train station.

Stray dog in the train station.

 

My hotel in Zatoka

Did I mention already that hardly anyone I met was able to speak English? This was also the case with my hotel – the Hotel Novyi. But language was not the only problem at the beginning. When I arrived in Zatoka I was sure to have a hotel bed as I arrived well within the deadline I agreed with the hotel before (8pm on arrival day). But when I finally got there the old lady I encountered told me that they are fully booked. Only after she found out via which booking portal I had reserved she remembered my booking. Finally I could be relieved because until this point during my whole holiday I was not sure about my hotel reservation in Zatoka. She introduced me to their facilities – with some random English words mixed into her Russian. I could pay later when her daughter who is the actual manager would be back. My room was simple but nice and clean. It had all the essentials I needed: comfortable double bed, air condition, fridge/freezer, clean bathroom and a TV – which is not essential for me, especially when the only TV channels I could watch would be in languages I don’t understand. I also had a balcony with a sea view. The beach was just 100-200 meters (328-656 feet) away. It was also possible to go onto the roof for a 360° panorama view of the whole area.

My hotel room in Zatoka.

My hotel room in Zatoka.

Meals were not included in the booking, but the family which owned the hotel apparently also owned the whole food market just in front of the hotel where they had a bar with some simple and very cheap dishes.

Despite the language issue I managed to get what I wanted and that was to be left alone, among other things. Because on the first day the manager introduced me to her 8 year old son and proposed I could teach him a bit of English. I couldn’t deny it, because my Russian skills would be only good enough to answer with an undiplomatic “No”. Not a good start when you just checked into a place with a slightly different understanding of professionalism. So I was stuck for a while with her son. Although he was a bit shy at the beginning he could speak English a bit as he already learns it at school. However I was also happy when he gradually lost interest in conversation and left me alone. I am not a babysitter after all!

 

Where to stay in Zatoka

If you don’t mind to be considered almost part of the family Hotel Novyi might be a viable choice for your stay, otherwise look out for my other following hotel recommendations. This is not an easy town if you don’t speak any Russian. Therefore at least the staff of your accommodation should speak English. I sifted through the hotel listings on various booking portals to identify hotels with English speaking staff for you:

Ruta Hotel: This is a big 3-star hotel complex with own amenities and services at the beach. From outside it looked solid. Even though their professionally designed website is only in Russian, the staff supposedly speaks English.

Nocturne MiniHotel: It looks like a family-run hotel, but is close to the beach and a short walk from the nightlife scene of Zatoka.

 

Useful info

– Learn some Russian words which enable you to order food and services!

– Basically everything in Zatoka is paid in cash, from paying the meals to paying for your accomodation. However I only discovered 4 ATMs in the town. So better bring enough cash with you

– When booking hotels online, always call the hotel (or ask someone to call them for you) to get your reservation confirmed and to agree on another payment method as many hotels in Ukraine want to have a pre-payment via bank transfer and usually don’t state the international bank account number in their payment instructions (and from my experience don’t answer your questions via E-mail).

– If you stay longer in the region and want to save some money by making your dishes yourself instead of going to restaurants every day, do your grocery shopping outside the holiday resorts, for example in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi.

 

My expenditures in Zatoka and Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi

I forgot my brain and can’t count it all together now. It was the most expensive part of my trip, but that was what I expected anyway.

 

More about my trip to Ukraine

Read my posts about the other legs of my trip.

Prolog: Przemyśl, Poland

Part 1: Lviv

Part 2: Vinnytsia

Also follow me on Twitter!

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