Journeys end

Well, Twizzles and I have been Home for a day now. Having had time to sleep and reflect on our adventure I’m ready to write my concluding post.
It feels like we were away for months but in reality it was 12 days.. 304 hours.. It sounds so small but this time last week we were flying back to Poland from Kyiv. I worked out that we covered 3304miles in 304hours which means our total average speed was 10.86mph lol. I’m rather pleased with that score :-)

So to sum up for anyone who wishes to follow us… Auschwitz is incredible (lonely planet is a bit wrong here, it takes 2hours to get there from Krakow by train and you can easily walk to the museum and to Birkenau… Allow a day). Wieliczka salt mines are an absolute must (20 mins by train from Krakow but check times coming back. If you come out of the ‘miners entrance’ afterwards head down towards the square and head left, if it’s hot there’s an ice cream kiosk on the edge of the square, allow a day if you want both tours). Kyiv is amazing, definitely a must see. Make your life easier and learn how to translate Cyrillic letters to Roman letters but make sure you learn Ukrainian not Russian as there are differences in the two alphabets just as you find in European languages.
Finally my beloved Gdansk…. Take a few days, wander the streets, visit Hel and Sopot, take a boat around the shipyards… Go and see the monument at Westerplatte and at the shipyard gates. You will never find hospitality like you find in Poland.

This has been the most amazing experience and Twizzles and I are already planning our next.

I’ll finish by thanking everyone who helped make this journey for us. Firstly, and most importantly, let us all give thanks to the Liquidators of Chernobyl, without their sacrifices the long term effects of the disaster would be far far worse than they are today, Twizzles and I saw their work first hand and they deserve the highest honour. They truly did save the world.

Thank you to the staff at the hotels and hostel we stayed in. The people at the restaurants, particularly in Kyiv who were so patient with me whilst I butchered their language into some weird Polglishrainian. The friends we made who shared little slices of our lives. To my family near Gdansk and once again to our readers and followers.

We wish you all fair winds and clear skies

Дуже Дякую
Zombie & Twizzles
Xxxxxxxx

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Sopot and Cieplewo.

Today we went for a wander round the town we’ve been staying in for the last five days Pruszcz (Proo-sh-ch) and to the village his Mum & Grandmother used to live in Cieplewo (Ch-ple-voh). Zombie hasn’t been back here in 20 years but much is still the same, they’ve just multiplied almost infinitely. The route to the train station being the main thing he wanted to see and the plot where their houses used to stand, it’s a road now.

We walked from his Uncle’s block (flats were, and are still, the main abode of the Poles) down the route over the river to Pruszcz Railway Station and from there a winding 3K route mostly along the railway line to Cieplewo. We stopped a few times to take photos of this and that and we had been in the village for quite a while before they mentioned that we were in “Stare Cieplewo” the old part of the village. Just a couple of houses later and the road narrowed before letting out again to the plot where Zombie’s Mum’s and Gran’s houses were. The “cottage” was three houses stuck together, the end two only being one level each. Here’s a before and after photo from the same spot as best we could do.

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After some reminiscing we continued up the street and going to “drop in” on some friends. The Polish way is you just turn up somewhere and you’ll be greeted warmly and presented with coffee almost before you’ve sat down. It’s really nice and not something that ever happens in England, you turn up un-announced you’d be lucky to get an invite in let alone hospitality.

Anyway, we ended up staying for a few hours during which I took more photos (flowers, kittens, grape vines, butterflies), we picked walnuts & apples and we had Polish sausage barbecued for lunch.

Whilst I may only have command of 80-100 words of Polish I have begun to understand a lot more of what people are saying in the context of a conversation so even though three of the four people spoke exclusively Polish it was a wonderful time. I’m glad that boything’s family friends & uncle like me so much, makes me know I’m doing something right by learning Polish and coming to this wonderful country, though apparently my name means “small crying girl” in Polish! We got a lift home round 2 and since then we’ve just been packing and reading.

Flight tomorrow is at 10.15 local time so this will be posted when we have Internet, hopefully before the flight.

Thank you, Poland, for a very wonderful holiday and don’t forget to be awesome.

