Babushkas in Bikinis

Posted by on Aug 23, 2013 in Featured, Ukraine | 9 comments

ba-bush-ka: noun: an old woman or grandmother or a headscarf tied under the chin typical of Polish or Russian women.

bi-ki-ni: noun: a very brief two piece bathing suit for women

While most people would not think of these two things as going together, in Odessa, Ukraine, they seem to be the norm.

Mike and I were floored and entertained by the beach culture in Odessa.  I have never seen so much flesh and so little clothing in one place before!  Maybe it was because I was coming from Asia and Africa where I couldn’t even wear a shirt that revealed my shoulders and women swim in their full-on clothes, but I was shocked (and refreshed) by the no holds barred attitude of the Ukranians at the beach.  Both young and old seemed to enjoy sun worshipping in teeny tiny suits. Gone were the body hang ups that we experience so frequently in the states.  There was no shame in displaying your physique on the Ukranian beaches and I loved every second of it. It was as if the motto of Odessa was “if you’ve got it, flaunt it”. But let me start at the beginning…

Lanzheron Beach

After spending a few introductory days in the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev, Mike and I took an overnight train to the bustling beach town of Odessa. Situated on the Black Sea an 8 hour train ride south of Kiev, it is here that I really felt like I was in Eastern Europe. We shared a sleeper cabin on the overnight train with a Ukrainian couple: Nikita and Valerie.  Nikita spoke decent English and we enjoyed asking him about Ukraine and for suggestions on things to do in Odessa.  He explained to us that Odessa has a charming downtown area and an interesting beach scene.  He strongly recommended that we pay a small fee at a beach club to enjoy the sea (complete with a beach chair, towel, waiter, etc) rather than cram onto a public (and less hygienic) beach with the masses.  Nikita and Valerie took such a liking to us that they even invited us to join them the next day.  And, because our train was arriving early and we would not be able to check into our hotel, Nikita suggested we accompany them to their rented beach house to relax before heading out. At first, I will admit that I was convinced that we were going to get “Taken” (a la Liam Neeson style….that happens all the time in Eastern Europe right?!).  But, we later learned that this is typical of Ukranian hospitality.  Once a Ukranian person takes a liking to you, they go over the top to make you feel welcomed.

Lanzheron Beach

Lanzheron Beach Odessa

Upon arriving to Odessa, we declined using Nikita’s beach house (I still thought I would get taken) but agreed to meet them at the beach club later that day. Mike and I had decided to split our time in Odessa equally between the old town, a private beach club, and a public beach in order to get an accurate sense of the city.  After checking into our hotel, we took a cab toward Arcadia Beach, the most popular beach and nightclub area of Odessa.  We pulled up to Club Itaka and were greeted by a chain smoking Nikita. Mike was pleasantly surprised that Nikita was also wearing board shorts for a bathing suit despite the masses of Speedos in our vicinity. Nikita led us to two poolside chairs that he had reserved for us and Mike and I started to settle in.  A few minutes later, I glanced over at Nikita and realized that he had removed his board shorts as they were only actually a cover up for his short, tight suit!!   

Club Itaka was situated right on Arcadia Beach but only had a small strip of sand that was covered with beach chairs.  It felt like we were at a slightly cheesy hotel pool but it seemed to be where all the “beautiful people” congregated…sipping cocktails, relaxing in the shade of oversized white umbrellas, and generally having a fabulous time. The women of Ukraine are knock-outs (the men are disproportionally unattractive for the record) and I spent the better part of my day watching the svelte, unsmiling beauties strut around the pool while lounging in my own recliner listening to the techno music being played on repeat.  And, even though the thong bikinis and “banana hammocks” made me blush, I got the feeling that Mike and I were the ones who stood out.  Just as we Americans might snicker at the lone dude sporting a Speedo at the beach in the U.S., the Ukranians seemed to notice Mike’s baggy board shorts and my full coverage bathing suit bottoms.  It was strange and hilarious to feel so conservative and out of place.  I even caught Mike slightly pulling up his trunks (exposing his white thighs that have never seen the sun) to fit in.  

Yet even as I started to relax and go with the Euro vibe, I was thrown yet again.  All of a sudden around 4:00 pm, a bachelorette party took a turn for the crazy as a male stripper performed a revealing poolside striptease for a bride-to-be.  My jaw literally hit the ground.  What!?  How is this acceptable?! After our inadvertent Ukranian Chippendale show, Mike and I decided to head back to our hotel and explore downtown for dinner.

We were actually impressed by the old town…dozens of enticing bars and restaurants, leafy parks, and an eclectic mix of people enjoying a summer night in Odessa.  Almost every street was tree lined giving it a Western Europe feel.  We especially enjoyed Deribasovskaya street, a pedestrian only walkway lined with eateries and shops.  We chose to have a late dinner at an outdoor patio and relax with a few beers before trying our hand at a public beach (that Mike had discovered while on a run) the next day.

Just when I thought that I couldn’t be more out of my element, I strolled up to Lanzheron beach.  The beach was literally packed with people sunbathing in, you guessed it, the most revealing attire I have ever laid eyes on.  There were so many people, that some were even relaxing on the concrete park areas surrounding the sand.  These sunbathers cooled down in the nearby fountains instead of the sea.  Mike and I could do nothing but enjoy the spectacle and join in on some of the fun.  We people watched, snapped photos, and even cooled off in the fountain (yikes).

Clearly, the beach and pool culture in Odessa was not exactly Mike and I’s scene.  We were overdressed and out of place but still enjoyed being a part of the typical Eastern European day at the beach.  It was fascinating and entertaining to witness the Ukranians in skimpy suits crammed into a small space trying to enjoy the Black Sea.  While Odessa has other merits (like the Old Town area), I will forever remember the babushkas in bikinis.

Babushka in a bikini

Babushka in a bikini


  1. Hahaha… I hope you had time to catch the night scene on the Arkadia strip of clubs. Its a paradise for couples and singles alike. Cheap alcohol and loud music with hordes of ‘fit’ girls trying to lure young foreigners; especially in Itaka and Ibiza.

  2. “The Hammock” made even the urologist blush. Love the blog. happy B-day Mike. Dad

  3. Hilarious post Kat. Loved the thought of mike pulling up his bathing suit and you blushing at too much exposed skin!

  4. Glad to hear Mikey finally got some color on those man thighs!! Hilarious post!

  5. Looooove this post! Happiest of Birthday Mike! Hope it was a great time! Keep it up!

  6. Happy Birthday, Mike
    The Big 3-0
    Colleen & Bob

  7. Hilarious :)) Always so interesting to read what others have to say about familiar places :))

  8. Loved reading this blog! Laughed out loud…..

  9. Love it! Cutest post title yet and so enojyed your descriptions, Kat. Live on and let it hang out!

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