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Eastern Europe PTR - Parts 6+7: Transylvania + Sofia

gavin

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This was definitely not a park trip, and would probably be better suited in “Life Outside”, but there were a few +1s to be grabbed, so I’ll shove it in here.

The whole thing was pretty last-minute. I knew I’d be home for the summer, but didn’t want to spend the whole time in the UK. Originally, I’d thought of doing a park trip to Texas, but then realised that that would’ve meant I’d done 3 USA trips in the space of a year and I wanted to try a few new countries.

I just did a search through Skyscanner from Manchester and Liverpool to “Anywhere”, and booked a flight to the cheapest place I hadn’t been to already, Riga in Latvia. At about £120, it wasn’t cheap for a Ryanair flight (I’ve seen the same flight in the £10-£20 mark before), but I’d left it a bit late really.

Riga

There are no creds in this part of the report.

Although the flight was overpriced, the trip as a whole didn’t cost a lot. I managed to get a really nice hotel, about a 10-minute walk from the old town, for next to nothing, with a nice view onto some church and Riga tower (3rd tallest in Europe) in the background.

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I’d arrived in the evening and just crashed at the hotel before walking around the old town all day the next day, leaving quite early in the morning. Not sure what this building is, but it was just behind the hotel on the way to the old town.

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I got to this church early on and went up the tower for some decent views across the city.

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This old town square, with the town hall and some other old buildings – well, reconstructed recently rather than old to be fair – was the main tourist hub.

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I’m just going to throw in a bunch of other pictures. Can’t be f**cked to really explain to be honest. The old town is fairly compact, so everything was pretty close.

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The lack of flowery description probably makes it seem like I was just walking around for an hour or two, but it was pretty much a full day. I had close to a full day the next day, too, but realised that I wouldn’t really need it so ended up changing my bus ticket to leave early the next afternoon rather than later in the evening. The next morning I just went to a couple of museums/galleries which were ok, but don’t really warrant any further description or pictures.

It might not seem like it since I can’t be arsed to write about it in much detail, but I really liked Riga. I went in with absolutely zero knowledge or expectation of the place, but found it to be a really lovely city, perfect to spend a day or two just walking around without having a lot to actually do.
 

TilenB

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 1: Riga (no creds)

gavin said:
This was definitely not a park trip, and would probably be better suited in “Life Outside”, but there were a few +1s to be grabbed, so I’ll shove it in here.


Life Outside has been merged with Trip Reports Sub-forum quite a while ago. Haha :)


Riga looks really nice, though. I didn't know they have such a huge tower. Okay, basically I don't know much about the place, but it's still rather interesting for them to have it. Does it serve any purpose, or is it just there as a tourist attraction (like Eiffel Tower)?
 

gavin

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 1: Riga (no creds)

^ I didn't go, but I think it's a radio/tv tower with an observation deck.

Most towers are basically the same: built primarily for broadcasting signals but with a tourism element as well.
 

Jordanovichy

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 1: Riga (no creds)

Excellent photos, Gavin. I've been looking forward to this trip report since you told me you were doing this trip, looking forward to more!
 

Darren B

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 1: Riga (no creds)

I don't quite get this trip, Gavin.

Surely with the money you've spent on this trip you could have grabbed a 7 nights, all inclusive to Salou, watched a dolphin show, whored Shambhala and watched 2 Geordie lads kick **** out of each other. I thought you were classier than Riga, Gavin.
 

gavin

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 1: Riga (no creds)

^ An all-inclusive to Salou was actually my first choice. I can think of nothing better than sitting next to a pool full of obese Brits all day every day, eating fish and chips, reading The Sun and drinking watered-down "free" beer", but with it being the school holidays and being left quite late, I figured that all the packages would've already disappeared. Shame.

Like I said in the last part, I’d had a bus ticket leaving in the evening to get me to the next city, Vilnius in Lithuania, but I changed it for an earlier one since I’d seen what I wanted to see in Riga, the bus journey was 4-hours and it would mean getting in at a more reasonable time in the evening rather than quite late at night.

The bus was amazing. It only cost 18 Euro, was ridiculously comfortable, had a free coffee machine, wifi, electrical/usb sockets and an in-seat entertainment system.

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From the bus station, I got a taxi to the hotel, popped out to a supermarket for food and drinks and had a lazy evening before another day of walking for f**king miles.

