At DXB Terminal 1 checking in for my flight to Kiev via Moscow. My original plan was to fly DXB-KBP direct, but Emirates cancelled their Kiev flights in the aftermath of the shooting down of flight MH17. Luckily I scrambled to rebook on Aeroflot via SVO a few days before I was due to leave.
With my boarding passes with the silver Aeroflot A320 in the background.
Sunrise over Russia with some cool lens flare:).
Waiting to board the flight to Kiev at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO).
The Aeroflot Airbus for the flight to Kiev.
The Aeroflot FA's with their bright orange uniform and berets.
Cheese sandwich and juice for the short ~2 hour flight.
Outside my hotel after catching a taxi into the
Maidan Nezalezhnosti or Independence Square in central Kiev, where 110 people were killed during the protests earlier this year. My hotel is top right.
'Think of the People'.
Up the hill at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery, founded in 1108.
The original cathedral was demolished by the Soviet authorities in the 1930s, but was reconstructed and opened in 1999 following Ukrainian independence in 1991.
And the beautiful interior.
St Andrew's Church, built in 1744 on Andriyivskyy Descent.
Outside the Dutch Embassy in Kiev.
It was less than a week after flight MH17 was shot down, and was quite a sombre experience.
Stopping for a break and some cake on Borychiv Tik Street:).
Buying a token for the subway. Very cheap at 2 hyrvnia, or about 16 cents per ride.
The stations were all very grand.
Up the escalator for the ~70 metre ride to the surface.
A thirsty Panda back in central Kiev:D.
This guy didn't seem to be too popular here:).
'Save Nadiya' on one of the signs in Independence Square. Nadiya, a Ukrainian Air Force pilot currently being held by the Russian authorities.
On the balcony.
After crashing back at my hotel for a bit, I went out for a walk again for dinner.
Some delicious Ukrainian Borscht:).
And some Manti.
Our guide/driver for the trip to Chernobyl explaining the geiger counter. Apparently if it went above a certain level we were prohibited from donating blood for 6 months:).
Me at the first checkpoint for the Chernobyl Exclusion zone after the 2 hour ride from Kiev.
'Welcome to Chernobyl'.
At a memorial for the towns and settlements that had to be abandoned in the aftermath of the disaster. Each candle holder represents a town/village/settlement.
At an old kindergarten in Chernobyl.
The ground outside the kindergarten was quite 'hot', with ~100x normal background radiation levels.
Alphabet. Entry into all abandoned buildings at Chernobyl is now prohibited, as they are starting to decay and collapse. As we had a small group however, our guide was willing to 'bend the rules':).
We then drove onto the main reactor compex. On the far left is the new safe confinement shield under construction, and just to right of it is the main reactor.
Outside the main reactor. The workers work 4 days on/3 days off, or 15 on/15 off shifts to minimise radiation exposure.
About ~5 micro-sieverts, or about ~30x normal background radiation levels.
A bus dropping workers at the new confinement shield. The shield is costing ~ 1 billion euro's and is designed to last ~100 years.
We then drove on to [URL="//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pripyat"]Pripyat[/URL], founded to house the powerplant workers and their families in 1970.
Outside Pripyat Leisure centre.
At the famous Pripyat Amusement Park. It was scheduled to be opened on May 1st, 1986, one week before the Chernobyl disaster.
And the famous Ferris wheel.
Pripyat Stadium. Again, it was never opened because of the disaster.
At the Pripyat high school.
'Competition of the Thrifty'.
Gas Mask Doll.
A man-made estuary. The left shore used to be a beach for the Pripyat residents in summer.
After a busy day exploring, we had a late lunch/early dinner in one of the Chernobyl canteens.
Luckily the food was not local produce:).
Back in Kiev after the 2 hour drive back from Chernobyl.
Ice cream for 11 hyrvnia:).
Back on the subway to go to the end of Line 2.
I got a tip not in the guidebooks from one of the other guys on the Chernobyl tour that it was apparently possible to visit the former residence of Viktor Yanukovych, the ex-president who fled during the Maidan protests back in February.
After managing to find the right Marshrutka (share taxi) out to the village of Novi Petrivtsi, I arrived at the Mezhyhirya Residence. The entire property was surrounded by a ~7 metre tall green fence, and was originally an offical state residence since 1935, but mysteriously became the private property of Yankuvych when he became President in 2009. It has since been claimed back by the Ukrainian governemt.
The 140 hectare property was taken over by protesters when the president fled the country.
As well as his own golf course, the president had his own pirate ship:)!
Old Lincoln. The property is now a park for Ukrainian citizens, who were enjoying the gardens and picnicing under the trees.
And quite a few couples getting wedding photo's:).
At the residence's zoo.
The zoo had a wide variety of animals.
Including quite a few ostriches:).
Back at the metro station after catching the Marshrutka back to Kiev.
At a local market with a big cup of blueberries for 30 hyrvnia:).
Getting some more Borscht & Kebab for lunch back in central Kiev.
The bell tower at Saint Sophia's Cathedral.
And the cathedral itself. Built in 1596, the cathedral was destined to be demolished by the Soviets, but they relented after protests, and it was turned into a museum instead.
Outside a Roshen Candy store. Roshen is owned by Petro PoRoshenko, the candy billionaire, and now Ukraine's new president.
A couple of Soviet Classics:).
