|Local time: Monday, 8pm|
In June, Yuliya and I took a trip to her home country, Ukraine. (no, it's not "the Ukraine", just like it's not "the New Zealand").
Kyiv and Odessa were two very different cities. Where Kyiv is big, glitzy, fast, and full of Mercedes, Ferraris and Escalades, Odessa was small to the point of being quaint, slow moving, and, frankly, a bit dull. And rammed with Ladas and Moskvichs held together with rust and a prayer. Unless you're there to party like it's 1999 (the huge clubs by the beach are amazing) then neither of us would particularly recommend a visit. We also noticed that the people in Kyiv were warm and friendly, whilst those in Odessa were basically a**holes. Go figure.
I also took a day trip to Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. A sombering but interesting day.
We loved eating super cheap russian food daily (a large meal for us both usually ran to about €8), enjoyed the hot sunshine, cold beer, ridiculous selection of cheap vodka, and jaw-droppingly gorgeous women strutting about in next-to-nothing (I probably enjoyed them more than Yuliya I guess). People-watching with a cold beer was a particularly fun pass-time, to see so many very average-looking guys (who obviously don't dress in front of a mirror) walking with angelic women who look like they're on the way to a club or a wedding.
I would gladly return to Ukraine. Kyiv was great, and I do miss the food. Odessa though, not so much.
Anyway, a picture is worth quite a few words as they say, so here we go (apologies in advance to some of you, for chewing up your monthly data allowance - I know this page is fairly heavy on photos)
The people working in these markets make a game out of calling to you and inviting you over.
'Babushkas' (grandmothers) trying to sell their wares to make a basic living.
Ugh. Who would do such a thing?!
Some aspects of the city reminded me of France, such as the strikingly-painted buildings (albeit in need of a fresh lick).
The obligatory one-hander in front of Ukraine's flag.
A cute old statue in a local Kyiv park.
Quite cool though.
Just the three of us.
The advertising was often rather in-your-face.
The famous matryoshka dolls (wooden Russian nesting dolls) for sale.
All manner of things for sale: gas masks, flags, bommy-knockers, cosmonaut helmets...
Another church, in the suburbs.
Our favourite Ukrainian chain restaurant. This is where I tried all sorts of weird and yummy (and not-so-yummy) local food.
Apartment blocks and a church, seen from the island (called 'Hydropark') that sits in the middle of the Dnipro river that bisects Kyiv.
A free (and huge) outdoor gym in the middle of Kyiv, made from old truck parts. Very cool idea.
A sign on the road-side near Chernobyl (which now has a tightly-controlled population of about 3,000 researchers and labourers).
A discarded doll outside an empty, ghostly school in Chernobyl.
Peeling wallpaper in an eerily quiet school dormitory.
Water damage (?) from 27 years of neglect.
The one-hander in front of Reactor Number 4 - ground zero.
The "New Safe Confinement" sarcophagus/dome being constructed that will eventually be lifted and placed over the reactor, in 2015.
The entrance to the completely deserted ghost town of Pripyat - formerly a Soviet 'model' town, proudly shown off as how a glorious Communist town should be.
One of Pripyat's lifeless apartment buildings.
The ferris wheel, which was due to be inaugerated the day of the tragedy. It never got to turn.
A broken, crumbling dodgem car.
The propaganda paintings still live on, in surprisingly good condition.
A 'graveyard' site displaying the names of all the outlying towns that had to be evacuated and remain off-limits to this day.
Some grand buildings line the main street of Kyiv, called Kreshchatyk. It's often closed to vehicle traffic and turns into a giant amusement park with people strolling along arm in arm, drinking beer and watching street musicians and artists. We enjoyed this street for many hours on several different occasions.
See? Kind've like an amusement park right?!
Posing in front of the famous monument in the main square of Kreshchatyk.
Time for a one-hander in Kyiv.
Yep, another church. Purdy though, right?
More babushkas, in their natural habitat.
Oh, and another church. This one is inside the huge complex called Kiev Pechersk Lavra (the cave monastery) - basically a holy pilgrimage site for Russian Orthodox Christians.
(don't forget to cover your hair and bare skin!)
Not sure how they keep the grass so trim.
Old men playing chess in a park in Odessa.
One of the many 'candy girls' wandering around the city selling, well, candy.
Yep, this is a church.
Public transport hasn't changed much since the Soviet 80s.
Taking a fruit break.
Matryoshka dolls of all varieties!
The changing of the guard: the shift change of the go-go dancers outside one of the clubs we went to. Who needs to pay to go inside when the free entertainment outside is this good?!
More of the same inside.
The pool in an outdoor club. A great way to chill out on a Sunday afternoon sipping a G and T while watching all the pretty people and listening to banging house music.
A girl prays inside an Odessa church.
Inside the church.
The 'No Angel' group performing at a club in Odessa. Apparently they're famous. And they've also been Playboy Playmates. Twice. Ah Ukraine.
I helped deliver a boat to Tunisia in north Africa a few months ago. Having never visited before, and knowing we were only going to stay for a few hours to refuel before moving on to Europe,
I took the opportunity to get a hasty one-handed handstand photo in front of something vaguely 'Tunisian'. This was the best I could do in the crappy port we had tied up in.
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