Since I am frequently asked about the reasons of Odessa Walks’ expansion into Bulgarian and Romanian coastline, I’ve decided to come clean and share with you my vision behind this move:).
When I launched Odessa Walks in a Ukrainian city and port of Odessa back in 2011, I thought of focusing solely on Odessa (hence the company name) and doing something fun and different than just a standard general observation tour around Odessa’s historic city center. By exploring off the beaten path routes, digging little known exciting facts and stories about the must-see sights, developing food tasting and cultural tours (an excellent way to dive deep into the lifestyle, traditions and cuisine of a destination!) and recruiting guides who are not only experts in their field but have interesting personalities, our team aimed at going beyond the traditional tour routes to bring lifetime experiences to our guests.
Walking thru Odessa\’s historic area with Cunard\’s QE travelers. Food & Culture Tour. September 2013
We succeeded, and as a testament to our success we got strong recommendations from our customers who visited us with a cruise to expand into other Black Sea ports and set up operations in Crimean ports of Yalta and Sevastopol for the next year.
Taking HAL travelers on Food tour for the first time ever. April 2012.
I decided to give it a try. After all, I’ve had prior experience of new market launches, although in a different industry. With Crimea’s fascinating history, appealing to war and history buffs, cultural diversity and scenic landscape (both in the hillside and along the coast) it was a breeze to develop exciting tours, catered to any tastes. The biggest challenge was to find guides, who wouldn’t be telling plain facts about Crimean war and Florence Nightingale or the “Big Three” meet in Yalta. We needed guides who could liven up the hills of Sevastopol while telling about the Charge of the Light brigade; make you feel like you are walking in the footsteps of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin as you stroll through the halls of the Livadia palace; teach you how to sing local songs and walk up the hills to the cave towns while talking about the ancient cultures. I was very lucky to meet exceptional guides who shared our approach and were excited to join our team. We launched into Crimea in spring 2013. In summer the same year, the Oceania Riviera called at Odessa after her visit to Crimea. As I was standing on the pier waiting for our tour groups I was approached by the three couples from this cruise, who have taken our shore excursions in Sevastopol and Yalta. They thanked me for the great service and said they were really very happy to have chosen us in Crimea and excited to meet our team in Odessa. It was one of these moments when you feel that you are doing the right thing and your work is rewarded.
Feeling inspired and having nailed down expansion tactics, I thought that the company was ready to make a step forward and expand into the Black Sea ports of Romania and Bulgaria for the 2014. Not that things were getting too easy and I needed a new challenge. I had a clear idea in mind how we could bring more value to our customers and make their Black Sea cruise a really fun and memorable experience.
Many of our guests are adventurous eaters and enjoy combining food and travel. Our Odessa Food and Culture tour has been a huge success, so I wanted to provide our customers with a chance to taste their way through the Black Sea coast and try delicious Romanian and Bulgarian foods besides discovering culture and history. For those travelers who are keen on learning Jewish history of Odessa and Eastern Europe I was looking to develop Jewish history tours of each destination, which would tell the local story of Jewish community and put it in context of other places visited during the Black Sea cruise.
Delicious home made feta cheese (“brynza”). A specialty along the Black Sea coast.
Odessa\’s specialty- Napoleon cake.
Time spent in each destination provided me with insider’s knowledge and helped understand interesting connections between each port. While looking at the ancient map of the Black Sea coast in Constanta’s History museum, it became clear to me that as the colonies, set up by the ancient Greeks along the Black Sea had cultural and trade ties with one another centuries ago, today, the Black sea ports have many fascinating connections. And pointing out to them provides curious-minded travelers with a deeper experience.
For instance, while doing the Jewish Odessa tour and talking about Romanian occupation of Odessa during World War ll we mention a destroyed Jewish cemetery. And while doing the Jewish tour in Bucharest our guides show you the remains of the Jewish tombstones, which were brought by Romanians from this cemetery in Odessa. Thus, connecting the two pieces of the story. The key thing here – the guides need to be one team, which know the tours’ contents and customer experiences in each port. And here comes the value of a shore tour provider, who has its own team on the ground in multiple ports.
On a private Jewish Odessa tour with Aegean Odyssey travelers. August 2013.
The events, which happened in Ukraine and Crimea in 2014 delayed our plans for a year. Nevertheless, last December was spent touring Romanian and Bulgarian coast researching the area and meeting with potential partners and guides.
As with Crimea, the main challenge in Romania and Bulgaria was to find the right people (I guess, all businesses share the human resources problem). Yet again, I was lucky (or perhaps, they are right to say that your strongest wishes come true :).
Once we had the team in place, we commenced on developing shore tours. After hours of walking around Constanta’s Old Town it became clear that the area needed to be “spiced up”. Food is delicious there and deeply rooted into local history and traditions, the amazing Romania’s cultural diversity affected local cuisine and it’s a real adventure to taste your way through it, the place boasts some nice restaurants and local eateries. You can’t expect a better set up for a foodie tour!
The same goes for a Bulgarian port of Nessebar: it’s a lovely island and a UNESCO Heritage sight. The place boasts amazing Middle Age churches and cute traditional houses. But what if you want to explore beyond ancient architecture and history? With people living in Nessebar year around, the place is more than a World Heritage sight. It lets you sneak a peek into local life of a small coastline town without leaving the island. And to get a true flavor of the destination you have to … taste it. For some people it means going to a highly recommended restaurant; for others – stopping at food stalls to sample local street eats. Many prefer to get professional help to find an authentic nosh and rely on food tasting tours. What I see as an additional benefit of a foodie tour is a chance to sit down during the food tasting stops and converse about local life and how it evolves over time, about local eating habits and recipes. It’s particularly fun and interesting to do in such culturally and history rich places as Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. While tasting a herring pate in Odessa, you talk about local Jewish culture, and while trying a traditional Transylvania meat pie in Constanta, you discuss cultural diversity of Romania. Fun and relaxed way to explore!
So, we pioneered Food and Culture tours in the ports of Constanta and Nessebar. Together with our Odessa tour for History, Culture and Food Lovers, they provide travelers with an excellent and fun way to explore and compare the flavors of the Black Sea ports of Odessa, Constanta and Nessebar.
Next were the Jewish heritage tours. Drawing from our Jewish Odessa tour experience, together with the local guides we developed the Jewish Tour of Bucharest, which can be organized from Constanta, and Constanta City Walk with a Jewish Story.
And of course, general observation tours in Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine, which let our travelers explore a little bit of everything in each destination: historic sights, local culture, food and wine.
Odessa Walks team now.
So, with a month left before the first cruise calls at the Black sea ports, we are all set and excited to welcome you in Odessa, Constanta, Bucharest, Varna and Nessebar. And ready to go beyond traditional routes to provide you with lifetime experiences and fulfill our ideas. Aah, and we decided to keep the company name – Odessa Walks :). It’s become known and has brought us luck!
Safe cruising and see you soon!