Saturday 28.7.2018 561km Total:3054km #5 1h45h Total:10h45m
I think it's a bit of a warning sign when a guest checks out a day early from a stay that is prepaid and non refundable?
No one even so much as batted an eyebrow or asked any questions so this probably a regular occurrence at this establishment.
I really couldn't see any reason to stick around any longer as I'd done everything I'd set out to do and to be honest I wasn't all that impressed by Minsk.
The language difficulties obviously didn't help even though everyone I came across did as best they could.
Some part of the explanation why even the younger generation isn't very good at English might be because Belarusan is forced upon them at school even though the language isn't used officially at all so they are learning three languages in parallel.
I head off and about 100kms from Minsk on a 120km/h dual carriageway a Toyota Landcrusier pulls up beside me and the occupants start waving and signalling for me to pull over so furiously that it was as if the world was coming to an end.
I could only assume that they had seen something catastrophic with the bike that I had somehow not noticed.
At a stop on the hard shoulder a family of four pours out of the car whose sole reason for pulling me over was to take pictures and shake my hand.
The father of the family was a biker himself and had just gotten back from what sounded like an epic fifty day journey through the Baikal region, Mongolia and parts of the Middle East on a Honda Varadero.
They really wanted me to follow them back to their place which was close by and that would definitely have been nice but this early in the day I really couldn't risk stopping anywhere at an indefinite time, with the border crossing looming in the distance I really felt I needed to move on.
But it was a great experience and it goes to show just how much they appreciate tourists in the country.
Tatayana also felt that there where fewer tourists than they'd like but apparently there has been such a recent rise in the number of Chinese visitors they translated everything at the airport into Chinese now and there where even some signs in Chinese at the Mir castle.
The regime has also just extended the number of visa free days from 5 to 30 to further tourism.
But that still only applies to people arriving via Minsk International airport, overlanding is still just as difficult but I'll put a detailed list in the trip debrief for anyone temped to go.
The infrastructure from Minsk to the Ukraine border is just a dream come true, the kms just roll along the border crossing sets a new speed record at just an hour and forty-five minutes with the Belarusians expediting my departure in record speed ending with an auf widersehen which I thought was a really nice touch.
It's so far the only thing a customs official has said to me that has in any way made me feel welcome in the country.
It was so quick compared to the Russians that I'm still not sure if my trih-umfh actually administratively left the country but I don't really care, the chances of me going back to Belarus at all are slim to none, the chances of me having the same bike at that time is non-existent.
The Ukraine border crossing is the first one who has actually applied some sort of logical system where passports and vehicles where controlled in order front to back (which would seem obvious but the usual order of things is complete chaos).
They weren't interested in the bike insurance at all but did a very thorough check of the gear, all panniers where searched twice, the first time by a guy in a black uniform and then five minutes later a guy in a blue uniform did the exact same thing again.
No matter how many times I come across this level of ineffectiveness it will not fail to annoy me to the point of an allergic reaction and it's obviously worsened by the fact that displaying the content of the panniers isn't exactly easy, it's not like opening the trunk of a car.
No matter, at least they didn't move me out of the line this time for an extra dose of meaningless bureaucracy, I just suffered the same shit everyone else got.
Something that really surprised me was the number of Russian vehicles going through the checkpoint with supposed vacationers.
The fact that they are welcome to cross the border just like anyone else while the two nations are fighting a war with each other just 1000kms from here felt really weird to me.
On the other side of the border it was single lane highway and even though the asphalt was pretty good (I've lower my criteria for good asphalt since Swedish infrastructure has slowly degenerated into developing country standards) but it was pretty much like mogul skiing.
In Sweden a road in this condiction would have been lowered to 70km/h (rather than simply fixing it because we obviously wouldn't have done that) but here it was still 110km/h (for those able, I imagine the Vaz and Volga drivers where simply going flat out).
The fact that the speed limit was 60km/h through villages was not something the natives paid any mind, when I lowered my speed to 100 I was immediately overtook which makes the speed compliance here even worse than in Russia.
Again I face the dilemma of wanting to at least adhere to somewhere near the speed limit but I'm still firm in my belief that deviating that much from the rest of traffic and what they expect you to do is dangerous, on a motorcycle its close to suicidal.
The suspension on the Tiger handled the mogul pretty well but after a while my shoulders, not so much.
I made frequent stops on the way to recharge for the next black piste.