~Twizzles

Taking a boat to Hel

The Hel Peninsula is the bit that sticks out the top of Poland in the Baltic Sea, we had planned on getting a train there as at some points it’s a single track that’s you can throw a stone across the width of the land but turns out that would take far too much time. So we took a ferry, or “sea tram” as the translation would be, taking just under two hours to cross. There was a slow departure along the river through the well known Gdansk Shipyard and then we were in the Baltic Sea! Well enough that it got choppy and horrible half way across but we were technically never in open sea as we didn’t leave the peninsular.

Arriving there we decided on finding the first beach spot we could and parked up, unfortunately whilst it was lovely when the sun was out it was far too cloudy to be much good. Zombie got his attempt at swimming in the sea and I braved a short paddle but it was far too cold.

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They did have wifi on the beach though! Europe seems to have a great love of contactless bank cards and free wifi, it was in every air port and lots of other places too get back to England and you’re lucky to find wifi you have to pay for in the airport let alone free stuff. But I digress, we gave it about half an hour and decided to go for a walk and find sme brunch, we had had breakfast as like every morning Zombie’s uncle kindly made us eggs & cold meat on bread (v yummy) but it seemed like quite a while ago. We bought some souvenirs and found a little waffle/ice cream place. We had seen signs for “Gofry” in quite a few places but didn’t know what it was, turns out the most awesome waffles ever. Cream and your choice of about 10 different fresh fruits. Boything had raspberries and strawberries and I had ice cream (lody) which was amazing and neon colours.

As the peninsula is pretty easily walkable we followed a sign post for Plaza which is beach in Polish and what did we find but another amazing beach and strangely this one was warmer and sunnier! So Zombie went for his proper swim in the sea and I read my book enjoying the sun and heat, making sure every so often he hadn’t disappeared or drowned.

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After a lovely few hours we went to find some lunch, we had fish and chips of course! Can’t not at the sea side, even if you are 800 miles from home. We had to make the 3:30 boat back as we’d booked on to it so we hoofed it and got there in plenty of time, this crossing was much nicer as the sea had calmed a lot.

We wandered back through old Gdansk and caught the bus back home. There will be lots of photos to post once I’ve had a go through all of them but here’s one of me and Neptune.

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Back in the homeland

So the journey from Kiev to Warsaw was relatively uneventful. The only real panics were at Kiev airport when our STA travel card declined on us! There was money there but when you can’t explain what’s happened and you barely speak the language, it’s good to have a second card. That’s the second time it’s declined on us too!
Also at Warsaw railway station, the display boards only show some of the station stops, we had a quick dash into the passenger office to check but all was fine. So 6hrs later I come across some familiar sights, it’s been 20 years since my last visit here but everything is just as familiar as if I was here 20 days ago. And yet it’s all so different, towns and villages have expanded, Tesco is here!!! But my Uncle’s flat is more or less how I left it and I still know all of the streets and paths.

We visited the family plot in the cemetery too, there have been a few more names added to the tablet since I last saw it,but I cleaned it down and placed some flowers and a candle there which was really special :-)

I’m going to wrap this up here, it’s so so wonderful, please make sure you come and visit Gdansk, you will love it

Much love

Zombie xxxxx

Дякую Київ (Thank you Kyiv)

First of all I’d like to apologise for not including any pictures from yesterday so here are a couple for you. The iconic Pripyat sign which gives the illusion that it stands at the start of a long road leading into Pripyat, it doesn’t really, it sits on a fork. The road from behind runs through the “red forest” which is so badly contaminated that even driving at speed the Geiger counters started screaming warnings of 5uSv/h… Much the same as when we were at the reactor. As you face the sign the road to the left is the one for Pripyat where as the right hand road leads back to the power station.
The other picture is the iconic Ferris wheel of course, I’ve posted this pic because its Twizzles’ favourite :-)

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As for Kiev, we had a lovely touristy day, buying birthday presents and tat for everyone else. Friendship arch was pretty but the most amazing thing of all was the view from the top.. This is really a stunning country; communist history, friendly people, amazing food.
***misty eyed tangent***
The furnunculer is a cable hauled train which drags up the side of the mountain on which half of Kiev is perched, this made Twizzles panic a little, to be honest, it was a bit worrying but great fun. A market on a back street hill yielded some lovely presents for the family and at the bottom we visited the Chernobyl museum and signed the book. It seemed like the right thing to and whilst we didn’t understand most of the details, what we saw put our visit into perspective, this wasn’t just about a disaster, these were real people.

