Dateline: Kiev, Day 2 – The Ballet

Kiev, Ukraine
19 June 2009

I really only came to Ukraine for one reason: I wanted to see Chernobyl. However, I figured that since I was spending all this time and money getting here, I might as well see some sights, too.

Last night, Phil mentioned that he was interested in seeing a ballet today. I said that I’d join him and we got some other people to come as well, Johnathan and Lucy. Phil woke up well before I did and was gracious enough to get tickets for the both of us (which supprisingly only cost 60 UAH1).

The ballet wasn’t until the evening, so I made by way north to the Chernobbyl Museum. It’s an errie combination of history and art that is well executed in both regards.

34.0 mm || 1/100 || f/4.2 || ISO200 || NIKON D70
Kyiv, Kyiv City Municipality, Ukraine

I made my way back to the hostel, in time to put my feet up for a few. We had a couple of new hostel guests, Liz and Emily. Emily had just graduated from high school in Australia in December2 and was taking a gap year to travel. Liz is from Wisconsin and is spending over a month in Ukraine doing a study abroad program that involved visiting several communities affected by the Chernobyl incident.

I asked if either of them was interested in coming to the ballet with us, and Liz was.

Phil and I, dressed in our best (which didn’t really amount to much), and Liz, headed out to the ballet. We were pretty sure that Liz could still get a ticket, but not 100%. Since Phil and I already had our tickets, the more difficult task was going to be conveying fact that Liz needed a ticket next to us. The jury rigged solution was to write the section and seat number of the ticket that we wanted to buy, then show the ticket lady our tickets, and hope she pieced it all together.

It worked, more or less. The seat on either side of Phil and I was taken, however, the seat directly behind us was not; Liz got that one.

With only moments until the opening curtain, we made our way up, up, up and found our seats.

The ballet was “Bayaderka,” which is a Russian word for the French word “La Bayadère,” which means “The Temple Dancer,” in English. Although the it’s originally a Russian play (I think), so I don’t know why it has a French name as well.

I won’t bother recounting what actually happening as it’s really not that important. What is important is that we had a pretty good time. This was my first time at a professional ballet (I’ve seen my cousins perform before) and it was very impressive! Phil took some photos and has graciously allowed me to post them:

Click to embiggen.
Photos © 2009 Phil Bannon. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

After the ballet was over, we headed back to the hostel. I decided to call it an early night so I could get enough rest for my full day of excitement tomorrow.

  1. US$8 

  2. southern-hemisphere schools still have the summer off 

Dateline: Kiev, Day 1 – Traveling, Again

Kiev, Ukraine
18 June 2009

Today was a travel day. It was nice not having to travel at nice for once. It was a short bus ride to the airport, which is just a few kilometers outside of Tallinn’s Old Town. The airport was quiet, just like Old Town. There was no line at the security checkpoint, which was good because I had to go through twice.

18.0 mm || 1/1250 || f/3.5 || ISO200 || NIKON D70
Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia

I normally don’t travel with my Nalgene. However, on this trip I have. I forgot that I had some water left in it and you’re not supposed to take any liquids through security1. The security lady kindly asked me to empty it out, so I had to walk back to the check-in area to find a place where I could dispose of my ever so dangerous liquid (I opted for the curb outside).

I went back through security, putting my now-empy Nalgene through the x-ray machine. I hurried through the metal detector and it went of this time. I was slightly puzzled as to why the metal detector had gone off this time, and not the last time. I went through the exact same metal detector as I did last time, and I had the exact same items on my person. It took a few seconds before I figured it out; however, I shall leave it as an excersive to you to figure out why (bonus points offered for the proof).

The plane ride out to Latvia was non-eventful. The medium turbo-prop was not even half filled, which was meant that I got an entire row to myself. Once we landed, I passed through Latvian customs, getting a Latvian exit stamp (although not entrance stampt) on my visa2.

Boarding the 737 to Kiev was delayed for unknown reasons, and then delayed again as there was a minor scuffle between a passenger and crew member. There was a of talking, and then the passenger definitively slamed his carry-on bag to the aisle. I don’t have the remotest idea about what the issue was, but I think it had something to do with the guy’s seat…although I can’t imagine what the issue was. The captain was called out to talk with the passenger. The captain was calm and collected and spoke bits of English and Spanish before returning to a less familar language.

