After we left Poland we headed to the Ukraine which turned into another surprisingly great destination. We actually ended up staying for about 10 days and we would both highly suggest everyone should visit if they have the chance. The highlights for us were: public transportation, Chernobyl, and the Crimea.
The Chernobyl tour was pretty incredible. The “highlight” for both of us was touring through Priypat as this city was built in 1970 by the soviets for the workers at the plant. Because it is abandoned the natural world has started to reclaim the area. We had to stay together as a group because the wild boars like living there and so do the wolves! Trees are growing where there was once a busy boulevard. Both Matt and I were reassured that despite what we humans can do to the planet the natural world can soldier on.
The remains of the town are also frozen in Soviet Era 1986. This provided us with the beginnings of an understanding of life during the Cold War. There were of course no houses, only “flats” in the soviet block style. There were no churches to visit as the only religion was communism. Perhaps the most incredible example of frozen in time was the school we wondered through. I was shocked to see the gas masks and even more surprised to learn that all schools in the Soviet Union had enough gas masks for all students.
The other eerie place was the fair ground. This was set to open on May 1st for the May Day celebrations and of course never opened because the accident happened at the end of April. I can just imagine how excited I would have been to ride the Ferris wheel and play on the bumper cars, and how disapointed I would have been to not be allowed to use it because of some accident. The sadddest part about Chernobyl is the number of lives that were impacted and continue to be impacted. I just can’t imagine how scary it would have been to learn that I would never return to my community and that my family would forever be in danger of the impacts of massive radiation exposure.
To understand why public transportation could be a highlight you need to know that the Ukraine uses the Cyrillic alphabet which means that most of the time Matt and I had no clue where we were or if the bus we were on was the right one! While we were in the Crimea we had the pleasure of taking the local buses to get from site to site. This was where Matt and I honed our matching skills. We would somehow figure out what the name of the location we were trying to get to looked like in cyrillic and then spend the rest of our time matching these symbols to what we saw written on the bus! There were only a few misadventures from this style of navigation!
The other fun part of navigating was learning about how to maximize space within a specific volume. I vaugely remember manipulating density within volume during some math or chemistry class, however stuffing feathers into a jar seemed easy compared to stuffing more armpits to nose level! No bus was ever too full…even when the shocks were complaining. Matt learned from a lovely woman that all it takes is a space large enough for two feet and some sharp elbows to add more people on the bus. I was highly entertained watching the reactions from the cruise ship passengers watching more people get on the bus after it already seemed full! Unfortunately there are no photos of this experience because it was impossible to move any part of my body in any direction once the density was maximized.
The crimea was an incredible place to visit. We started in Yalta where Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill met to figure out what to do with Europe after the Second World War. There is a large statue of Lenin still standing in the square and somewhat ironically it is staring directly at the Mcdonald’s while hordes of Russian tourists stoll by on their week long package holiday! One of our favourite adventures was when we went on a Russian tour to a national park followed by a wine tasting experience. Neither of us knew what was being said most of the time but we both agreed that the Crimea wine would not be categorized as one of the world’s best.
As much as we enjoyed ourselves we had to move on for an agonizing train and bus journey through Moldova (it’s a country…no worries we didn’t know it existed ourselves) to search for Dracula in Romania!