I would recommend Kiev for a short visit, say for 3-4 days. Learn some Ukrainian Cyrillic, include a trip to Chernobyl (We used http://www.lupinetravel.co.uk if you don’t live in the UK visit http://www.tourkiev.com). And finally, be ready for some long walks and a beautiful city.

Дякую Київ! Дуже Дякую to Yulia, Anastasia, Sean and Igor, you all helped make this one to really remember!

Much love
Зомбі xxxxxx

The echos of lost voices

Good evening wonderful people of the world!!!!

Today the Xbox “achievement unlocked” light of my life plinked again. Today Twizzles and I visited Chernobyl and Pripyat.

I suppose I should give you a brief background of this place, for those of you who have missed this bit of history. During the late 60s, early 70s the Soviet Union was building nuclear power stations to power the massive empire they had. In northern Ukraine sat a small city by the name of Чорнобиль or to give it it’s improper name Chornobyl which we spell Chernobyl. They built a massive power station with two reactors some 18km away from the city and didn’t waste anytime building more. With four reactors it was 3rd biggest in the world. The Soviets were going for 12 to make it the biggest globally. Now as they needed somewhere to house the many workers and their families, so in 1970 the city of Припять (Pripyat) was founded. This city was to become the jewel of the Soviet crown.. The so called Atomograd (atomic city) was fresh, vibrant and lively, I was said that in the Soviet Union there were only two places you could buy Chanel No5 perfume: Moscow and Pripyat. On 25/04/86 at 0123 a build up of pressure in number 4 reactor caused a massive steam explosion that blew off the top of the whole building with the force of 100 Hiroshima atom bombs. A simple safety test had become the worlds worst nuclear disaster. A deadly cloud of radioactive fallout spread north with the wind soon reaching Sweden and Finland. Firefighters tackling the blaze had reported tasting metal in their mouths as they fought a fire they had no idea was so dangerous. After a few hours all of them were suffering advanced radiation sickness.
The people of Pripyat slept on.
The next day, in Sweden, a researcher at a nuclear facility arrived at work and went through a normal scan. It was showing as ‘contaminated’ so he called a tech who scanned him and the equipment wasn’t faulty, he was indeed contaminated. This broke the story the soviets had tried to conceal. The world knew and they had to respond, the city of Pripyat had to be evacuated, the citizens heard this announcement across the city

“For the attention of the residents of Pripyat! The City Council informs you that due to the accident at Chernobyl Power Station in the city of Pripyat the radioactive conditions in the vicinity are deteriorating. The Communist Party, its officials and the armed forces are taking necessary steps to combat this. Nevertheless, with the view to keep people as safe and healthy as possible, the children being top priority, we need to temporarily evacuate the citizens in the nearest towns of Kiev Oblast. For these reasons, starting from April 27, 1986 2 pm each apartment block will be able to have a bus at its disposal, supervised by the police and the city officials. It is highly advisable to take your documents, some vital personal belongings and a certain amount of food, just in case, with you. The senior executives of public and industrial facilities of the city has decided on the list of employees needed to stay in Pripyat to maintain these facilities in a good working order. All the houses will be guarded by the police during the evacuation period. Comrades, leaving your residences temporarily please make sure you have turned off the lights, electrical equipment and water and shut the windows. Please keep calm and orderly in the process of this short-term evacuation.”

So on 27/04/86 1300 busses and 3 trains took the people away from their beautiful city, never to return.

On 19/08/2013, 9977 days since the city was abandoned, Twizzles and I saw it for ourselves.

