Archive for March, 2009

The Ancient City of Lviv…L’vov…Leopolis…Lwow…Lemberg…L’vovas (take your pick)

Posted in 1 on March 27, 2009 by LaContra

Since I have been waiting in Kyiv for some brake pads which will never come (fucking DHL) I decided to take the £15 overnight train to the ancient city of Lviv for a little R&R.

Of course I visited purely for the historical and architectural ambiance of the city… the fact that my girl Sylwia was flying in from the UK obviously had nothing to do with my decision….!

The City of Lviv-City of Lions (Ukr spelling) has been occupied or subsumed into various state powers over its long history due to invasion or the re-drawing of national borders. The Germans, Lithuanians, Polish, Austro-Hungarians, the Ukrainians, and the Soviets have all had their turn.

Unlike most old European cities which have a designated “old town” section… Lviv would seem to be old all over with most of its original architecture intact and very little modern incursion.

Cobbled winding streets lend themselves to endless wanderings on foot

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and the very centre of the ancient town is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Churches and cathedrals around every corner…..

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Monuments galore…

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And of course Lions abound….

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Along with various architectural florishes….

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The ubiquitous street sellers hawking everything from books

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or flowers

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or simple household bits and pieces….

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Apparently though the theft of public conveniences has become endemic…

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And against the odds of climate, time and precision Soviet engineering even the odd Russian motor car still survives here….

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So in the end I saw the beautiful old city… I saw my beautiful young girlfriend Sylwia… and the fact that she brought the brake pads with her didn’t hurt at all either!

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Why DHL International Couriers are Fucking Useless Bastards and Dishonest Thieving Scum.

Posted in 1 on March 27, 2009 by LaContra

Having replaced the brake pads on the truck prior to leaving the UK, I thought they would last the usual 12,000 miles….apparently though with Norwegian Fjords, Russian roads, and a trailer….they would seem to last a mere 6000 miles.

….and with a truck filled with every imaginable spare part…what don’t I have on board?…..yep, brake pads.

Put in a call to DHL Worldwide Courier service…..

Kiev?…Ukraine?…2 days no problem!

Fantastic!….or so I thought.

Now if you went to a DHL office and said…

”Can you send this big bag of cocaine to Kiev for me please?”

They would say….”Of course not! That’s illegal”

Or if you said

“Can you courier this box of radioactive waste to Ukraine please?”

They would retort…..“No!…that is against the law!”

So why the fuck DHL don’t know that it’s AGAINST THE FUCKIN LAW to import individual car parts into Ukraine, I don’t know….but it didn’t stop them taking the money with a smile and leaving my brake pads to languish in Ukrainian Customs…..I mean…am I the first person to ever attempt this?…Hardly….. and I have wasted a week hanging about Kiev waiting for brakes that ain’t coming.

In case you weren’t aware DHL is a division of Deutsche Post (the German Post Office)….useless, thieving, fraudulent BASTARDS….they deserved to lose the war.


…but of course that’s just my opinion.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS (PART 2)

Posted in 1 on March 27, 2009 by LaContra

During my travels I’ve come across some interesting places and some even more interesting people…

…and many of them have been mentioned in the travel-blog so far…but here are some others that deserve an Honourable Mention in Dispatches…


1. The Nova Hostel in Moscow….Run by Alex and in the heart of Moscow for about £25 a night which is ridiculously cheap by Moscow standards!

This is where I met the 2 idiots who were off to cycle from Vladivostok to Portugal…Thanks to Alex for his local knowledge and support!

2. The Hostel Tiu and the Hostel Love in Kyiv, run by ex-pat Marcus and his girlfriend Luba (who basically runs the place AND Marcus). This place saved my bacon while I was waiting for the truck brakes to arrive….an endless stream of crazies, waifs, students, and lost souls pass thru here to my endless amusement….such as:

*Erik from the States, living in SPB and studying Russian along with Jenny and Johanna……..

*Jeremy the Texas farm-boy who had never left the States until he came to Ukraine 3 weeks ago hoping to get a Russian visa….but he really can’t explain why. Still has corn growing out of his ears, loud and red-necked but in a sweet naive kinda way…and

*Padraig the Irish Dairy farmer who was on holidays from working on the farm he runs……in fuckin desert of Saudi Arabia!

He farms the Crown Prince’s dairy herd…all 50,000 of ‘em inside giant air-conditioned barns!…

He said he ain’t never met no one like me!!??…like me?

He’s dairy farming in the desert for fuck sake!

