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Holidays at the Azov Sea coast in Berdyansk can be fun and enjoyable, if a bit surreal…

The answer to the question “Where to go in Ukraine during the summer?” has already become stereotypical: “To the seaside of course!” I won’t even try to be original and suggest that you  go to a Carpathian village or something of the kind. Instead, I suggest you go to the sea because summer is really time for sun-tanning and swimming. However, I don’t suggest you visit any of the well-known Black Sea resorts either. Such cities as Alushta, Yalta or Alupka are too popular among tourists and therefore have crowded beaches and high prices. There, you won’t even see the mountains because of the kiosks that sell cheap jewellery, souvenirs, swimming suits, shashlyk and shaurma all over the place. Admiring the sunset will also be a problem since the crowds of beach-goers seem to occupy every patch of sand on the beach 24 hours a day. 

If you still crave for a combination of leisure and partying but at the same time wish to try something new I have something in store for you. Consider visiting the Azov Sea. Some argue that you won’t find anything there but the wind blowing sand over bare fields. It’s true, there are no mountains or pines, but the place isn’t as desolated as it’s depicted. In any case, I ventured to the Azov coast to find out for myself. 

Berdyansk, a large city on the Azov seaside, has been growing in popularity over the last few years. My friends and I had got a car-ride from Kyiv to Berdyansk which took a gruelling twelve hours. But, the time quickly passed as we listened to rock music almost the entire time, blasting music when a favourite song came on. Wide yellow corn fields stretching on both sides of the road and lonely rows of electric poles resembled some American landscapes I’ve seen in the movies and in my imagination while reading books by Jack Kerouac. I even felt like a character in his “On the Road” novel. I just wanted to see the water that I mistook the falling darkness and fields for the sea itself.

We arrived in Berdyansk at night-time. Just imagine a wide long quay, water splashing calmly against its edge, a pale moon rising, vacationers walking around, music coming from the cafes and people singing karaoke along the cafes along the water, colourful attractions bursting with laughter and a sudden freight with several workers dangling their feet and smoking at the top of the wagons that rumbled slowly by the very edge of the quay right ahead the local wharf.

The next morning Berdyansk appeared even weirder due to the old Soviet style architecture we could see all around and even older architecture of the nineteenth century, the time when the city was born. Staying in the very center of Berdyansk we enjoyed all the privileges of a five minute walk to the main beach. In the early morning the water was clear enough for a pleasant and refreshing swim and the beach was empty enough for calm sun-tanning.

For the evening the best idea was going to one of the Berdyansk capes that separate the city from the sea and create a gulf near which the city actually lies. The cape that we visited, actually called Berdyansk Cape, at its farther point has a lighthouse, the stones scattered around it are a nesting place for the flocks of seagulls. But the lighthouse is not the only sight of the cape – the narrow line of ground is studded with numerous resorts where people come to get healed with the help of local clay and mud which is thought to be therapeutic. As I got to know, the cape is considered a state natural reserve as well. To get to the beaches on the cape we had to go by car and pay Hr 5 to enter. My dream of getting to the quay by sea unfortunately didn’t come true this summer but you can still easily so it for Hr 10. The boat departs from the quay daily at 8 a.m. and the views are said to be spectacular. By the way, the cape also accommodates the biggest aquapark in Ukraine, so if you are not afraid of standing in a long line under the burning sun, waiting for your turn to rush down a slide, just go get your tickets.         

If you prefer relaxing at cafes along the coast Berdyansk has some great places. It is very different from Kyiv because nobody cares about designer labels in this small coastal city and VIP reserved seating at restaurants doesn’t exist in Berdyansk. The design and names of the eateries lining the coast, like Legenda (Legend), Lakomka (Sweet Tooth), Korsar (Corsair) appear to be an attempt to look smart but fall short. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a sushi bar with dishes tasting as good as those offered in Kyiv’s Planeta Sushi. The prices are low in Berdyansk, yet the service is equally of a low level. If you are a fan of wine you can forget about your passion for a while because your best option will be various liquors, vodka or beer. 

Like any small town in Ukraine, Berdyansk appeared to have many things that were peculiar, like a monument dedicated to a goby, the key product of local fishing, the monument to a plumber (in whose mouth kids always put a cigarette), and of course the Lenin monument, facing the Azov sea.

Berdyansk was a nice break from the hectic pace of Kyiv life. For those seeking a cheap coastal retreat and want to avoid Crimea, I recommend hitting up Berdyansk.

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