Hello Friends, Family and Followers,
When we last left off we were in Warsaw and were trying to figure out how we were going to make it to Ukraine. Originally we wanted to take a sleeper train to Lviv and then go on to Kiev. After Kiev we were going to work our way through Belarus and then head into Lithuania to make our way to Helsinki, Finland for a flight to London to visit friends. Josh went online to check the procedures on going through Ukraine and Belarus. Ukraine was a breeze but Belarus wanted $400 each for a visa. Whew! $400 was out of the question so we booked a flight from Kiev to Vilnius, Lithuania. That part was taken care of. Next we had to figure out how we would get to Lviv. The overnight train was very expensive and full so we researched towns along the way. We ended up going to Przemysl on a whim. What is there to see in Przemysl? Well, nothing really. How exactly do you pronounce Przemysl anyway? When we tried to buy the train ticket in Warsaw we couldn't communicate where we were trying to go so we walked out of the worst tourist office in the world frustrated and defeated. By the way, when we say WORST tourist office in the world we mean it. Warsaw does not value their tourists whatsoever so be prepared if you ever find yourself there. We finally found somebody who had a map and physically pointed to the town. Turns out it is pronounced (Sheh-mishel). We finally had our ticket booked and were leaving out of Warsaw in a couple of days. It felt like a couple of days too long for us. We were on our way!
Przemysl turned out to be such a lovely little town. Nobody spoke any English, German or obviously Spanish so we were kind of left to pointing at things which we are 100% fluent. Przemysl's claim to fame is the bell and pipe museum. They loved their pipes and it actually took Josh down memory lane seeing all the old men sitting around smoking pipes. Josh's grandfather was a pipe smoker so it's not really something you see much of anymore.
We enjoyed the quaintness of the small town and really felt like we were out in the world. Often times, we say to ourselves that we really feel like we're traveling. This was one of those times. We spent two days and two nights walking around the small town entertaining ourselves.
View of the town's cathedral
We were actually allowed to climb up the steps of the town's clock tower with no guidance and allowed to explore. Seeing the inner workings was very interesting and the view was gorgeous.
Afterwards, we played around in the courtyard in a small castle on a hill.
In the wintertime there are ski lifts that take skiers to the top of the little hill. It looked more like a tubing hill to us but hey, you have to take what you can get.
After another bus journey, we found ourselves at the main bus station in Lviv, Ukraine. It was like we were in another world. Ukraine definitely has a strong former Soviet feel to it. The bus station was located 20 minutes outside of the center of town. Luckily, one lady at the ticket counter was able to tell us what local bus we should take to get to our hostel.
That's right folks, we were staying in a cheap hostel that decorated with ridiculous graffiti for artwork. It's not all glitz and glamor on the road.
The Eurocup 2012 was actually held in Kiev and Lviv. Some mastermind came up with the slogan "Just Lviv It!" for the Eurocup. They take great pride in this slogan and it's still scattered throughout the town. We decided to "Just Lviv It!" ourselves. When in Rome!
Lviv has a feeling of a city that wants to be known as an Eastern European hotspot but hasn't quite broken through. There is a little bit of tourism but not much. They aren't really concerned with adapting to tourists. The signs are all written in Crylic which is very difficult to read and it was a challenge getting around. To be completely honest there was a cold vibe to the city and it was tough to travel there. We were settled in for four days so we decided to make the best of it and check out the city's sites.
The best part of walking around was seeing all the old Soviet era vehicles that are still on the road.
This is the oldest church in Ukraine and we just loved the way it stood in the middle of the city. It looked like the little house in the movie "Up" that was swallowed by the city around it. Yeah, we just threw out the "Up" reference!!
The view from the hilltops were beautiful yet blocky at the same time.
Old ladies lined up for their afternoon church service.
Churches were scattered all over the city.
One of the famous things to see in Lviv is the city cemetery. The cemetery has most of Ukraine's famous citizens as well as a couple war memorials. One of the most famous Polish war memorials is located here and the Polish citizens were represented in droves.
Just one of the hundreds of outstanding monuments in the cemetery. If you like cemeteries this is probably one of the top five we've seen.
The floating person is a staple of any European city's main square. Can you figure how it's done?
We mentioned that it was a challenge getting around Lviv. Our most challenging task was buying our train ticket to Kiev. Nobody and we mean NOBODY spoke English at the train station. Through an extensive use of body language, we managed to figure out which line we needed to be in to purchase the tickets. We waited in line, well, Lviv's version of a line which consisted of various people cutting in front of the person that was just about to be helped at the ticket window. It was finally our turn and we were bound and determined to purchase this train ticket. The lady at the window tried to shake her head several times to say should couldn't assist us. Um, we weren't taking that as an answer. We fumbled and stumbled and somehow managed to get her to understand the date and time of the train we wanted to book. It was actually quite comical because the people in line behind us were repeating our every word, attempting to learn English. We had our own audience but it was a show we would have rather not been the star of.
We needed to leave our hostel no later 4:15 am in order to make it to the train station for our departure. The night before, the girl working at the hostel said it would be no problem for them to call us a taxi in the morning. We were ready to go by 4:00 am but after two attempts at calling a taxi company the guy working the front desk informed us that all taxis were busy. WHAT? WHY? How the heck were we going to get to the train station? We bolted for the door and began frantically wandering the streets in search of vacant taxis. Every taxi that passed us was occupied. It was unreal! It was 4:00 in the morning. How was this even happening? Before we had a compete meltdown we found an unoccupied taxi. Or so we thought. Someone had called the taxi and he was waiting for his fare. We were at a complete loss. We were going to miss our train...the first time this would happen on our entire trip.