Vilnius Day 1

The hotel was a bit further out from the old town than the last place, but was still only a 15-minute walk. I started off at the southern end at this old gate.

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On the other side were hundreds of God botherers, dressed in creepy matching T shirts, all waiting for something that I didn’t hang around for.

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Went into this church:

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It was quite fab.

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Went into another church about 30 seconds away:

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It was also quite fab.

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Not a church:

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But this was:

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And this:

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It had a small crypt with what looked like crap graffiti, but was apparently some old, important s**t.

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Oh look, another church. This one had been repurposed as a concert venue though.

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Just around the corner was Frank Zappa’s head on a 15 foot metal pole. F**k knows why; he wasn’t from here.

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Since I was starting to miss them, I found another church.

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They hadn’t even bothered to shove this one on the free tourist map I’d picked up, but it was probably the best one so far, and there was nobody else in it.

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Further down the road was the university, with a clock tower you could go up for a couple of quid.

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There was one of those Foucault’s pendulum things in there:

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And half a face. Because.

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There was a lift, but it was f**ked, so I had to climb up.

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The tower is fairly central, so gave some really decent 360 views. Have some:

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I spot some churches I haven’t been to yet!

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I headed up to the old fort the next day, but not to the tower which was a bit further out.

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The pendulum was suspended from the top of the tower.

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Next to the tower, the university has its own church. Obviously.

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I thought this was going to be a rather interesting and unique religious relic, but it was just a posh piano #recycledfacebookjokebecauseicantbearsed.

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It was a nice university campus though.

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Back out into the old town then:

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Church!

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Church!

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Church!

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I popped into all of them, but I’m not going to put any more pictures of the insides because they all started to blend into one after a while.

They’ve got so many churches going spare that they’ve just dumped this one to use as a car park:

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There was some stuff that wasn’t a church:

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Luckily, not for long though…

Two churches connected together!

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Despite having seen a church or two by this point, and it was getting on for about 5 o’clock, I hadn’t even made it to Cathedral Square, with the biggest church!

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This guy couldn’t even with all the churches. #anotherrecycledfacebookjokesorrynotsorry.

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You could climb up inside the bell tower here, too, thought you couldn’t get too high up and with this place being nearer the far side of the old town, there weren’t as many views.

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The main shopping street leading away from the old town:

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The view back over the cathedral was pretty stunning though, especially with that weather:

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It was getting on a bit by this point, and I’d been walking around pretty much non-stop for about 8 hours, so I walked back up that shopping street I’d just mentioned and went out that night to a club near my hotel where they were selling glasses of champagne for about £1.50. Messy, but fun, times!

Vilnius Day Two

I woke up pretty late, but that was fine since I’d covered the whole place the previous day. This time, I headed past the old town and up to the river, taking a walk along it which got me to that old fort on the hill.

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There was a funicular to get up to it, but it wasn’t particularly high, so I just walked up.

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The other side of the river from the old town has the city’s business district:

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There were, again, great views over the old town, but nothing too dissimilar from the university bell tower, so I won’t shove any in. This old palace is now a museum:

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I had wander round for an hour or so, but there’s not a lot worth mentioning really. It was very good, with loads of information – too much really – but a lot to try and take in if you’ve got little to no interest in Lithuanian history.

I managed to catch a tour of the cathedral crypt though, which was just about to start as I was walking past. You can’t get into the crypt without a tour, which is a pain since it goes on for bloody ages and I only wanted a quick look.

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Again, it doesn’t seem like it, but I’d been out and about, with a fairly solid hangover, for about 5 hours by the time I got out of there, so it was back to the hotel after that.

Like Riga – well, moreso really – Vilnius was another really nice surprise. I don’t think I’ve really heard anyone mention it before, but it was pretty stunning.

Obviously, it’s quite church-heavy when it comes to the buildings, but they were all pretty stunning to be fair. After a few of them, you start to become a bit desensitised to how impressive they are – it reminded me a bit of Venice or Rome in that respect – but realistically, it you took any one of them and shoved into most other towns or cities, it would be the main tourist draw.

So yeah, absolutely stunning city which came totally unexpected.
There’s creds in the next bit, but don’t get too excited.
 

Ben

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 2: Vilnius (no creds)

I'm so glad there's creds in the next part, I was worried the whole trip was a waste of time.
 

