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Ukraine

Anti-Mexican Reunion

Kyiv

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After a little over two weeks, it was once again time for the next holiday. And this time I was headed to Ukraine's capital Kyiv for a reunion with some of my Erasmus friends from three years previously.

After chatting with Halina, my Ukrainian friend I decided that we needed a reunion and as she couldn't come to me I would go to her and we would have a reunion in Kyiv - the last city we spent time together back in March 2012. After chatting some more, our Russian and Greek friends were also up for the reunion, and they joined us in the Ukrainian capital, the only place easy to get to for us all that we could all go visa free.

Although I had all visited each of them independently after the Erasmus experience had ended, this would be the first time in over two years, as well as the first time in over three since we were all together.

I started the trip by taking a BA flight from T5 (the first time I'd flown with British Airways) to Kyiv's Boryspil airport. After a three hour flight I arrived and jumped on the airport bus to make my way into the city centre for a reunion with the bestie. And instantly it was as if nothing had changed and we carried on the fun from where we had left off.

Maidan

Maidan

The first day was only going to be Halina and myself, as the other two were arriving the following morning, and so we spent it in the Maidan - the scene of the revolution since my last visit, and then by walking around the government areas, where just the week previously there had been some protests and subsequent casualties. We finished the day by getting some booze at the supermarket - a small bottle of vodka for just 75p! And spent the evening getting drunkat our self styled 'Anti-Mexican-Greek-Russian party'.

Memorials since the revolution

Memorials since the revolution

The following morning the girls arrived and we spent the morning walking around the city, starting with the Maidan (avoiding the bird men), before heading around the hills and towards the Golden Domed cathedrals.

Golden Domed Cathedrals

Golden Domed Cathedrals

St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery

St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery

Taking a look inside some of them and then stopping for lunch with a well earned catch up on all the action of the previous few years, we headed towards St. Andrew's and the Chernobyl Museum.

Inside the museum

Inside the museum

On Halina and I's previous visit, we had visited the actual reactor building, and therefore to keep with continuity we had to visit something depressing! The museum had a completely different presentation, as this was located within the city of Kyiv, and told more of the story around the incident with videos, photos and objects. Chernobyl itself just shows the effects of it. Although it was slightly worrying at parts, as we were told some of these objects were slightly radioactive. As Halina said to me, it was almost scarier than the real thing - at least you were prepared for that. The museum was definitely worth visiting as it was pretty cheap to get in, gives a different perspective on the event, and is themed very very well. Even with the dark reactor floor styled seating area and mutated puppy on show.

Mutated Puppy

Mutated Puppy

On our way back we took the funicular to the top of the hill, before it started raining and we headed back for a relaxed evening of fun, games and booze. Including a hilarious game of Truth or Dare that resulted in our Russian friend screaming at the loss of the Lenin statue that faced our apartment the previous year.

On the metro

On the metro

On the final full day for us all Marianna's Ukrainian friend Alyssa joined us, and we made our way to the south of the city centre. Unfortunately it was raining, and as we walked along the hilltop there wasn't much of the view of the city to be seen.

In rainy Kyiv

In rainy Kyiv

We reached the Holodomor museum, and took a look at the exhibits on the Ukrainian Genocide in the 30s, before making our way to the Lavra - a large UNESCO protected collection of churches and caves.

The Lavra

The Lavra


At Mother Motherland

At Mother Motherland

Our final stop for the day was at the Mother Motherland statue, where despite the rain we took some group photos before heading back for another evening of stupid games which ended up with an explicit and hilarious game of charades. The following day began with Lisa making her way back to the airport, before we checked out of the apartment, dropped bits off at the Hotel Ukraina overlooking the Maidan, and took a look at the final few sites in the city before I left the group for the airport.

Back in the Maidan

Back in the Maidan

Kyiv is still one of my favourite cities in the world, with its unique mix of beautiful Orthodox buildings, communist architecture, modern history and super cheap prices. Despite the struggle with the lack of English and clear direction I had an amazing time having a catch up with my favourite East Europeans and look forward to our next reunion - wherever that may be!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Ukraine Tagged city friends cave cathedral erasmus chernobyl radiation macabre Comments (0)

Chernobyl

Eastern European Kinda Fun - Chernobyl

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Leaving in the morning - being careful, as the clocks had just changed, a 2 hour bus ride took us to the exclusion zone, where we were met by our tour guide, who took us all round the area. Starting off in Chernobyl city we saw a memorial to the first firemen who tried to put out the fire in the reactor. Further up the road we were taken to a nursery school that was left in such a mess...a sight that would be repeated many times.

Kindergarten

Kindergarten

After this, we were taken to some of the cooling lakes that were used by, and gave us our first sight of the reactor. At first we were rather worried about levels of radiation harming us, but the reading from here on our Geiger counter was 1.37, which was very low - 0.3 is background global levels, whilst anything up to 4.0 is safe. We were also told that out tour guide lived in Chernobyl city - and she looked fine! Whilst in Chernobyl city, I recognised a man from Crawley, who had been staying in our hostel the night before - he was staying in the hotel in Chernobyl city that night and spending two days in the area - rather him than me!

Entering Pripyat

Entering Pripyat

After this, we went to Pripyat - the town that is now abandoned, which housed workers at the plant and their family. Most of the time the levels of radiation were lower than 1.0 except a few spots - once when driving through the Red Forest to get to the village it reached 5.3 for a few seconds, and in the centre of Pripyat, a man hole cover in the central square reached levels of 33.6, however just next to this, the ground was only 2.0. We were told that this was due to the fact that this area was where the helicopters flying over the plant after the accident had landed and refuelled. As we left this area, we spotted another man hole cover, and whilst the girl in front of us walked over it, me and Halina decided it was best to walk around!

