Edit Blog Post
Published: July 20th 2011
Kiev had a different atmosphere to Lviv altogether. It was our final destination, and as the capital of Ukraine it was bigger, more modern, and more happening. We also arrived feeling refreshed after a good night's sleep in a first class sleeper carriage, which made a huge difference!
Unfortunately we found our hostel here was without a doubt the worst of the trip. We got a 12 bed room instead of the 2 bed twin, with suspiciously lumpy thin mattresses, and there was also the slight worry that the hostel owner would come and rape us in our sleep - He was one creepy-assed dude!
We quickly donned our explorer hats and joined a free walking tour, which is always my favourite way to see a city. As one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe, Kiev easily has enough history to sink New Zealand, and we saw such wonders as the main square of Maydan Nezalezhnosti, the Kievo-Pecherska (a golden domed cathedral from 1015), and the Golden Gate (1037: initially a copy of the gates of Constantinople, though it was reconstructed after the Mongol invasion in 1240). We also met a few cool people on the tour, like
a Polish couple from Warsaw (Aleksander and Kamila) and two Russian girls from Moscow (Evgenia and Mary).
The tour followed on to a mini pub crawl that night with us, our Ukranian guide, and the Russians. It was a relatively quiet night, and after checking out a few interesting places we ended up at a club called "Heaven", where we got metal detected on the way in, and where the bathrooms have no lights but a blue glowing floor. Cool.
The next day was all set for the pièce de résistance of the whole trip: Chernobyl! And it didn't disappoint. We had to take out mandatory insurance for the day, and were told to wear closed shoes and full clothing in order to minimise the chance of radioactive contamination. We also had to sign a waiver agreeing that our tour-guides wouldn't be held liable "for possible further deterioration of my health as a result of the visit", and that I wouldn't lodge any claims if "my photo or video equipment get radioactively contaminated". Great! There was a brilliant documentary playing on the hour drive to the perimeter, where I learnt a couple of things about Chernobyl - like
the fact that over 500,000 workers gave their lives to contain the contamination, and more importantly prevent an even bigger catastrophe that could have rendered the whole of Europe unlivable for centuries
(!). There's no telling how many people have died since the event from cancer related to radiation.
You could feel the tension building as we got closer and closer to ground zero. Other than the big group of tourists we were travelling with there was barely a soul in sight, although apparently over 3000 people actually work in the area - including tourist services, military, and also builders for the £600m project to rebuild the cover of the Chernobyl power plant - apparently the cover put in place in 1986 is set to leak invisible rays of death all over the place again by 2015. It was a week after the 25th anniversary of the disaster, so we got to see a commemorative museum that had recently opened. Our next stop was a field with vehicles used in the clean up, and our guide had geiger counters the whole time showing us how the radiation levels went through the roof as we got closer to them. Eventually, after
a couple of stops to explore, we got to a viewpoint where we could see the actual power plant and the existing cover in all its glory. So surreal, and hard to imagine the potential death that lies inside.
After going through a radiation check, we had lunch with our Polish friends Aleksander and Kamille (from the walking tour) - just a couple of minutes away from the power plant! Then it was off to visit Pripyat, the town of 30,000 people that got evacuated the day after the disaster struck. What makes this place particularly interesting is that the locals were told they would be back in about 3 days, and so left most of their belongings behind. As tours hadn't been running for too long it truly felt almost untouched, and walking through it was freaky to say the least. Textbooks were still on desks in classrooms, childrens dolls lay abandoned, and shoes still sat neatly beside beds as they were left. Walking through an empty amusement park and watching the geiger counters go crazy was probably the eeriest part.
As amazing and sobering as it was, it was almost a relief to finish the tour
and get back to normal levels of radiation (although slightly disappointing that we didn't develop any super powers!). We went on to have dinner at an authentic Ukranian restaurant where we again bumped into our Polish friends! No chicken kiev unfortunately, but it was still brilliant, and we had a few pints of "hemp" beer to wash it all down. The waiter actually said it was indeed made with hemp, although it wasn't illegal. Not sure how that works, but it sure went down well! At one point I was dared by Aleksander to try the "bull's testicals", which I actually ordered - thank god they were all sold out! We ended our final night by meeting up with the Russian girls one last time, and found ourselves in a fun little Irish pub. After being persuaded to try some genuine Russian vodka shots, me and James ended up dancing on the bar with the rest of the patrons - what a random night!
One more sleep at our crappy hostel later and we begrudgingly headed off to the airport for our flight back to London, where I had the mammoth task of once again setting up my life
there - something I'm still working on to this day!
Tot: 2.982s; Tpl: 0.162s; cc: 11; qc: 56; dbt: 0.092s; 2; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb