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Published: September 9th 2008
Reactor #4 in cement sarcophagus
Normal is 0.012. The maximum level for people to live in is 0.020
I started the solo part of my trip in Kiev, Ukraine. I knew it was going to be an interesting place the moment I landed and the whole plane burst out in spontaneously clapping. Successful landing an occasion for clapping? Awesome!
I knew I picked the right place when exiting the airport I saw everything was written in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. There isn’t anything more thrilling or terrifying than being alone in a foreign place and having no clue how you are going to manage any type of communication.
Driving into the city from the airport, there were thousands and thousands of Soviet style buildings. They look a lot like the projects. I had seen quite a few of these throughout the rest of Eastern Europe, but nothing of this magnitude. I was also a little concerned about the military men with large guns standing on the side of the road every 200 meters or so. I just told myself they were here to protect me. ;-)
Once we crossed the Dnipro River, the architecture started to show a little more flair. Cathedrals, huge modern shopping centers and parks. But the majority of the buildings, including my
hotel, still had that sterile Soviet look and feel.
The first thing I had to do was pick up some replacement toiletries I had left in Latvia. Impossible. Not only could I not read any of the store signs and not only did no one speak English, but these old Soviet building have no windows! I couldn’t tell a government building from a department store! And there is no central downtown area or anything. No one place where other tourists hang out. In fact, I don’t think there is any tourist infrastructure what so ever in Kiev. Even Lonely Planet (which kinda sucks now that’s it’s owned by BBC) says Ukraine is not setup for the independent traveler.
I finally got to Khreshatyk Blvd…and that’s when I realized why Ukraine has a reputation for being a ‘model farm”. The whole boulevard was filled with 6 ft tall blond women when 6-8 inch heals, slinky dresses, and huge D&G sunglasses! This whole street and the thousands of people on it made up a huge runway. Pretty amazing…but really no help in my pursuit for a toothbrush…and the fact that I like short girls. ;-) But seriously, after speaking to
some locals and reading a little about this, it seems that Ukraine women have “legendary beauty, devotion to personal grooming and sometimes outrageous, sexualized fashion sense” and that mixed with “a relatively impoverished society” makes it a supermarket for guys looking for mail-order brides. I saw a lot of this. Something about a 5’ 4”, 180lb geeky looking guy with a 6’ 1”, 120lb woman just isn’t right.
Anyway, I managed to get through my day. I got my toothbrush and even managed to order some food and a couple beers.
That night I met up with a guy I met on the plane that was meeting a local friend there. Atul and Julia took me out that night and it was so nice to have a translator. We met at the posh Buda Bar then went to some hip-hop club. It was fun to just sit back and watch the scene. The one thing I don’t get though is how all the women seem to be obsessed with their looks, grooming standards, style, etc and the guys don’t even wear deodorant. There is a definite BO problem with the men. I could only handle the club for
so long and finally had to call it. Julia said she would drive me to my hotel and Atul to his apartment as it was on her way home. We got pulled over within seconds. Ukraine has a zero tolerance drinking and driving law. Luckily she had nothing but water for the past 2 hours and we were fine.
The next day was spent sightseeing. The highlight was Kievo-Pecherska Larva. This is a monastery with a series of caves where the monks lived and prayed until they died. The humidity and temperature in the caves preserved their corpses and you can go down and see the mummies. Pretty eerie.
Had a pretty mellow night that night because I had to be up early for the Chernobyl trip. I won’t explain everything about Chernobyl here…you can look it up. Chernobyl Disaster Wikipedia
But in summary, it was the worst nuclear disaster in history. In 1986 a reactor at a Soviet power plant exploded and sent more than 90 times as much radioactive material as in the Hiroshima bomb into the air. Hundreds of thousands of people had to be evacuated from their homes forever. There is now what they call Exclusion
My Hotel, Express
Hasn't changed much since it was a Soviet hotel.
Zones where radiation is still too high to be safe for habitation. I went to these zones. The normal micro-roentgens that are supposed to be in the air are 0.012 per hour. We were at places that were over 1.990. The one town we went to, Prypyat, had over 50,000 people living in it in ’86, it became a ghost town overnight. I’ll let the pictures do the talking here.
That night I went out with Atul and Julia and some friends again. It was a good night, but another observation was that there is no concept of service in Ukraine. The waitresses will serve you, but they won’t pretend to like it. The hotel people will check you in, but that’s it. I thought at first it was just because I was foreign, but even with locals, it’s the same. People don’t smile at all on the streets either. Julia and her friends were amazingly friendly, but strangers are not. Just attitude left over from the Soviet era I guess.
Anyway, this blog is getting long. So all in all, Kiev was very interesting, but probably won’t go back. The main reason I went was to go
to Chernobyl (gotta do something dark on each trip) and that was worth it, but would never need to go there again. A couple people called me brave for coming to Ukraine alone…so at least I know I accomplished something. (I was also called stupid for going to Chernobyl by the those same people, but whatever!)
My next stop in Ukraine was L’viv. It seemed like a different country. Very European. I really liked L’viv. The weather was much cooler, 70’s instead of 90’s. The architecture and feel of the town was just more welcoming. The language barrier was still there (I bought the wrong train ticket twice before a nice student came up and helped me once she heard the lady yelling at me in Russian), but it was just easier to navigate.
I took the train back to Poland this morning. The border was easy for me, but not so easy for a Mexican and a Russian that were in my train car. But after about 3 hours at the border and jacking up the train to change the equipment to run on the different tracks…we were in Poland!
* On a side note, there is
Indepdence Square, Kiev
Where the Orange Revolution happened.
no love between Ukrainians and Russians right now. The locals I was hanging out with had nothing good to say about the Russians. The Georgia invasion has stirred up a lot of feelings, but I get the feeling the attitude has never been great, at least not in the western part of Ukraine.
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