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Published: February 5th 2012
Picking up where I left off, Jaco, my new Dutch friend who I met in Lviv then later travelled through Kyiv, Chernobyl, and the Crimea region with for the next 11 days of this trip.Since this blog is actually a few months behind, I will be quick just to get some pictures up… And most of this part of the journey was almost-adventures that ended in fumbles and laughter.
Kiev is pretty worth-seeing city, but doesn’t beat L’viv’s atmosphere and feel. Did enjoy St Alexsander Street wandering the stalls selling cheap souvenirs and Ukrainian memorabilia. Went out for a fun night of drinking with several people we met, sampling several different beers and bars. First stumble was trying to get to some cave monasteries but somehow missed that metaphorical boat 3 times in one day.
Next day was a once-in-a-lifetime memorable trip to Chernobyl. Was very eerie and exactly almost how I would have thought it would be. As disturbing as a scene and environment that it was, I found the most repulsive things about Chernobyl to be the people who have intentionally and strategically placed various items in certain ways for constant
photo opportunities. Items that have been abandoned by people who were lied to by their government and exposed to deadly levels of radiation, told they were to evacuate for the weekend, and now these items placed by some foreign visitor 20-some years later, to have hoards of people everyday show up and take a picture of that item that’s been placed in a specific way to give more impact or meaning or look better as a photograph. So much time I spent thinking, “is this really how this room was left? Did this item really ever belong here?” More disturbing was seeing the abandoned flats, people’s homes that were clearly looted and ransacked. I can not imagine what those people must feel or go through every time they are allowed (once a year) to return to the Chernobyl area to wander their ghost town. I was also amazed people still work there, live there, allow cats to wander the premise; most astonishing was learning about the older villages who returned to their homes just weeks after the disaster and have been living happily ever since. And hearing about the wild pigs that have been roaming and living- very healthily- since
the incident, that was so amazing to me how versatile those creatures can be and interested to know what scientists discover about them.
What really put me off was two things: (1) seeing artifacts or items strategically and purposefully placed in a way to create an artificial statement or a really powerful (but staged) photo opportunity. A majority of my experience was, in a way, sadly numbed to me because instead of seeing everything for what it was, I questioned and scrutinized the position and condition of every thing. Because it seemed a scientist, tourist, worker, or activist could have intentionally or accidentally moved or altered something, and in doing so, took away some of the ‘realness’ for me, unfortunately, in order to make a photo or a point. And (2) the towns were being exploited in a way because, although Chernobyl is a historic (disaster) site, and we should all learn from it, people should see what it was and what consequences it has had all these years, but it’s also an “almost sacred” sight that allowing hoards of people to trample through causes it to lose a bit of history and changes every time .
. . However the site is just sitting there and at least this way people can see, appreciate, hopefully learn from, and I do hope they use the money from tours in a good way to benefit or compensate those who have lost, but it is the Ukrainian government so I know that is probably not exactly the case.
It was always a shot of reality when you re-realize that these were people’s abandoned homes and towns. Just thinking of all those displaced, exposed people who were being lied to and left unaided with very little support or supplies. That always brought me back to reality and thankful that on that historical day, I was half way around the world celebrating my first birthday.
But the following week or so just added to the close calls but constant laughs of travelling in Ukraine. As one person described this week “The adventure we never had”. All in all, good times. Took crowded, hot, night train to Sevastopol (opting again to give up a slight comfort just to save a few bucks) Then took a train to Bakhchysaray which we ended up missing our stop and
getting off at Simferopol where we ended up missing our return train by 15 seconds (this had to be the LARGEST train station platform in Ukraine) and how are the trains SO TIMELY?!?! Randomly selected questionable items off an all-Russian menu (now being in Russian territory in Ukraine) and pretty sure we ate heart soup. Ended up taking the bus, making it to Bakhchysaray, getting to see Khans palace after a lengthy climb. Couldn’t enter many of the churches or monestaries either because of the day or our wardrobe. Got lost in the woods looking for cave cities that by the time we found it, was closed for the day. After being offended by a con-man taxi driver, decided to show him a thing or three by deciding to walk to the train station, thinking we had the last laugh, getting to the station 6 minutes late for the LAST TRAIN back to our hostel. Managed to plea with a taxi driver to take us the way and end up spending more than we planned. Then nearly locked us out of the hostel for the night as I forgot the pin to enter the door to hostel and forgot my
Banning police pigs
phone, but luckily the hostel owner heard me shouting his name and he let us in.