TilenB

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 2: Vilnius (no creds)

Please don't tell me the cred part will start with you attempting to get an abndoned Schwarzkopf in the middle of nowhere and that you've actually went somewhere worth.

Vilnius looks quite cool, but I wouldn't exactly attempt to see each of the churches there...
 

gavin

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 2: Vilnius (no creds)

^ I didn't go out of my way for anything, but there's absolutely NOTHING major with regards to parks simply because those countries don't have any.

It really wasn't an attempt to see those churches; they're literally just everywhere you walk and I was just walking around the place with no real plans.
 

ignace

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 2: Vilnius (no creds)

Wow, Vilnius also looks really nice :eek:. There doesn't seem to be that much traffic in the centre?

Also, is it just me or is Vilnius extremely clean?
 

gavin

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 2: Vilnius (no creds)

A lot of the old town was pedestrianised. The bright sunshine makes it look even more so, but yes it was very clean.
 

roomraider

Best Topic Starter
Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 2: Vilnius (no creds)

Great report Gavin. Really loving the pictures.

I really enjoyed my visit to Riga a couple of years back, Like you I was really surprised at how bloody lovely it was. Vilnius is high on my list to do but I want to combine it with Minsk and you know what a pain that is to do. :S
 

gavin

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 2: Vilnius (no creds)

^Yeah, f**k Minsk.

The next stop on the trip was Kiev. I’d originally wanted to go to Minsk in Belarus since it’s between Lithuania and Ukraine, but you need a visa which has to be applied for in advance and it wasn’t worth the effort for the sake of a couple of days, so I just flew over it. F**k that.

Kiev Day 1

I think I arrived in Kiev around lunch time, so just quickly checked into my hotel – well, I say quickly; the staff were horrendous and it took ages - and spent the afternoon having a wander. The hotel was so, so, so Soviet.

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It was pretty run down, but kind of fab in a whole “faded grandeur” kind of way. The location was amazing as well, looking down on Independence Square.

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Some stuff:

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Kiev was by far the biggest and busiest city of the trip, and also way more Soviet-feeling than the last two places, which were also part of the former USSR.

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Another city, another bell tower to clamber up for the views.

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Looking back towards the hotel:

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The bell tower was for this church, which doesn’t really look like much, but it was pretty amazing inside with the walls totally covered in frescoes, some around 1,000 years old, but with over-zealous staff enforcing “NO PHOTO!!!!!!” rules.

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This place was directly opposite:

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Just around the corner from there I walked into some TV show being filmed. It seemed like some kind of Masterchef/Hell’s Kitchen kind of thing, with two teams coking food and serving it to members of the public.
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From there it was down this winding road which was basically a market but being packed away for the evening.

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The downhill walk obviously meant an uphill one to get back to the hotel. Id been walking around for about 5 hours by this point, so just got some food and a couple of beers on the main road near Independence Square and called it a day.

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Kiev Day 2

Cred Day, Cred Day. Gotta get Creds on Cred Day. The weather was perfect for park visits.

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I got the metro, costing about 10p for a journey anywhere on the whole system, out to a place called Peremoha Park for an unkown Zyklon Galaxy coaster. This wasn’t really a proper amusement park, more a regular park with some rides, very much like the Chinese city parks and those in Moscow. It was still pissing down, so I got a Maccie’s breakfast next to the station and waited for it to calm down a bit.

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A few crappy rides, but no cred. NO CRED! I searched the entire massive park hoping that it was in a different area, but to no avail.

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Unless it’s been enclosed and themed to a 2000-year-old fairy tale, it’s been removed.

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They were obviously looking for the cred, only to be disappointed, as well:

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So, it was back to the metro and on to the next place, which was only a stop or two away, Hidrapark. Again, this was a city park with an amusement area. The weather had totally cleared up by this point.

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The place was dead, but open, with a skeleton staff getting stuff ready.

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CRED!

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Despite its small size, it made me fear for my life a little. I think I got about 5 circuits on the bloody thing before managing to get out. +1.

From there I decided to walk to some other stuff since the weather was much nicer, crossing the river and scrambling up a wet muddy hill because I couldn’t be arsed to walk about 2km the long way round on the actual road

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Further along was one of the main tourist sites, some old monastery with some caves, but the queues to get in were absolutely massive, stretching about 500m down the street, so I just walked past it and onto this other park a bit further on.

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So grim; it was fab!

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This massive statue had a museum in the base that was quite interesting, focusing on the history of Ukraine.

