Editor's Note: Due to ongoing issues in the Crimean peninsula, stops in Odessa have been halted by most cruise lines.
Odessa is a beguiling and beautiful city that possesses a distinctive character. In contrast to other cities in the former Soviet Union, the "Pearl of the Black Sea" features a warm Mediterranean climate and cafe society feel, enhanced by the annual average of 300 days of sunshine.
The third-largest city in Ukraine, it was founded in 1794 by Catherine the Great, who decreed that a sea port should fortify the southern edge of the Russian Empire and resemble a St. Petersburg of the south. The result is a city of pastel-colored buildings steeped in French and Italian style and punctuated with grand boulevards, statues and fountains.
Odessa was once one of Russia's largest and wealthiest cities. Now, many of the buildings are shrouded in faded elegance. A huge amount of restoration work has been completed or is under way to restore crumbling facades to their original grandeur, most notably illustrated in the jaw-droppingly beautiful Odessa Opera and Ballet House.
Life in Odessa is encapsulated on Primorsky Boulevard. Elderly babushkas dressed in black with knotted headscarves sit on benches; local girls in vertiginous heels gracefully walk past tourists trudging along in trainers; skateboarders show off their skills; and talented musicians and singers display Odessa's musical heritage with the help of the stringed bandura, Ukraine's national instrument. The shady tree-lined boulevard, less than one-third of a mile long, has a friendly and inclusive vibe; whatever time of day you visit, there will be something going on.