We are back from a nice getaway to the Ukraine. We spent our time in Kiev doing some tours but also did a day trip to Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. The entire trip was interesting, as Jeff's heritage is Ukrainian and he got to see this heritage, as well as taste it with the amazing food!
After our trip, Lisa went off to Ireland for a girl's trip to celebrate our friend Anita's 50th birthday. They visited Dublin, Cork, and Belfast in the short week they had together.
Here are some pics and stories - just scroll over the pics for captions and click on them to enlarge...
Kiev is a beautiful city with tons of history. There is obviously some Soviet influence, as they only split in 1991. The city of 2.8 million has many soviet-influenced churches with beautiful gold roofs, has a very big River (Dnieper) with incredible white sand beaches all over, has many large parks, and has very nice, trendy restaurants and bars all over. It was quite cold when we were there (compared to Saudi standards I guess)...from 18-20 Celsius during the day to about 2-4 at night. Lisa was dying, as she's gone soft in the 40-45 weather we left behind in Saudi.
Did you know that the Kiev mayor is Vitali Klitschko, the retired professional boxer?
We stayed at the Hyatt right between Sofia square and Independence square and a big tip for tourists - be careful where you drink and eat. Stay away from hotel dining. Our hotel drinks were about $15US each, while the average price at bars/restaurants only a block away were $2-3 each.
We took a 3 hour driving tour to hear some of the history and see some of the sites, as shown in the pics below.
Here are some pics...
Ukrainian Cooking Class
We did a very cool excursion one day in Kiev - a Ukrainian Cooking Class. This is special, as Jeff grew up with Ukrainian food and perogies are his favorite food.
We were picked up at our hotel by a driver who took us about 20 minutes to a tall brick/concrete apartment with a large metal door. Lisa was a bit worried. The driver spoke Ukrainian through a speaker and she got even more worried. Suddenly, the door opened and a good looking Ukrainian girl smiled and said hello and introduced herself as Olga. We were feeling like we were in safe hands now!
We went upstairs and met her mom Svetlana, who spoke only Ukrainian but was a very friendly and welcoming host and teacher.
Svetlana quickly put Lisa to work cutting cabbage for the borscht soup. Jeff thought he was getting off easy until Svetlana directed him to start grating carrots and beets, and then to cut some onion.
Once the borscht soup was simmering, it was time to roll the dough and start making perogies. Doing this reminded Jeff of the times at Grandma's helping her make perogies. Although, he probably spent more time in the kitchen eating perogies than making them.
We finally got to sit down and enjoy the borscht soup and some homemade perogies. We were in heaven!
Olga sent us the recipes (in the pics below) and we were off to tour around and have a few Ukrainian beers for dessert!
Chernobyl Day Trip
When we first booked the Kiev trip, one of the first excursions we booked was the day trip to Chernobyl. It was an amazing experience that gave us the surreal feeling that we are in an area that many people will never get to or never want to go to but also an area that has lived primarily in abandonment for over 30 years! It was especially eerie after watching the HBO mini-series.
Chernobyl is located about 140km north of Kiev in the northern part of Ukraine, just south of the Belarus border.
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place April 26, 1986. People were evacuated and not allowed back into the area, although they estimate there are about 130-150 people who have snuck their way back into the area to re-inhabit their homes illegally. Apparently, they are 'non-believers' in radiation since they can not see it. If we would've done the 2 or 3 day trips, we could have stopped to visit with some of these crazy fuckers.
The bus ride from Kiev to Chernobyl was about an two hours but provided lots of opportunities for the tour guide to tell the history, share some stories, answer some questions, and most importantly clarify the rules and guidelines:
Our first stop was at the 30 km exclusion zone where we had to provide our full ID as evidence of who was actually visiting and this is where we received our dosimeters, the Geiger counters that would track our radiation levels at a particular moment, as well as an accumulated daily total.
Did you know that people aren't allowed to move back for 3000-20,000 years?
We received certificates saying we did the Chernobyl trip and documenting our daily radiation, which was 2 micro sieverts. In comparison,
One of the most surreal parts of the day was actually when we were back in Kiev. We were drinking at a pub and ended up chatting with a Ukrainian guy. He asked where we were from and what we have seen so far in Ukraine. When we mentioned that we just returned from Chernobyl, he froze up like we said we have come back from the dead. He said when he was only 5, his father was called from Kiev to go to Chernobyl to help. He said his dad was a healthy man before going and now is alive but very frail, has lost all of his hair and teeth. He said Chernobyl is a place he never wants to go to. It put in perspective what a special place we had just visited because of the terror and pain it put people through, as well as the impact it had on the world!