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Gloves made of human skin. Didn’t look particularly warm.

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There’s an observation deck on top of the statue’s shield, bu it had already closed for the day.

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I walked back into town, cutting through another park in case there were any surprise creds; there weren’t.

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Some stuff on buildings and the square at night:

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So yeah, three capital cities and one cred so far. More to come though.
 

DelPiero

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 3: Kiev (Cred)

Nice report so far Gavin, this is the kind of places I used to go exploring before we had the kids, and still try to do when I'm away somewhere new for work. Very interesting.
 

Dubaidave

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 3: Kiev (Cred)

I can't believe the cred at hidropark is still there. When I rode it I got about 20 laps. Genuinely thought I might die on it.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

gavin

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Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 3: Kiev (Cred)

I had a third day in Kiev, so used it to book myself onto a trip to go to Chernobyl. It was amazing.

There’s no way to do it without being on an organised tour with a licensed guide, which isn’t my preferred way to do something, but there’s literally no other way. It turned out to be great though. There were only 6 of us in the group, including the guide, and we didn’t see any other groups the whole time we were there. It was a Tuesday and the weather was crap, but the general greyness and complete lack of other people added to the overall atmosphere. Apparently at weekends there can be hundreds of people all over the place.

It took a couple of hours to drive up there, with it being close to the border with Belarus, and there are two checkpoints that you have to pass through, with passports being checked. The first is the 30km zone and the second the 10km zone, named because of the distance from the initial nuclear explosion. Obviously.

We stopped briefly in the town of Chernobyl itself. There are actually a lot of people still living and working there in various government jobs, and there’s also a small hotel and bar/restaurant where we had dinner later. There’s not a lot to really see though.

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Moving out of the town and further into the exclusion zone, you start driving past a lot of abandoned houses, with the woods basically taking over.

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A few miles in, we stopped off at an old Soviet radar rig thing. Apparently, it’s only been open for visits for a couple of years and is due to be sold off for scrap, so I guess it was pretty good timing to visit when I did.

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It was built during the cold war as part of a missile detection system – there were two others in other areas of the USSR, meaning that they covered the whole planet - and was absolutely f**king massive.

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The guard house at the entrance had this savage guard dog:

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Continuing further into the zone, we stopped off at an abandoned nursery/kindergarten.

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It was f**king horrific!

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From there we stopped off on an old railway bridge next to the power plant to throw bread to some f**king enormous catfish. Clearly there’s no sense of scale in the pictures, but they were massive – some over 10 feet long apparently.

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Next it was onto reactor 4, the one that exploded. The whole thing was encased in a concrete and steel structure after the accident to contain all the nuclear material.

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It was only supposed to last 20-30 years – it’s now been 29 years – so they’re constructing a new casing to the side of it, which is on track and will be rolled over the whole thing soon.

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Next up was the town of Pripyat, which was built as a brand new town in the ‘70s to house the workers of the power plant and their families, housing close to 50,000 people and abandoned right after the explosion.

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An apartment building and hotel:

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There was a multi-purpose leisure centre, which used to have a nightclub, cinema and sports facilities.

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The cinema:

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The sports centre, with a view over to the amusement park:

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The amusement park was obviously the next stop. It never actually opened.

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Next up was another leisure centre with an old swimming pool.

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The final stop was an old high school.

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On the way out of the exclusion zone, at both the 10km and 30km checkpoints, you have to go into these detectors to make sure you haven’t been contaminated with any radioactive material:

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The whole town was absolutely amazing, proper “Walking Dead” stuff, and because we were a small group and there was nobody else around we got the perfect abandoned-town experience, going into some buildings that our guide doesn’t take larger groups into since there are definite safety issues – not with any radiation, but because of the state of the buildings themselves. You’re literally walking through broken glass and avoiding rotten floorboards in places.

So yeah, this was definitely the best part of this trip and one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been.
 

Smithy

Strata Poster
Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 4: Chernobyl

Wow.

It almost feels wrong to say it looks amazing given the circumstances.
 

DelPiero

Strata Poster
Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 4: Chernobyl

That's one of the most interesting reports I've read on here. It's great to read more about it and see first hand pictures.
Thanks for posting it Gavin.
 

Snoo

The Legend
Staff member
Social Media Team
Re: Eastern Europe PTR - Part 4: Chernobyl

That's incredible. Thanks for the great report gavin.
 
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