At the first checkpoint you had your passport checked out by the guards who look like they mean business, the other thing you notice is the silence (and barbed wire) it was like being back at Auschwitz. We drove onwards down a massive highway which was devoid of… Everything. This was the start of the 30km exclusion zone. We first came to the city of Chernobyl, this place is actually quite lively, people who used to live here have returned to their homes and restarted their lives. There is a monument to Chernobyl here and a representation of the exclusion zones. A candle holder marks the spot of each lost village and more striking was the rows of village name boards, all 94 wiped off the map because of the disaster. All the water pipes here are carried above ground rather than below making rather odd squared off archways over roads and sidewalks. We stopped next at the remains of an old village kindergarten in the village of Копачі (Kopachi). The village is almost gone but there were a few radioactive hotspots here which made the Geiger counters start shrieking warning bells with readings of 20uSv/h (when you consider, background radiation in downtown Kiev was 0.14uSv/h it makes you think). The kindergarten was littered with bunk beds for nap time and scattered toys and books everywhere. It was the first real evidence of what had happened here. The other thing which you notice is how much nature has fought back. The building was less than 10 metres from the road and yet you could barely see it. Onwards to the power station itself.

Setting eyes on it for the first time was quite special but when we found out that the last reactor was finally shut down in 2003, it’s hardly surprising to find the admin buildings still very much in use as part of the close down and clean up operations. We stopped to feed the famous catfish. Famous because of their massive sizes, not, as everyone assumes, due to mutation but because catfish grow their whole lives and when left alone will reach 9-10 feet in length.
We drove around to the back of the power station where we could see the new sarcophagus being built and up close and personal with reactor number 4. Our Geiger counters all woke up at once and began screaming again, this close to the reactor we were getting doses of 5-6uSv/h which means you would get your whole days dose in one hour. We arrived at the right time too because in autumn the well known chimney tower will be removed to make way for the new arched sarcophagus. After pictures we moved on to Pripyat. Oh I should tell you about the memorial statue here, it’s such thick granite that when you put the counter behind it it drops down to normal levels. The staff are fond of this statue because it protects them.

When we arrived in Pripyat you have to ask “where is it?” The main road into town looks like a barely used forest track but then, from out of the trees you begin to see apartment blocks staring like shy children from behind the trees, street lamps, long since broken, faded and peeling street signs, this truly was a dead city.

We came to the famous fair ground, despite a few people with dodgy ‘conspiracy theories’ (why?) that fairground has never worked, it still stands silently awaiting children who will never come. As I stood below the Ferris wheel, I realised that the wait was truly worth it, here I stood below this iconic landmark, I wanted to call someone back home and tell them (yes, you do get phone signal there) so I called the first person i thought of; Mikey whom I work with, (Mike, I know you are reading this, you have to call me when you get there yourself ;-) ) as I know he holds a wish to stand where I stood today.

Walking around, you can see what happens when nature goes unchecked; the city is full of trees and birds. Nature has reclaimed Pripyat (only a shame I couldn’t eat the apples, they looked so nice). A slow walk around central square past the hotel and city hall brought us back to the mini bus and the journey home. But not before a meal in the workers canteen in Chernobyl town, a traditional meal of fish, beetroot soup and stuffed peppers rounded off one amazing day.

This is one adventure you should try, be fair warned, it’s not for the faint of heart… When those Geiger counters are screaming at you and your just standing in the open or when you hold them up to a patch of moss by the palace of culture and off they go again, you get a sense of the true nature of how terrible this disaster was. As you walk the clink clink clink of the counters is a constant reminder of why “50,000 people used to live in this city, now it’s a ghost town”

Much Love,
Zombie xxxxx

On the road to Chernobyl

Thought I’d reflect a little on the sights as we go along to the exclusion zone. It feels like this former Soviet state is still reeling from the western influence that the communist collapse caused. There massive old apartment blocks, grotty and crumbling but still going strong. But these are being adorned with west advertising like Sony and Samsung (I know they’re east of me… You know what I mean). There are many New builds too but there seems to be no attempt clean up the old stuff. The skyline is still marked by many chimney stacks too, made even more conspicuous by the red and white stripes so typical of these icons of communist production. We are now surrounded by a heavily wooded area as we travel north, this kind of view quite common in Poland too. The people on our tour seem nice, met an American chap called Sean and our delightful young guide called Anastasia she is very young looking which is accentuated by her hight (quite small). But as I well know by my own experiences and by my beautiful Twizzles, appearances are almost always deceptive.

Just past a church which a massive communist icon in its grounds. So much history here.

Going to finish here and I’ll post this tonight when I get WiFi back

Peace out and НЗБД
Zombie xxxx