Navigation to Hotel Ukraine was simple so I'm at the hotel at about 7PM and is waived into the parking lot by a fellow biker travelling in a party of about 20 other bikes from Greece who has ridden here via Moscow.
The hotel and the room has an amazing view over the Maidan square and is probably one of the nicest places I've ever stayed.
It was a very high standard for <€60/night and the location couldn't have been better.
The secure parking cost <€1/night which didn't hurt either, I could have parked there for a month and not accumulate the cost of one night in Moscow (or probably closer to six months if Natasha did the math).
I talked to another of the Greek bikers a bit later and he was a bit jealous of my solo act because trying to hold their group together was a pain in the ass and I don't doubt that for one second, to be honest I don't even understand how it was at all possible in Russian traffic.
After a shower I head back to the parking to check on the bike, one thing I'd already noticed was that the GPS holder had started to wilt and it had obviously gotten quite the massage with all the tightening I had to do on those bolts.
On the screws for the lower fastener of the pannier rack had almost fallen of (it's 20mm long).
Apart from that I couldn't find anything that was any worse for wear from the treatment it had taken that beating like a champ.
After dinner in the hotel restaurant (roast duck with a beer for €11) I head down to the square.
The street between the two parts of the Maidan was closed to traffic (which is the norm on weekends) and it was some kind of show going on with the fountains so it was a nice walk.
I have a nice lite after dinner drink at an open air restaurant a stonesthrow from the square.
Sunday 29.7.2018 0km 9.46km Total:214.44km
I have no idea what I've done to myself but I feel like crap (I only had a couple of beers and a whisky so that's not the reason).
My stomach has behaved pretty well until now but this is a complete breakdown of function.
I just barely get to keep the breakfast down and pretty much out of spite I still hit the town but at a considerably slower pace than usual and with some pain.
From Maidan square I walk to Saint Sophia's cathedral, a very beautiful building on the outside but like most churches on this trip it's an orthodox church so the walls have very few windows and are covers witch icons which in my view makes the churches very gloomy and dark.
After forcing myself to walk up the stairs in the clock tower I am rewarded with a stunning view of Kiev.
The golden domes of St. Michaels Monastery were visible from Sophia so that's a given.
After visiting the church and walking up in this clock tower as well I head towards the park behind the church and is greeted by the sound of a piano.
There's a guy playing the most beautiful music on an old beat up piano placed on the sidewalk.
It without any real competition the most gifted street musician I've ever come across, it wasn't any less of an experience sitting there on the stairs to the monastery grounds listening to him play than it would have been paying for a concert.
I sat there for a very long time and hadn't hunger gotten the best of me I would have stayed even longer.
Despite an English menu I somehow manage to get fish in cream sauce and I had to eat so if I thought I had stomach problems this morning this definitely isn't going to make it any better.
I did the best I could sanitising the fish so we'll see how bad it gets.
I move on to St. Andrew's chuch which is a striking building but unfortunately closed for renovation which a woman at the foot of the stairs explained to me in so slowly and in such an overly explicit way that it made me feel like I had some sort of cognitive handicap, it was hilarious.
I guess that is what happens when you have to explain the exact same thing to hundreds of stupid tourist every day.
I drift around on Volodymyrska hill and adjacent to that was a street where the whole sidewalk was littered with local artists works, mostly very beautiful landscape paintings.
At this point I really can't bring myself to explore any furthers as I'm extremely nausious to the point that it's forcing be back to the hotel.
The Indipendance monument at the Maidan Square.
There is no snippet of film that can do this guy justice.
Had he been selling tickets to a concert I would have been the first to buy
A stature with characters from the film Chasing two hares a movie from the 60s cemented in Ukrainan folklore.
The symbolism is that the man who chases to hares get none and the man is down on his knee to propose to a women solely for the money as he is casting glances at another.
The beetle on his backside is symbolising his dishonesty (which must be local folklore as I don't get that parallell at all).
Monday 30.7.2018 0km 11.09km Total:225.53km
Revely at the ongodly hour of 6.30PM.
I'm hanging on the doorhandle to the breakfast restaurant as the open at 7 so I can wolf down something before I need to be in a taxi at 7.10 to take me to the meet up point for the Chernobyl tour.
We are about a dozen travellers in our English speaking minivan which was a good sized group.
The guide spoke good English and gave us some background before she put on The Battle of Chernobyl on the buses TV.
We are driven around two hours before arriving at he outermost checkpoint of the exclusion zone, Diatky where it's debarkation for all as there's a passport check.
The personal info of all participants have been registered by the tour company beforhand as you need a permit to enter the area.
It was a bit bizarre standing by a souvenir booth just next to a pretty badass military checkpoint complete with spike strips and a vehicle radiation device.
The check takes some time but is without complications so we ride through.
The bus stops right on the other side of the checkpoint where it's the last chance to go to the bathroom for most of the rest of the day.
From here we travel just a few kilometers to the deserted village of Zalissya where everyone so inclined (which obviously was everyone) get to explore freely.
Unlike Pripyat where the buildings have fallen into disrepair to the point that the government have completely banned anyone from entering any buildings (as of 2011) and the police are patrolling regularly to make sure people adhere to it.
But here it's a free for all so we explore every nook and cranny of the village.
I had paid an extra fee to get a personal geiger counter and it was worth every cent.
As I cross the threshold of the first building I enter it goes beserk and the numbers start climbing in the display, even if I know it still well within safe numbers it still set my heart pounding with a shot of adrenaline.
It's amazing how much the buildings have deteriorated in what doesn't feel like a any great length of time.
The road that once was the main street through this village is now no more than an asphalted walking path.
We drive on for a whille to the next checkpoint which is the Leliv checkpoint for the 10 kilometer exklusion zone.
From there it's just a short ride to the village of Kopachi where we disembark at a monument to fallen soldiers of the second world war.
Right by the monument there is a old orphanage we get to explore.
Even though it was in broad daylight and we where in a group it was still a spooky feeling walking around inside with all the old textbooks, bunkbeds and beat up dolls.
The geiger counter have by now gone from the occasional beep to a continuos howl.
The orphanage is along with one other brick building the only buildings in the village that still remain, the rest where wooden buildings and which where bulldozed and buired under mounds crowned by radiation warning signs due to the high levels they where contaminated with in the disaster.
We stop by the "welcome to Pripyat" sign for the photo opp because now we are nearing the main object of the trip and the tension in the bus is almost palpable.
We enter by Stalin Boulevard (obviously) into a town the communists built completely from the ground up as some sort of model society where fifty thousand people where to be mannequins a storefront to the world.
The Polissya hotel was where visitors from the free world where quatered to witness with their own eyes the glory of communism while dining in the citys finest restaurant (there was only the one) all the while people where starving in Kiev just a couple of hours away.
Even though it was a bit of a letdown (I knew beforehand) that we weren't allowed inside any buildings it's soon obvious why as the first few buildings we come across are in various stages of complete collapse.
It's also judging by the state of the buildings obvious just how much of this model society that was just cosmetics when the buildings aren't even up to code, thirty years isn't all the long into a concrete building's lifespan.
Nature is taking back lost ground in full force, it eerily beautiful.
We go buy a few apartment houses, the town shop and eventually end up by the lake where there is a terasse which you can just barely make out through the brush.
From there we go to the city cinema, Hotel Polissya, the town square with the palace of culture and the city's restaurant (the one restaurant for a city of 50 000 people doesn't seem to cut it but I guess it never was intended to frequented by the commoner).
We walk past the city post office that housed the local radio station on the second floor that broadcast the evacuation notice on the 27th of April 1986.
The citys 43 000 inhabitants where all evacuated in just three hours but that acheivement should be seen in the perspective of it being done more than twentyfour hours after the disaster when the whole population had already been exposed to potentially lethal levels of radiation.
It's a bit telling of how repressive the Soviet communism was that people just carried on with their normal lives all the while soldiers in hazmat suits and face masks where walking around measuring radiation levels during the first day of the disaster.
Then we get to what is one of the most famous sights in Pripyat, the amusement park with the bumper cars and the Ferris wheel, it was a real powerful experience.
And again I'm impressed with the guide that gave us all the time we wanted to explore and take pictures as this definitely was one of the highlights of the tour.
After everyone is satisfied we move on to Avanhard Stadium, once home to FC Stroitel Pripyat.
Another another short walk later we get to to Pripyats swimming pool where we deviate a bit from the rules set earlier.
My guess is that there is too much pressure from visitors to see the abandoned pool that they can't resist as it would be a competitive advantage between the tour companies if any of them let visitors in so they all do.
So up a weird plastic staircase that have long since seen its prime we get to the pool.
I can't even explain why it was so cool seeing an abandoned swimming pool but it was and judging by the reaction of the others I wasn't alone in this.
We also got to go into a nearby school where the liquidators used one of the bigger rooms as an assembly hall which lead to a big part of the floor being covered with gasmasks.
