Farewell Kyiv

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Today is the last day in Kyiv. Rainy and cold, I hear its still nice back home. We skipped the breakfast, went downtown to have an early lunch at the same place as yesterday. Then we made our way through the rain to an internet café and printed our boarding passes. After that we went to a museum to escape the rain for a while.

Tonight we’re gonna go out for a nice dinner and then take a drink. We’ll leave the hotel at 06am tomorrow so it won’t be late tonight. Pictures will be up as soon as possible when I get home.

More uphill and churches

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We are slowly growing tired of the hotel breakfast which is best described as dry so we actually did not spend much time there. Instead we headed out to town to have an early lunch at a place I don’t dare to even guess the name of. Anyhow, in there you grab a tray and then walks to a long counter where various small dishes are presented and then you choose what you want and put on your tray and then continue to the cash register. 65 UAH for 2 servings of borsch, 2 servings of chicken, 2 servings of garlic bread and 2 glasses of some kind of drink with a funny taste. The borsch tasted wonderfull by the way. It looks like we’re going to have an early lunch there tomorrow as well.

After lunch we explored a whole bunch of churches, namedropping commence in: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Go!
Mykhailivs’ kyl Zolotoverkhyl sobor, St. Sophia of Kyiv, Andriivs’ka, Bohorodysti Pyrohoschi and 2 more I can’t remember the names of. To be honest I did not remember the other names either but they were marked on the map.

Out of all these churches both me and Sofia found St. Sophia to be the most beautiful one. St. Andrews church (Andriivs’ka) was special in another way because it was the first one we were allowed to takes photos inside.

To get to all these churches we had to walk uphill of course. Then at St. Andrews we got to walk downhill to get to Podil, the Soho of Kyiv. On the way down we walked past lots of small stalls selling everything from old communist uniforms and medals to t-shirts with touristy prints and small religous icons and art. Sofia found a small trinket that we bought for her.

After having walked around in Podil for a while we wanted to get back to our planned route but the long walk uphill didn’t feel too appealing so we took a taxi for 70 UAH. Money well spent our battered and bruised feets told us. We had a look at The Golden Gate of Kyiv and then we started to look for a resturant where we could have our dinner. Once again we found us a local one with an interior taken from the 60’s. 288 UAH for 2 main courses, 1 large beer, 1 glass of wine, 1 bottle of water, 2 desserts and 2 cups of cappuccino. Not to shabby.

This day is best concluded like this: uphill, churches, local food and more churches. And an observation is that dill is somethong you get in all ukrainian food one way or another.

A quick guide to the economy follows.
10 € = 87.6 SEK = 107.2 UAH.
So now you know that food around here is quite cheap, actually almost everything is cheap here except for gasoline and clothes according to the guide from our Pripyat excursion.

Uphill churches and monumental statues

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Today autumn begins. The sky was grey, the wind was chilly and there were rain in the air, sometimes more and sometime less. And we walked uphill and more uphill. The target for todays excursion was the Kyievo-Pechers’ka and Lavra. It’s a huge complex of ortodox churches. On our way to the churches we stumbled upon a memorial site for the ukrainian famine 1932-1933. Then closer to our destination we found an old lady along the road who was selling scarves so we bought one since women are supposed to cover their hair inside the churches.

Paying a 50 UAH per person as entrence fee to the complex and another 100 UAH for photo permit we we’re ready to enter. The entrance was bombastic. Gold and paintings every where. And then in the “courtyard” there was a lot of decorations as well. But I think the most amazing thing was seeing the churches with their golden coupoles and rich decorations. But I think the one thing I will treasure the most from this was seeing Sofia looking like a babushka.

We went inside some of the churches and all I can say is that someone has used way too much gold when decorating them. Getting a bit overwhelmed by all the finery and tinsel we started to look for the Lavra/underground caves. Finding them was not the easiest thing to do since the signs stopped having english translations the closer we got to the lavra but finally we found it. Also, to get there we had to go down hill. Sofia had to take on a skirt and then we could descend into the darkness. Equiped with only a beewax candle we entered the lavra and I had to go crouched to not bang my head in the ceiling. Well inside the “system” it was really hot and we saw mostly glass coffins of dead monks/priests/nuns. In some of them you could see the withered hands stick out of their “mumifications”. There were two ways to go there, we choose the short one since it wasn’t so much to see after all unless you’re an orthodox christian or generally religious. For us it just felt strange beeing there.

