We arrived in the Ukraine a day early, to ensure there were no problems or delays with flights which would have resulted in me missing the start of my time in ‘The Zone’.
The plane touched down in Borispol airport at around 3pm on the Saturday, once we were off the plane, we were shunted onto a shuttle bus to take us over to the main airport building, there was not much room for movement on the bus, so I was thankful that the journey was relatively short.
Upon arrival at the main airport building, we were greeted by airport security, not your standard looking airport security either, these people were in full military clothing complete with guns and truncheons.
We had been advised by the trip organiser (who we would not be meeting until the following day) that we should not mention the reason for our trip to the Ukraine as there was ongoing problems with the Zone, with this ringing in my head, I cautiously moved forward to the passport control gate, to be greeted by a stern looking Ukranian who spent several seconds staring at me, this was a slightly worrying moment, but he then proceeded to pick up my passport and sift through it.
In the end, he only spoke to me once, to ask where I was staying, my response was met with a grunt, the return of my passport and the signal to pass through the gate onto luggage collection. Fifteen minutes later, all the luggage for our group had been successfully collected and we were heading outside again to find our waiting taxi.
We got to the car park and one thing became instantly apparent – the Ukraine appears to be the place where every Lada ever produced seems to have ended that was all the eye could see up and down the car park.
We found our taxi, loaded the bags then spent the next five or so minutes trying to explain the name of our hotel to the driver. We knew that it was the most recent hotel to be opened in Kyiv and that it was situated on Shevchenko Boulevard. A couple of frantic phone calls by our driver later and we were on the way to our destination.
Queue the next ‘culture shock’ of my limited time in Kyiv, the one rule of driving appears to be that there is no rule, its a free-for-all, each side of the road has 4 lanes and the reason for choosing a particular lane is not clear, its certainly not speed or reliability of your vehicle, as several times along the way we narrowly avoided a collision with cars crawling along, or even just stopped in the chosen lane!
The hotel was about fifty minutes away from the airport and as we got closed to the centre I was beginning to relax a little as our diver seemed to be ‘relatively’ safe on the road and started to focus more on my new surroundings, rather than am I going to get there alive! I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from Kyiv, but my initial thoughts are that it seemed to be quite a poor, run down looking place in parts, there seemed to be a lot of derelict buildings and crumbling tower blocks, along with what seemed like an endless stream of roadside kiosks offering a wide range of products and services and apparently a popular meeting place for the locals.
We crossed over the Dnieper river, where we were soon met by the a much more upmarket looking city, high-rise buildings as far as the eye could see, separated by ornate looking buildings which were obviously part of the grandeur of the soviet/USSR era of days gone by.
After several increasingly more frantic sounding phone calls by our driver, we arrived at the hotel, checked in and made our way to our rooms. We were given the option of choosing either a low floor or a higher floor, so with photograph possibilities in mind, we went for a higher floor, sadly the hotel is quite surrounded so the views from the hotel window were not great.
After an hour or so to relax and unwind, we headed out again to find a place to eat. We ended up finding a small sized pizza restaurant.
This place had to have been one of the most random places I have ever been in. Decoration wise, the stairwell to get to the 2nd floor restaurant was covered in very interestingly decorated post boxes, there must have been a good 50+ of them, each one with its own design, the purpose of them, I still do not know, but it was certainly different!
As we entered the restaurant, the décor got that little bit stranger, the overall design reminded me somewhat of an old American Diner, with booths running along the outside walls and tables running down the centre, every so often along the centre of the restaurant there was a random collection of hanging art work, one section had telephones hanging down from the roof, another section had a some old menus hanging down, then a section of what looked like someone’s old diaries, it was quite quirky, but made the place feel quite relaxed.
Our waitress came over and we quickly discovered that her English was about as good as our Ukranian, so in true holiday spirit, we used the tried and tested ‘point and hope for the best’ way of ordering our food and drinks.
Between the three of us, we ordered three pizzas, five pints of beer and one cup of coffee and we came away with change from £10 – the Ukraine was going to be good!
After our evening meal, we headed back to our hotel, as we were approaching the door, we were greeted by another explorer who would be joining us on the Chernobyl trip Simon (aka The Littlest Jellyfish).
Introductions over, he told us that he had been browsing through his Kyiv guidebook and had found a quaint little bar which was apparently decorated with memorabilia from the cold war and was known (in the guide book) as being one of the most popular bars for visitors.
Off we headed in search of the bar, we were assured that Simon knew exactly where the bar was….three quarters of an hour and many wrong turns later, we found our destination, but, things had changed, the cold war memorabilia had gone, but the place still had a welcoming feel to it, so we decided to stay.
An untold number of cheap drinks were enjoyed throughout the night, including a random cocktail discovery by the name of ‘The Jellyfish’ – what are the odds of finding a cocktail which shared the same name as one of the people off the forum in attendance in the bar!
A couple of hours later, we headed back to the hotel , full of Ukranian hospitality to get a good nights sleep before the official start of the 2011 Chernobyl & Pripyat tour the following day.