My bucket list changes every few weeks or at times even more often – every time I read a new good travel blog, instant edits are made to the travel bucket list. One of the few features that had not changed much was my interest in the disaster site of Chernobyl. While the radioactivity offered adventure, the deep stories and it being off most typical tourist maps added to the mystique. Once the research started, the city of Kiev itself seemed quite interesting and with a visa on arrival, really affordable price and a direct flight from Delhi shot it to the top of the to-do list.
There were interesting surprises – hotels were far cheaper than expected and for the price, quite amazing. Visa on arrival is a pain on the backside. The typical wait can easily go upto 2-3 hours and there is not even drinking water in the waiting area. And its not that you are waiting in a long line, its just that they take your passport in a room and then you just stand outside and wait – forever. The Airline was efficient but the Ukraine Airlines planes will take you down the memory lane several decades – a true soviet era experience.
Outside of the visa process, it is a very comfortable country to be up and about. Kiev is a lovely city with amazing food and vibrant bars. There are some amazing churches to see and some great views of the Dnieper River and the Motherland statue that towers over it. There is a good hop-on hop off to give a feel of the city and then several tour options for the ultimate Chernobyl trip. As much as I hate group tours, the only way to go to Chernobyl is to be part of a group as it is still a highly restricted zone.
There is also a budding art scene in the city with the communist style buildings finding space some some massive pieces of art. It is quite a walkable city in general and while there is quite a gradient there is enough to see to keep you going. The metro is relatively easy to navigate and quite amazing in itself. Kiev boasts of one of the deepest metro stations in the world that takes over 4 minutes of just standing on a very fast moving escalator to get in and out of.
We took a hotel in the centre of the city, the iconic Hotel Ukraine. It is really well located with a view of the Independence monument and next to the Maidan metro station. The rooms were basic and really old but clean. Breakfast was good and the place was central enough that we could be at the main commercial centre of the city in a 5 minute walk.
We got in quite late since because of the delays at immigration, but being early July, it was still daylight and there was a Croatia – Russia game to make sure bars were full. We had no option but to be vocal Croatia supporters – cheering for Russia wasn’t an option. We had booked a tour to Chernobyl the first full day and then had 2 more days to explore Kiev and its wonderful churches. Historically this was the city of churches with some that are fascinating examples of Russian art and architecture. In the soviet era, lot of the churches were destroyed or used as storage or market places. Since the downfall of USSR, some of these churches have been restored and a few others reconstructed as replicas of the original ones.
For most of our trip we chose to walk or use the metro system. For a day we had taken the Hop-on Hop-off tour and it turned out to be a good orientation to Kiev. It was quite convenient, though Kiev is not a small city but this gave us a good flavor of the its vibrant culture.