Feeling a bit disappointed by the lavra experience we started to look for the exit. We found one further down hill but found out that we ended up in the wrong part of the town, or we didn’t want to end up there at least so we had to walk uphill, again. We finally found an exit pointing in the right direction and left god and his servants and houses behind us and started walking towards the History of the Great Patriotik War 1941-1945 which is a huge museum and war monument. First you see in the far distant a huge statue of a woman with a sword and shield. When you get closer you also see a great display of old war machines such as canons, panzers, airplanes and the likes. There was also some minor museums you could enter for a small fee of 3 UAH for an adult and for an additional 10-15 UAH you also got a photo permit.

In my opinion the museums was not really worth it since there was no information in English. The most interesting stuff was the huge war monuments around the statue. Very typical Soviet monuments but still very nice. Even Sofia thought these were the best part. Feeling exhausted we started to look for a place to refill our reserves a bit. Walking around in a huge city all day takes more energy than you would think. Ended up in an ukrainian version of Starbucks and then we went back to the hotel a quicky before going out for dinner. Now it’s almost a quarter past 9 in the evening and we’re back in the hotel again.

Chernobyl/Pripyat

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I gathered my party and ventured forth. The party was me, Sofia and Igor the guide. It took 2 hours of driving before we finally reached Chernobyl prospect and yet some more time until we reached the first checkpoint for the exclusive zone, or just “the zone” as we stalkers call it. Ok, just kidding Maria.

The first checkpoint was a quick stop and then we proceeded into the zone. At first it was nothing special, everything looked normal except for the road which got worse and worse but still nothing out of the ordinary. Until Igor pulled over and pointed to the trees in the side of the road and said: Behind these trees lies a village called “Hidden in the woods” (ironically it was hidden by the woods, although for other reasons than the villagers probably named their village).

Next stop was in Chernobyl town which is NOT abandoned. About 3000 people live and work here and most of them seem to work with the new “cover” for reactor 4 since the sarcofagus is calculated to last only 30 years. After a quick stop in this town for some paperwork (for the guide) and some walking around for us we proceeded to the next checkpoint at the 10km zone. At this point we had had no signs of radioactivity except for the ground under a tree at an kindergarden.

Continuing beyound this checkpoint eventually lead us within just a couple of hundred meters from the collapsed reactor 4. Here the geiger made an awfull lot of sounds and the display showed really high numbers of both beta and gamma radiation. I don’t know if it was just my imagination or if it was the malfunctioned reactor 4 that was beaming it’s deadly radiation at me but I felt warmer in the face despite the cold rain falling from a steel grey sky. Having had enough of the reactor and it’s sarcofagus, the new shelter and some ukranian policemen and workers laughing at us dumb visitors we continued towards what in my eyes was the main attraction: Pripyat.

But first another checkpoint. Then we could enter the town of Pripyat, home of 58000 people and almost more famous than the power plant itself for being the town that was “abandoned over night”. To clear things up, Chernobyl is the area that gave name to the nuclear plant, Pripyat is the town. What we saw and felt in Pripyat I cannot really describe here and you will have to wait for the pictures (which I will upload as soon as I get home). This is a place you will need to experience to fully understand.

One of the perks with a private tour is that the guides will show you the more unaccessible things and places. I’ll let the pictures speak for themself once uploaded.

After Pripyat it was time for “lunch” at 3:45pm. We got ourselfs a steady meal of what I believe is traditional ukranian food in one of the canteens in Chernobyl town. I guess you wonder by now about our radiation levels? Well, we passed the radiation check and the levels of radiations we were exposed to are way below the amount of radiation you recieve in an aircraft for exampel. The guide said that taking 1 x-ray of your torso at an hospital equals 100 days in Chernobyl. Maybe it’s true, maybe not but I doubt the ukrainian government would let visitors get there if everyone would grow an extra limb or die of radiation damages.

After the lunch/dinner we headed back to Kiev and the hotel where I have enjoyed my eleventh toe on my left foot and Sofia has been combing her newly grown chest hair. Over and out for today.

A walk in the park(s)

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Okay, before I write anything else I must confess that the feelings I had yesterday about Kiev/Ukraine was a bit harsch. This city is really nice with lots of parks and even when there is no parks there is a lot of green and other colors. We’ve seen so many beautiful buildings today.