This abandoned town was our first stop as we ventured inside the 30km exclusion zone. It was quite amazing to see how the homes were collapsing, the paint had peeled, and how there was such a feeling of loneliness. It was incredible to see an old children's park with swings, slides, and merry-go-rounds - never being used in the past 30 years! It was also interesting to see the store's old record-keeping book, as well as an old hat and newspaper still lying where they were 30 years ago.
This was like a movie set but real life!
We stopped at the soviet radar station that is now abandoned. It was a secretive soviet missile defence system designed to protect them from the US, costing over $100B US to build. It is now just a fancy-looking non-functioning antenna that is 100m tall by 250m long.
We stopped at this abandoned town, which was in the more heavily contaminated 10 km exclusion zone, and visited an old abandoned kindergarten building. This suddenly got very real as we saw the kids artwork on the walls, damaged dolls all over, their beds for nap time, and a broken bike just lying there from 30 years ago.
Wonder where these kids are now?
CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
We spent a bit of time at the actual nuclear power plant and got to see reactor #4 where the disaster happened. Reactor #4 had a large concrete shield called a sarcophagus built around it to contain the radiation but it started breaking down because of the radiation so they sourced the world's largest confinement unit to put over the sarcophagus. The confinement unit should be good for the next 100 years and cost $2.3B US to build and install. This is the large metal dome looking building in the pics. Under this dome is where the reactor blew and where the radiation is still very strong.
We did see many stray dogs in this area and on the way to lunch, which was at a canteen about 5 minutes from the reactor. Yep, kind of freaky! Had to go through radiation testing before getting in for lunch. Thank god we were OK. And yes, the food was brought in from Kiev and wasn't grown right there!
We had a chance to visit Prypiat, which is the large "ghost town" city near Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. It was built in 1970 as a home for the plant workers and their families. Prypiat had 50,000 people living there when it was evacuated. People were given a couple hours to grab their families and get onto buses to take them out of the contaminated zone. They had to leave their pets behind.
In Prypiat, we got to see many buildings, including the pics from 1986 that compared the scene to current day. Many trees and wildlife have now taken over the city.
Some interesting sights in Prypiat:
We drove through the town of Chernobyl on the way out of the exclusion zone. They have a few monuments to honor those who worked to minimize the radiation effects. There was a shrine to show some of the robots used to push graphite from the roof back into the reactor.
There are still some people living in this town, as they are the workers still doing clean-up at the nearby power plant. They are only allowed to be there 15 days before leaving for 15 days and they have a 9PM curfew for some reason. One interesting thing to see in the town Chernobyl was that all pipes that would typically be underground are above ground along the sidewalks. Because much of the radiation seeped into the ground, it gets reactivated and into the air if dug up so they need all pipes above ground in case they need to work on them. Looked quite interesting.
On the way out of the exclusion zone, we had to turn in our Geiger counters (or pay $200US) and also get tested one last time to ensure we didn't get excessive radiation. We were good!
Lisa's Ireland Trip
We both left Kiev within 10 minutes of each other - Jeff went back to Saudi and Lisa went to Ireland to meet Anita to celebrate her birthday with her and her rowdy friends.
Not sure if her liver will be the same after this group swept through Dublin, Cork, and Belfast leaving a trail of empties along the way. We did do a very cool prison tour as well as the Titanic Experience in Belfast.
It was great to meet up on "this side of the world" with some Canadian friends.
And the great news - we get to do it all over again with Anita in just over a month, when she comes to visit in Dubai!
Not too many pics, as it was getting in the way of the partying, but here you go.
Jeff C.'s Birthday Party
Here are a few pics from a recent trip to Bahrain to celebrate our friend Jeff's birthday. As expected, it got a bit ugly! Great times with some great friends!
Here are some upcoming trips we have planned - would love to see you on some of these journeys...
There will be a few more vacations along the way but as always, let us know if you can join on any of these trips.
We will post our next blog update after our South Africa trip, as there should be quite a bit to share with you all.
Have a great Thanksgiving everyone and GO RIDERS!
Will leave you with some nice sunset pics from our compound.
All posts are updated by Jeff & Lisa