18.0 mm || 1/1600 || f/3.5 || ISO200 || NIKON D70

The passenger was still refusing to cooperate though. The captain told the flight attendant to call the police, while the disgruntled passenger made his way to the very back of the airplane.

The police came, the passenger was escorted off, and we were on our way.

Going through Ukrainian customs is relatively easy, and far less stressful than Russian customs. Getting into Kiev and finding my hostel was a bit more tricky though. First, I had to find a bus to the central train station. A rather persistent taxi driver kept asking me if I wanted a ride, and I kept saying no…over and over. The bus ended up being a Grey Hound-style bus with no markings. I used my amazing powers of inference to determine that it may be going to the train station and later confirmed this, more or less, with the bus driver.

Unfortunately, the bus was making two stops this day (I actually suspect it makes two stops every day), and I got off the bus at the first stop. I went to go get my luggage, which was in the underbelly luggage compartment; but that involved basically stepping out into traffic. As soon as I tried to open the luggage compartment, the driver honked at me and explained that this wasn’t my stop…opps.

We get to the main train, my stop, and I go find the metro. It’s a short ride on the metro, which opperates the exact same way as the one in Moscow and St. Petersberg, although far less ornate on the inside.

I finally make it to the hostel around 5 or so, completely exhausted.

Some of the other guys in the hostel went out tonight. I joined them and actually had a pretty decent time. I didn’t get back until 4 in the morning.

  1. We shall save discusioning the absurdity of this rule for another day 

  2. Estonia and Latvia are part of the Schengen Agreement, Ukraine is not 

Ukraine and Itinerary v0.3

Now that I have my plans to Russia finalized, I’ve started to plan out other parts of my trip. It also sounds like Charlie and Quinn are both seriously considering coming along for at least part of my adventure. Quinn has a prior engagement that will tie him up until the first part of July, but he’s considering joining me then. Charlie has a bit more flexibility and I’m trying to convince him to join me for the second part of June.

In talking with Charlie, he encouraged me to do a little bit of route optimization. I’ve come up with Itinerary v0.3, which is essentially a reorganization of v0.2; I’ve also dropped France from the list…although I could put it back later. I’ve also, tentatively, added a stop in Greece.

Trip Path
Trip Path

As for Ukraine, I started looking and there are tours of Chernobyl! This is both incredibly exciting and scary1. There are a handful of companies that provide tours, each of them seem to have equal pricing and offerings, starting at $150/person or so. A bit more than I want to pay, but could be worth it I think, especially since it’s an all day adventure and includes lunch2. Pictures are also allowed, so I would definitely be a happy camper there.

TourKiev is the leading contender for the tour, they’re also recommended by The Lonely Planet and seem to be pretty professional.

Other travel companies include UkrainianWeb and SAM Travel Company.

In doing some research, I found this interesting slide show from the EPA, Chernobyl: An Inside Tour. I also found an obituary for Constantin Rudy, who’s mentioned extensively in the EPA slide show and who seemed like a pretty cool guy.

Interesting side note, part of Call of Duty 43 is set in Prypiat, Ukraine, which is just 2km from Chernobyl. When I was looking at the pictures from the tour companies, I immediately recognized them as from the game…creepy.

Itinerary v0.3:

  • Day 1:
    Seattle, Washington
    Dulles, Washington, DC
  • Day 2: Moscow, Russia
  • Day 8: St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Day 14: Tallin, Estonia
  • Day 16: Ukraine
    • Kiev
    • Chernobyl
  • Day 18: Turkey
    • Istanbul
    • Antalya
    • Ephesus
    • Cappadocia
  • Day 24: Greece
  • Day 26: Italy:
    • Rome
    • Venice
    • Agnone
  • Day 36: Switzerland
    • Arbon
    • Interlaken
  • Day 40: Austria
  • Day 44: Budapest, Hungary
  • Day 50: Prague, Czech Republic
  • Day 53: Warsaw, Poland
  • Day 57: Germany
  • Day 62: Seattle

  1. “According to our guide the radiation dose you get from a day at Chernobyl is less than from a transatlantic flight. In other words, it’s supposed to be safe.” 

  2. brought in from outside the exclusion zone 

  3. a video game I play on occasion