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Published: December 15th 2014
So this is part 2 of my Eastern Europe Adventures:
Having first visited Krakow, later that night we took the 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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!
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 refulled. 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!
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. 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 Ukraianian 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.
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!
I was now able to rest for a single day, before I was going down to Hatfield for the next few days, and Edinburgh the next week, which you will hear about in the next part!
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