Next day tried to see the historical city of Balaklava (we nearly missed the stop here too) with an underground submarine museum which we didn’t get to see because Jaco wanted to climb a hill to see out over the city/river and we missed the opening hours. I discovered the day I did laundry and decided I didn’t want to wear underware, the pocket of my shorts somehow ripped out, exposing my butt to anyone behind me. After realizing we wouldn’t see any more of the city, took the wrong trolley the wrong direction out of town which happened to be flooding because of downpour rain. Luckily I charmed a bus driver to talk to his friends to locate for us the right trolley to get us to town. We left on bus to Yalta, the hostel being a soviet-era apartment building with the owners living onsite in another room. Nightlife in Yalta is very interesting and fun to watch, lots of dancers in the street...
Following day, decided to take a ‘relaxing’ day at the
beach where I didn’t want to leave our belongings, for good reason, because when Jaco finally talked me in to jumping in for a VERY QUICK swim, we returned to find his favourite pants was missing, including his money, watch, camera. They had left my belongings, luckily for me. But i didn't have any valuables and I kept things in my smelly shoes.
Taking overnight train then to Odessa, which was horrible and uncomfortable and cheap. So to save a little bit of money we took the more horrible, more uncomfortable, hot, and cheaper seats.
Ah, Odessa. Following the directions found on the website, we walked over an hour straight north to a hostel that couldn’t be found. Called them, discovered the hostel was a block from the train station we started at, walked the grueling journey back. Tried to wander and sight-see but too tired from this morning to carry on too long without a nap. Then we were taken out by some hostel workers to a few local bars, ending the night at a very empty bar doing a very tall shot that was in flames and the bartender lit it on
fire with booze he shot out of his mouth! Odessa is supposed to have a FANTASTIC night life, but we discovered (very late in the night) that it was relatively dead and quiet because there was a party along the beach, a few kms away, and THAT is where all the locals were. Never mind. We did get to see a local karaoke bar which is really fascinating and fun.
Only getting few hours of sleep (nearly slept through my early morning bus ride) I said goodbye to Jaco, took the bus to Chisinau, Moldova, where I was convinced (because of a Lonely Planet book, the advice from the hostel-owners, and the internet) that there was ONE bus station in Chisinau, and if there was another one, it is a few blocks away. Nope. The one I arrived to didn’t go to Romania. Afraid I would miss any buses to Bucharest (no one knew what times they left, but definitely one around 5pm), I reluctantly took a cab to a different bus station, which travelled to every major city in Romania EXCEPT Bucharesti, then I had to try to communicate to bus drivers, taking a local bus
to a crowded market square area and locate the final bus station which I had to wait until 10pm for the bus to Bucharest. Then I sat next to a younger Romanian guy who wasn’t too shy to use my shoulder as a head rest for most of the journey. Having to do a bag-check (On a FULLY LOADED DOUBLE DECKER BUS, meaning about 80-100 people all with one or more bags/suitcases) at the Moldovian border and again at the Romanian side. Taking well over two hours for this fiasco with the grumpiest bus driver. Took my time to get to the airport as I had several hours to spare, only to discover my plane was delayed two hours. And the flight that leaves AFTER our delayed flight was shuttled to the tarmac before us. And only one bus shuttled small groups of people at a time as the other 6 buses sat parked and unused. Oh, I love Romania. . . HAAAATE Baneasa airport.
Flew to Malaga, Spain, barely made my bus for Nerja, for a very confusing welcoming, and spent the remaining 3 weeks volunteering at the donkey sanctuary. Good times!
^Út Í Óvissuna^
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