We started this day by just walking around the area close to the hotel. We ended up on a park called Mis’ kyi Sad close to the museum of Fine Arts (which was closed on Mondays to our disappointment, revisit is planned on Friday). From there we continued to Maidan Nezalezhnosti/Independence Square where some girl put a dove on Sofias shoulder and wanted us to take photos of it for money. We do not promote this kind of behaviour and asked the girl to kindly remove the dove. It’s all about forcing tourists to pay for something they probably don’t not want.

After fighting off some more “dove people” we continued towards university area and the park named after Tarasa Shevchenka which is a famous painter, writer and poet. In this area we also found a lot of beautiful buildings and one of the most outstanding ones was the church Volodymyrs’ kyi sobor which we also entered. Sofia had to cover her hair to enter. We managed to borrow a scarf from an old lady with the help of gestures and some smiling and an innocent looking Sofia. We also bought 2 beewax candles that we lit inside the church and put at some kind altar. I’m really not into religion but it felt like showing them respect by doing this. Inside we saw some amazingly beautiful pieces of art. Walking into that church was like walking into a treasury. So much gold and silver.

After the church we went to the Swedish Embassey just for fun. We knocked on the door but noone was home. Feeling both tired and hungry after walking around in Kiev we decided to head back to the hotel and somewhere along the way find a place to eat as well. We also found a convinient store and bought some water bottles for tomorrows adventure and a toothpaste. Turned out that the lady behind the counter did not speak english and we don’t speak ukranian but somehow we managed to pay for the stuff and the lady seemed happy. I guess she will have a story to tell her family tonight.

Dinner we had at T.G.I. Friday, the Kiev branch. That meat tasted so good and was swallowed down with the local beer named White Lion. Finally back at the hotel I poured some cool water into the bathtub and dipped my aching feets into it. And with these lines I end this update.

(I might need to do some updates with links when I get home, it’s hard as it is doing this with only my smartphone)

About the hotel

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Just some quick words about the hotel we’re staying in. It’s made out of plush. The walls, the furniture; everything is covered by plush. And some of the floor tiles in the bathroom are loose. I’m not complaining, it’s more an observation. The staff is great.

We just had breakfast which was kind of standard. Omelett, saussage, russian pancakes, bread, juice, coffee and that kind of stuff.

Plans for today are exploring the surroundings and finding a good resturant for tonight. We have aquired a map, we are no longer lost!

Arriving to Kiev

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Alright, typing on your smartphone when you’re really tired is maybe not the best way to do it but here goes.
Me and Sofia started out this morning at 8 am back home in Sweden. Flew to Berlin and then to Kiev. Total flight time was 3+ hours. We arrived in Kiev 5:30 pm local time.

Sofia did really good considering she is really scared to fly. The next obstacle on this trip is the language. Its hard to communicate. Really hard, but its doable. Anyway, we took a cab from the airport and overpaid. I think we paid the dubble but never mind. Just arriving to the hotel was so good. I’m so tired right now.

On the way to the hotel in the cab we saw a town we know very little about and a culture we don’t know at all. It started to rain and Kiev felt as grey as an ex Soviet city ever could be.

Realising we overpaid and that we both are really tired made the arrival at the hotel feel both good and bad. Staff here seem to be confused about almost everything but I somehow finds it charming as well. They are really helpful though. Tired and hungry we went down to the resturant hoping for food. The menu was in russian. This was going to be a long night.

But the staff was really helpfull as I mentioned.  They translated for us and finally we could order. We waited for what seemed like an eternity and I thought to myself that this is turning into one of many resturant experiences from Africa. Finally the food arrived and what a meal it was. They did really good steak with potatoes. While eating I felt that this city of the color grey maybe aint so bad after all. Beeing hungry and tired does affect how you view things.

Now we are laying here in our bed and will soon put the lights out because tomorrow is the second day of this adventure and also my birthday. Yes, I’m turning 32 tomorrow.

A final thought before I publish this is that I miss my old travel partners Ronnie and Lena. Their experience and way with people made me feel really comfortable. Lots of love to both of them! And lots of love to our parents and brothers. Stay tuned, some kind of update will come tomorrow as well.

Ukraine, here we come!

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I just wanted to tell you guys that tomorrow morning me and Sofia is leaving Sweden for a shorter trip to Kiev in Ukraine. We will be visiting Pripyat which became famous for the catastrophy that struck the nuclear plant Tjernobyl the 26th of April 1986. And some other places of course! If possible I will upload pictures as we go, else I will do that when I get home. Depends on internet and access to computers!