Just some burgernomics:). With the recent political and economic problems the Ukrainian hyrvnia has reduced in value by more than a third this year, and according to the Economist's latest Big Mac index, Ukraine is the currently the cheapest place in the world to buy a Big Mac, at ~$1.66 each:).
At Kiev's Boryspil airport for the short flight to Minsk, Belarus.
And arriving at Minsk airprt (MSQ) after the short ~50 minute flight in a Belavia CRJ.
And successfully getting my Belarus visa on arrival.
I negotiated a taxi for the ride into Minsk. I was expecting an old worn out volkswagen or something, but got to enjoy a brand new Mercedes S-Class limo for the 40k drive into the city:).
After pulling up outside my hotel...
After checking in, I went for a walk around central Minsk. At the Holy Spirit Cathedral.
Originally built in 1633.
Catching the Minsk metro for 3700 rubles, or ~35 cents. Inflation must be very high in Belarus, as all the prices in my guidebook were out by a a factor of 3:)!
The very interesting architecture of the Belarus National Library. The shape is apparently a Rhombicuboctahedron in case you were wondering:).
And the view from the top.
Back on the metro again for the ride back to central Minsk.
The old apartment (first balcony above tree in middle) of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Pizza & coke for dinner:).
At the island of tears, a memorial for Belarusian soldiers killed during the Soviet-Afghan War.
The National Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus.
At a display for WW2 at the National History Museum.
A tram going along Babruyskaya Vulitsa.
At the KGB Headquarters. Belarus was one of the few intelligence agencies that kept the Russian name "KGB" after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Statue of Lenin outside the Belarus Government buildings.
Late lunch of bacon wrapped pork:).
At the Minsk train station in the evening.
About to catch the overnight train to Moscow.
Although a little cosy, the train ride was great and I slept pretty well:). Belarus and Russia have an open border, so no passport check in the middle of the night too.
At Moskva Belorusskaya train Station after arriving in Moscow.
And refuelling with some Макдоналдс:).
After checking in at my hotel, I caught the metro. Again very palatial and beautiful.
At the Gulag Museum, an art installation signifying the tangled threads of thought.
The Gulag camps were scattered all over Russia, and were used to imprison both petty criminals and politcial prisoners.
The Bolshoi Theatre.
At Red Square, with the Lenin's mausoleum and the Kremlin on the right, St. Basil's Cathedral middle, and the famous GUM department store / shopping mall on the left.
Inside the beautiful interior of GUM (Gosudarstvennyi Universalnyi Magazin, or main universal store).
Buying some MOЯS (Russian cranberry drink).
And enjoying an ice cream outside:).
After chilling out at the hotel for a bit, I then went exploring some of the metro stops recommended for their beautiful interiors. The stained glass murals at Novoslobodskaya station.
Chandeliers at Komsomolskaya Station.
And tiled mosiacs at Kievskaya Station.
With some Borscht and stroganoff at Moo-Moo Cafe for dinner. A cool place recommended by the Lonelyplanet for inexpensive Russian food.
At St. Basil's Cathedral at dusk.
In the labyrinth of passages at the cathedral.
And the pretty patterns on the ceilings.
GUM again on Red Square.
And back at my hotel after a great day exploring Moscow:).
Back at Red Square again to join the queue to see Lenin.
The grave of Joseph Stalin at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.
At the Ivan the Great Bell Tower inside the Kremlin.
The Tsar Cannon.
Annunciation Cathedral at the Kremlin.
Wild horses. The building in middle top is the State Duma, the Russian parliament.
The State Historical Museum on Red Square.
The museum chronicled both early (stone age) as well as recent modern history.
The Russian White House, where Vladimir Putin keeps his main office. Also famous for being shelled by tanks in 1993 on the orders of Boris Yeltsin during the Russian Constitutional Crisis.
At Stolovaya 57, a Soviet style 1950's cafe at GUM for dinner. Another great recommendation from the Lonelyplanet:).
At Novodevichy Convent for my last day in Moscow.
The grave of Nikita Khrushchev at the neighbouring Novodevichy cemetery. Of all Soviet leaders, the deposed Khrushchev was the only person not to be buried at the Kremlin Wall. Until Glasnost, the cemetery was closed to the public in large part because the controversial Khrushchev was buried there.
The colourful grave of Boris Yeltsin, the first President of Russia.
The grave of Andrei Tupolev, the pioneering aircraft designer.
At Leningradsky station to catch the train to St. Petersberg.
The Sapsan train, with a maximum speed of 250 kph.
Nice comfortable cabin for the 4.5 hour ride to St. Petersberg.
Enjoying drinks and snacks in the food car.
After arriving in St. Petersberg, I checked into my hotel, grabbed some dinner and went for a walkabout.
After going for a run along the canals, I went out to explore and see some more of St. Petersberg.
'The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes'.
At the Hermitage.
And an errant Lada in the courtyard:).
The Hermitage had some amazing interiors...
...as well as beautiful artwork.
And another horse:).
Salmon Bagel for lunch.
The Church of the Savior on Blood.
This Church was built in 1883 on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and was dedicated in his memory.
Ice cream again:).
And a St. Petersburger for dinner:).
St. Isaac's Cathedral.
And the view from the Colonnade.
Last meal for the trip.
Airside at Pulkovo Airport (LED).
And about to catch the EK A330 back to Dubai after a great 10 days:).