Swimming Pool

Swimming Pool

Because our group was rather fast, we were allowed to see almost everything in the town, including the Hotel, the Palace of Culture, the Sports Hall, the Swimming Pool, a school and nursery, the 'cemetery' for machines that were used in the clean up, the prison and some apartments that were home to the residents. After this, we were taken for lunch close to the reactor...however once we arrived we were told there was no food, as they had not been expecting us....for some reason I had gone right off my appetite anyway! Whilst they cooked our lunch, we were taken to the closest point to the reactor we were allowed, beside the memorial to the 25th anniversary.

Chernobyl

Chernobyl

This was just 275 metres from the reactor itself, but an interesting experience. Radiation levels were 1.75 around here anyway. After this we went to the memorial to the liquidators, where the Ukrainian president goes every year in remembrance. After seeing almost everything it was time to go back for food - hoping it was not organic and locally produced, it was announced the food had been brought in from Kyiv earlier that day, and it did taste quite nice. After the lunch, we were taken home, before visiting the memorial to the relocation of the villages in Ukraine and Belarus, and visiting the gift shop, where I purchased a souvenir T-shirt and pen. All in all I had a really great day, and despite the small threat of radiation, I am very glad I went.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Ukraine Tagged history nuclear chernobyl radiation macabre poland&ukraine Comments (1)

Kyiv

Eastern European Kinda Fun - Kyiv

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Maidan

Maidan

The next evening we took the overnight train to Kyiv, capital of Ukraine, and before checking into our hostel overlooking Independence Square, walked around the city seeing most of the sights - the Golden Gate, the Red University and golden topped Orthodox churches, as well as looking over the river Dnieper and visiting one of the many islands.

St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery

St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery

Transport in the city was again incredibly cheap, with a single ticket on the metro costing 2 Hryvnia (about 15p), although the tunnels down to the platforms were incredibly deep - some being more than 100m lower. It took so long to use the single escalator to the bottom, than when you first got off it felt weird to be no longer moving - some people even sat down and ate dinner on them!

Whilst in Kyiv, a lady asked us if we knew where the Chernobyl museum was located - to which Halina replied "No I do not", telling me after 'who needs Chernobyl museum when you can go to the real thing?!'. The following day was infact the excursion to Chernobyl we had booked.

Mother Motherland

Mother Motherland

After we got back from Chernobyl, the following morning was my final day before my flight in the evening. Halina however had to leave in the morning to get her day long coach back to Warsaw, and so I was left on my own. I went to visit the Soviet Motherland statue on the hill overlooking the river facing Moscow. This was apparently built after the war, and was absolutely huge! After this I went to visit the Olympskiy Stadium, which will host the final of Euro 2012. Having now seen everything in the city I decided that with the low prices - £1 for a box of 20 cigarettes, and £2.50 for a bottle of Vodka, it was worth purchasing some Vodka to take back home with me. It was now a question of getting to the airport.

Having figured the central station was the best way of finding the way, I went there, only to find not a single bus went there, and there was NO information anywhere about onward travel...only trains coming in. The information desks also spoke no English whatsoever, leaving me with no idea how to get to the airport. Having spent most of my money, I now had to get a taxi for god-knows-how-much and hoping they would at least understand me trying to say "Airport Zhuliany" (the girl on the Information desk thought I was saying Slovakia!?!?) Luckily they did understand me, and they accepted my Euros I had taken as a backup. However after 30 minutes of walking up and down the road, it was a stressful event. I have no idea how this place can host Euro 2012 and handle all those Europeans who don't speak the language... But finally I did make it to the airport on time and flew home after a very exciting experience!

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Ukraine Tagged churches history city poland&ukraine Comments (0)

Lion City

Eastern European Kinda Fun - Lviv

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Having spent all day in Krakow, we took the overnight coach to Lviv in Ukraine, which despite only a 5 hour trip by road, involved more than 3 hours crossing the border - half an hour to queue, 45 minutes to check our passports on the Polish side, another half hour in no man's land, an hour checking passports in Ukraine, and then just when we thought it was finally time to go through, half an hour to search the coach.

Even more fun was when the military style border guard in Ukraine, who had clearly never seen a British passport before spent two minutes staring at me and the passport, and then came back 45 minutes later, called me, and I had to get off the coach and explain to her why I was trying to enter her country. Luckily Halina explained it all for her as the border guard spoke no English, and I spoke no Ukrainian. However at least I finally got a stamp in my passport!

In Lviv I stayed with Halina's family and spent most of the time walking around the city. The city felt rather as I suspected - pretty buildings in the city, but rather shabby in the outskirts. The public transport was also incredibly cheap - 15p for a bus ride to the city centre from outside the city, but the roads were incredibly poor - some roads even had potholes in the potholes! But it was an experience.

Opera House

Opera House

Meeting Halina's friends, we went to a pub under the Opera House and met her sister after she finished work. Luckily almost all of the people I met spoke English, as unfortunately my Ukrainian is not too shabby, and everyone was really nice. That night we went to a club in the city, which despite being rather posh was only £5 to get in.

Old Town

Old Town

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Ukraine Tagged city border poland&ukraine Comments (0)

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