3. Thanks to Stuart Brereton who sent me another download of Pink Floyd Animals to replace the copy I gave away.

4. Thanks to Richard my long suffering friend and mechanic in Bristol who still often passes useful advice down the phone line but now for free!

5. The Ukrainian Border Guard who took a bribe of £10 rather than make me unload the entire truck at the border crossing…and the 3 militiamen who didn’t arrest me trying to enter Chernobyl illegally.

6. To Sergei, the Chief Financial Officer of Microsoft Ukraine (and off-road enthusiast) who saw the truck on the street with its Russian Ladoga Rally Stickers on the doors and left his business card on the windscreen offering assistance if I needed it in Kyiv!

Who ya gonna call?

Who ya gonna call?

7. And most importantly to my beautiful, gorgeous, endlessly patient, and long suffering girlfriend Sylwia….who smuggled the brake pads and a few other car parts into Ukraine when she came to visit me here for a few days!

Who ya gonna call indeed

Who ya gonna call indeed


Dissent and Disagreement.

Posted in 1 on March 26, 2009 by LaContra

Well….its taken a couple of months, about 7500 kms, snow and ice, and freezing temperatures….

…but the tensions have mounted and finally all pretence at civility have been abandoned….patience on both sides has finally snapped….

Apparently Harvey feels that I have monopolised the commentary, content, discussion, and tone of this blog while consistently failing to take his imput seriously or give him his due credit regarding his contribution to our adventure.

Some would brand such accusations as slanderous, unjust, and vile….but not I.

So in a typical gesture of equality and fair-mindedness on my part, Harvey Duck will in future have his own travel-blog where he can venture forth with his own comments and appraisal of our ongoing adventure….

So in addition to reading this travel-blog you may be interested to check out Harvey’s contributions at:

www.harveyduck.wordpress.com

In typical understated fashion he has decided to call his new blog…

Harvey on Tour: Back in the USSR

What more can I say?…Enjoy.

….and to Pripyat the Nuclear Ghost Town

Posted in 1 on March 20, 2009 by LaContra

Then on to the city of Pripyat (previous pop 44,000)… the city was evacuated in the days following the accident by a fleet of 1200 buses and is now a deserted ghost town…..

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I wandered around for about an hour

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…..along roads

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…..into squares and shops

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Clean-up aisle 3,4,5,6,7………

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….even into people’s apartments

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yeah…lets see DIY SOS or 60 Minute Makeover fix this

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Yep…Part of the problem.

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Then there was a fair ground in the city centre….

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The accident happened a few days before the May Day celebrations on May 1

This brand new Ferris wheel was due to open on May Day….so it has never been used, never had a single child sit on laughing with delight

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And now it never will…..

Just like the day the earth stood still.

On the way out of the zone we pass through the ‘red forest’….it aint red in colour but……its in the red-zone of radiation.

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At the exit checkpoint you pass through another full body radioactivity detector.

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Visiting Chernobyl has been a strangely detached experience…Unlike other places I have visited this place is not a place of tangible human tragedy or suffering….the implications of the Chernobyl accident will have to be assessed and studied over generations….there is no evil dictator or malign forces to blame here…it was an accident within an incompetent system…. no one to blame….and there is no real devastation to witness like visiting ground zero in Hiroshima.

The radiation is invisible, pervasive, silent, and ultimately deadly and perhaps that robs the place of its deserved impact upon the visitor.

But there was one thing that the woman who gave us the information lecture at the site said which really sticks in my mind….she said:

Even after 23 years, the task which they are undertaking is nothing more than the maintanence of the actual reactor zone.

This place can NEVER be cleaned-up, reclaimed, re-established, or re-juvenated …this little patch of northern Ukraine is lost forever. There is no question of it ever being habitable or even vaguely normal again.

Their task now is to simply to contain the radioactive materials, fuel, particles, debis, and dust, within the concrete sacophogus and manage the contamination within the exclusion zone as best they can.

FOREVER.

There are not many things that you can say are forever……but as long as we reside on this planet……this place will require constant attention, constant management, and constant vigilance….never to improve things but just to maintain the status quo.

That had an impact.


WELCOME…………

Posted in 1 on March 20, 2009 by LaContra

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TO

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CHERNOBYL…..!!

Marooned and bored in Kyiv I decided to take the official tour to Chernobyl.

So I booked in and 4 disparate travellers departed the downtown area…and just before I continue…

WTF!