Of course there's a few broken dolls scattered here as well just as if the ocean of gasmasks weren't nightmare fuel enough.
On our way back to the bus another group have gathered around a fox that's obviously learnt the tour bus schedules as it comes to the same spot every day to get fed with treats from the visitors.
I don't know how the radiation have affected the wildlife in other ways but it's quite clear that it hasn't made the animals stupider.
Fun fact: The information we got for the tour stated that we should bring snacks to eat on the bus which all non native English speakers took to mean a sandwich, protein bar etc.
Everyone who spoke English as their first language brought a bag of chips.
Lunch was in Cantina No 19 which is the same place the workers at Chernobyl ate and still eat (there are still people working decommissioning the plant).
The guide counted of the members of our party and when she came to me she expressed that I had refused the meal which I thought was a bit funny as it made it sound like it was some sort of hunger strike.
I simply thought it would have been to complicated to list everything I can't eat so it was just easier to bring a readymeal along but it turned out that I wouldn't have been very temped to eat the salad they served in the restaurant regardless.
I can't be alone in thinking salad in Chernobyl is a bit dubious?
It's definitely a case where you don't want to eat local produce.
Before we could enter the restaurant we needed to go through one of the many radiation control devices we where to come across during the day.
As I'd gotten a bit jaded by my the personal dosimeter beeping away all day it was a bit of a slap back to reality.
After lunch we went to the power plant to see the new sarcophagus and a monument to the people who gave their lives to save the world from a far worse disaster then what came of it.
Due to the radiation levels the sarcophagus couldn't be built in place but was built next to the old reactor and slid in place on a kind of rails.
The total build cost is 1.5 billion euros and it is the largest movable man made object in history.
Next we go to the abandoned military base Chernobyl 2¹ and the Duga 1 radar station, a part of the Soviet ballistic missile warning system.
It was an impressive construction that they've partly began deconstructing but deemed to complicated so it remains standing as it is.
We where in the barracks as well complete with a classroom where the recruits learned about the different missile types.
On our way back we stopped at the robot cemetery where an array of different robots have been put that where part of the cleanup.
Apparently the lifespan of these machines where incredibly short due to the high level of radiation.
Next stop was at the Chernobyl firestation (still in use) where there's a monument to the fireman who where the first on scene after the disaster.
Judging by how the continued to act after the fact it probably wouldn't have made any difference but those who where first on site didn't know they where exposed to any high levels of radiation as their instruments (precursors to the geiger counter) simply couldn't measure dosage that high, it was quite literally off the charts so as far as they could tell it was simply a fire.
The heroism displayed by the firemen of Chernobyl might be one of the greatest displays in human history.
The first responders had not knowing exactly what they where up against tried to douse the flames with water, after all that is what firemen do.
But water had no effect on the reactor core but seeped through under the cement floor under the reactor and made a pool of water below that the reactor core due to the immense heat was at great risk of melting through.
Had that happened and magma from the reactor hade hit the pool of water it had set of a chain reaction similar to an atomic bomb sending such high levels of radiation up in to the atmosphere that it would have turned most of the European continent into an inhabitable wasteland.
To prevent this firemen went in to drain the water thus saving Europe from certain doom in full knowledge that the exposure they would be subjected to would be fatal.
It was in effect a suicide mission they willingly excepted and all those who volunteered where proclaimed heroes of the nation.
The last stop before the last checkpoint (we went three of them with gradually smaller tolerances in the level of radiation measured) was at the "welcome to Cherbobyl" sign, an obvious photo op.
It was an amazing experience and given that it was a full day, 12 hours with the transport from Kiev I can't say it was very expensive at €102.
Talking about expensive I made the mistake of just jumping in a taxi without negotiating the price beforehand which meant the cabdriver just set the price at his preference, the meter isn't overly used here it seems.
But still it just came to 250UAH compared to the 143 that the hotel arranged this morning.
In some strange way I respect that, that there's a limit of how much they're prepared to take naive tourists for.
¹ A ruse by the commies, there is no Chernobyl 1.
The old school that the liquidators used.
When I close my eyes I can still se the sea of gasmasks clearly and hear the howling of the dosimeter.
It wasn't what I liked most about the tour but it was what made the biggest impression.
Cantina No 19.
To enter the restaurant you had to go through a radiation meter.
You stood on the plate and held both hand on the squares covered with plastic under the green light.
If the level of radiation was acceptable the green light turned on and the boom unlocked so you could walk through.