Cue the angels singing hallelujah! The lady that had called the taxi was headed to the train station and asked if we wanted to ride with her. We tried to pay for the taxi when we arrived at the station but she insisted on paying as long as Josh would help her with her bag. She was so sweet. Thanks so much to the lady that saved our behinds. She also informed us that the train ride to Kiev was only 6 hours long; not 12 hours like we had thought. We had purchased tickets for the fast train with speeds exceeding 150 km per hour. It was the cheaper option which was why we chose it. We had no idea it was faster too. Bonus!
It's funny how one person can turn things around. Actually it was moving to Kiev that did it. We booked a place close to the train station because getting off the train or bus and constantly trying to figure out where you're going was getting old. We got a slightly nicer place this time so that helped a little too. Kiev was like a whole other world. It had great energy and the people actually smiled every now and then. Things were looking up and we were rejuvenated. After settling in it was time for some sightseeing!
This was the coolest building. It had animal statues all over it. We looked at all it's intricacies until the guards were wondering what we were up to.
All smiles! A man insisted on taking our picture at this exact spot. He neglected to tell us that we were blocking the view.
The Pecherk Lavra Monastery. Stunningly beautiful and a must see for any traveler visiting Ukraine.
Monks and nuns on their way to services.
Holodomor Monument. A powerful statue honoring an ugly, ugly moment in history. Between 3 - 3.5 million people died from a man-made starvation created by the Ukrainian SSR. The stories we heard of what occurred would chill anybody to the bone. If you're interested in reading more try Wikipedia.
Sophia Cathedral. Another breathtaking sight.
Nun enjoying the warm weather outside of the cathedral.
Taking fun pictures in Landscape Alley
Here's an interesting (sorta) fact. The deepest metro in the world is in Kiev at 105.5 meters deep. That's almost 350 feet underground!
While in Kiev, we found out that it was possible to take a day trip to Chernobyl. Chernobyl is the scene of one of the world's worst modern disasters. It's literally a radioactive wasteland. How many times in our lives will we have the opportunity to visit Chernobyl? There have been rumors that visiting Chernobyl will become obsolete in less than 20 years. This was our chance to see, up close and personal, a piece of history.
Reactor number four at Chernobyl power plant exploded on April 1986 and would change the course of the town of Pripyat forever. Pripyat is now an eerie ghost town full of frozen-in-time buildings.
Everyone knows the history of Chernobyl so we will spare you all of the details.
Chernobyl is located 130 km outside of Kiev. You are required to pass through two military checkpoints before you are allowed to enter Chernobyl, where a deathly quiet descends.
People still reside on the outer perimeter, 30 km from the reactor.
Experts say that radiation "hot spots" are scattered throughout the zone, so any visitor are advised to follow guides extremely carefully. The International Atomic Energy Agency maintains that although radioactive isotopes remain in the exclusion zone, they are at "tolerable exposure levels for limited periods of time."
It was a chilling sight to visit the school. It had a post-apocolyptic feel as classrooms lie with open books, toys and schoolwork scattered throughout the rotting floors beneath our feet. The order to evacuate actually came 36 hours after the explosion as a result of Soviet denial.
This room held the remnants of the nursery where the younger school children would take naps during the school day. It wasn't the place for smiles.
However, seeing the Geiger counter with a lower radiation reading was a cause for smiles.
The sarcophagus of reactor No. 4 has become something of a modern icon. We've seen it so often in photos that it felt as if we had already been here.
The river is full of catfish the size of dolphins. Their over-sized growth is not as a result of radiation but merely from the lack of predators.
Memorial site of reactor No. 4
We probably shouldn't be smiling but we were trained to smile when a camera is pointed at us. It was more of an awkward "I can't believe we are standing right here" facial expression.
It's a swimming pool in case you couldn't tell from all of the rubble. The diving boards were probably a giveaway but Leanne mimed swimming to make sure it was known.
Walking through the old abandoned buildings was an unreal experience. It felt post-appocalyptic and we waiting for zombies to jump out at any second.
One of the most famous sights from Pripyat is the ferris wheel that was set up for a carnival. The carnival was set up one day before the town was abandoned but the pictures live on in infamy.
Bumper cars. Side note: This is one of Josh's favorite pictures from the entire trip.
These apples sent the Geiger counter into a frenzy. Better stay away from these.
An emptied political office.
This was once a supermarket.
Belarus is about 5 km (3 miles) so they can easily sneak over the border and hang out in Pripyat. There is a lot of graffiti but there are a few that are really cool. This one signifies the loss of laughing children.
We closed out the day by visiting the old city center square.
After we left the first perimeter, 10 km out, we were both tested for radiation. Clear.
We were tested once more at the second perimeter, 30 km out, we were tested once more. All clear!!
Despite our excitement of visiting such an historically relevant place, ultimately we had mixed emotions. This was such a horrible event that happened but the opportunity to see the world's most famous and biggest ghost town was too hard to pass up. We were deeply moved and will never forget the experience.
The next morning we flew to Lithuania so we'll go over our time in the Baltics on the next post.
Thank you all for following. Any encouragement is always appreciated! Bye for now!!
Leanne and Josh