There are 2 Poles, an American, and myself on this tour….and while chatting to ‘Jamie’ (the American) he mentions that he lives in the US Virgin Islands and works for the US Dept of Homeland Security as a friggin Customs Border Agent!

That’s a bit spooky after meeting the Russian Customs Official…..

I’d like to state definitively and for the record that I am retired and engaging in no illicit or illegal activities during this trip!

Whew,

Now moving right along….we take a 2 hour minibus drive to the Checkpoint at the edge of the Zone.

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…and then the drive through the countryside

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to Downtown Chernobyl.

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It’s not exactly what you expect…I mean the town of Chernobyl has some 1000 inhabitants these days, people who work monitoring, cleaning up, or securing the reactor and the zone.

The forests look normal….

We saw deer on several occasions from the road…

….and beside all that, they only turned off and decommissioned the remaining reactors in 2000!

Kinda ridiculous when you consider the worlds worst nuclear disaster happened a few kilometres away, a mere 23 years ago…

I dunno….I just kind of expected ….something more devastated perhaps?

Local streets

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The local shop for local people….. and the only shop in town!

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Then to the visitors centre for a briefing on the zone and the effects on the local area

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Obviously prepared to battle the next major conflagration…

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This is the Geiger-counter you stand on like a weight machine.

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Then it’s on to the 10km zone checkpoint

Barney the Border Bloke checks our papers

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The Chernobyl site had 4 operating reactors with 2 more under construction at the time of the accident. Within a few kilometres we see the 2 unfinished reactor buildings, cranes frozen in time but looking as if the unions had called a strike only yesterday.

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The unfinished Cooling Tower…

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Readings 5 times the normal limit here

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Then onto the actual reactor site to get a briefing about what happened…what was done…and what still needs to be done

With pictures of the roof which was corroding and has just been replaced….

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And pictures from inside the reactor core and containment sarcophagus….

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…and an incredibly detailed scale model showing all the devastation within…

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…and a diagram of the new containment sarcophagus to be completed by 2011…

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The actual containment site…built in a hurry without any real planning its being maintained with a view to its eventual replacement.

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The memorial to the fire-fighters who perished as a result of their radiation exposure in the first days…

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Radiation 5 times higher than Chernobyl town centre.

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Oddities Russian and Urkainian Style

Posted in 1 on March 19, 2009 by LaContra
Your Russian Hotel will look just like a Russian apartment block...Signs? What for I was told?..all the locals know where the hotel is

Your Russian Hotel will look just like a Russian apartment block...Signs? What for I was told?..all the locals know where the hotel is

No its not an optical illusion

No its not an optical illusion

since he didn't have a tow hitch he had lashed the trailer to the car with a rope...and still overtook me at 80km on the ice.

since he didn't have a tow hitch he had lashed the trailer to the car with a rope...and still overtook me at 80km on the ice.

How do you keep the electricity transformers out of the snowdrifts? build it on a 6 foot pedestal

How do you keep the electricity transformers out of the snowdrifts? build it on a 6 foot pedestal

Might be hard to push a wheelchair up this accessway but its a helluva trip straight down!

Might be hard to push a wheelchair up this accessway but its a helluva trip straight down!

Russia in winter

Russia in winter

and Russian in the spring.....you fuckin tell me.

and Russian in the spring.....you fuckin tell me.

First page of your menu will invariably be a price list for broken crockery or furniture.....what kinda customers do they expect anyway?

First page of your menu will invariably be a price list for broken crockery or furniture.....what kinda customers do they expect anyway?

Benzin (petrol) is really cheap...smells really bad....and if you spill it on yourself it will smell for days, destroy your clothes, and burn all the hair off your arm.

Benzin (petrol) is really cheap...smells really bad....and if you spill it on yourself it will smell for days, destroy your clothes, and burn all the hair off your arm.

you only have to go 150km outside Moscow to find villages where the central well is the only water supply

you only have to go 150km outside Moscow to find villages where the central well is the only water supply

I don't think the Ukrainian gas conversion...

I don't think the Ukrainian gas conversion...

probably doesnt meet EU safety standards

probably doesnt meet EU safety standards

In the Ukraine these nests started to appear along the road

In the Ukraine these nests started to appear along the road

...must be fuckin eagles..these things are HUGE!

...must be fuckin eagles..these things are HUGE!

i suppose they would think 'why would you pay extra for a hole?'

i suppose they would think 'why would you pay extra for a hole?'

...besides, they need the cardboard for their police cars

...besides, they need the cardboard for their police cars