Last night I dreamed of a journey to the future and of finding myself in the summer of 2030 in Odesa, in the middle of the Universal EXPO. Seven years earlier Ukraine had miraculously won the competition to host the international event, and today I see a completely transformed city. Odesa is literally overrun by tourists. They have filled hotels and restaurants since April and will continue until October. About half a million visitors a week, half Ukrainians and half from all over the world, who come to see the Pearl of the Black Sea, the maritime capital of Ukraine. But, above all, to visit the country famous for the courage of its soldiers, who repulsed the second largest army in the world and defeated a country 28 times its size.
Around me there is an explosion of social life, with cultural events organized by the 150 foreign countries that have built a pavilion on the exhibition site and brought their music, dances and national products. An amazing experience for a city accustomed to a high season of only three months, with no international events taking place in either spring or autumn.
Now, however, there are not enough hotels in the city for this flood of tourists, nor spaces for cultural events. Many private individuals have offered their apartments for rent, while old buildings, headquarters of 19th-century banks, abandoned for decades, have been renovated and furnished to host events. Despite this, many tourists had to book throughout the region, even in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, and nearby Mykolaiv. In this city famous for its shipyards, Danish companies have built a new international airport. The connections between these cities are incomparable to those before the war. The high-speed train has been in operation since just a year, linking Odesa to Chisinau (90 minutes), Mykolaiv (20 minutes) and Kyiv (150 minutes). This is why many international tourists, who come for the Expo, also go to the Ukrainian capital.
The site chosen for the Expo is in an ideal position, easily accessible from the historic center. You can get there in a few minutes by taxi or tram. It was called the “irrigation fields” and there was a legend that it had been filled with the skeletons of people killed in the mafia gang war of the 1990s. But when the land was cleared only a few animal bones were found. After the Expo, the site will be used for hosting trade fairs, including the first Ukrainian gastronomy fair, to promote Ukraine’s products for export.
The most amazing thing is that you can already figure out what legacy EXPO will leave, in addition to having extended the tourist season from three to six months. Many foreign countries have put Odesa on the map of their cultural and trade relations. In fact, if before there were just 30 foreign consulates, today they have already risen to 60, to guard the gateway of Ukrainian exports with their diplomatic network.
But Expo has also revitalized some historical jewels of the city, such as the Kuyalnik spa, located in the estuary of the lagoon near the city, which was in a state of semi-abandoned. The resort frequented by kings and queens at the beginning of 20th century for taking mud baths was taken over by a French group, which renovated it in time to attract some visitors to the new beauty farm. In addition, a Spanish group has built the first marina in Odesa, with services for sailing ships and yachts, and a club with restaurant. It was an unforgivable shortcoming for a seaside city.
Finally, the famous Potemkin staircase, which until recently had sadly ended up against the metal fence of a traffic artery, is now connected to the cruise dock with a pedestrian bridge designed by a studio famous British architects. Thanks to this passage, people go on foot to visit the new museum of the sea, with an augmented reality section, dedicated to the film “Battleship Potemkin,” and a restaurant with a panoramic view. A flagship of the city, it was built in place of the horrible post-Soviet “Hotel Odessa,” which was torn down after years of neglect.
While in my dreams I was making this pleasant journey into the future, I was awakened by the smell of coffee fresh out of my Italian coffee maker, coming from the kitchen of my house in Odesa. I opened my eyes and immediately recalled the exclusion of my city from the tender for Expo.
The only consolation for me is the fact getting this far in the competition was already a difficult undertaking, and an accomplishment. Ukraine needed the vote of many African, South American and Asian countries – a good deal of them still without a Ukrainian ambassador. What’s more, in many of these countries the diplomatic influence of the Russian Federation is strong, which certainly would not have favoured a vote for Odesa. Too bad, it was just a beautiful dream.
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