Wednesday, 3 April 2013
Day 306 – A bomb shelter and a brewery. (Ukraine)
Leaving Cherkasy and heading towards Kiev we could feel the temperature dropping well past the -2°C or so that we’d become accustomed to in the last couple of weeks, and by the time we got to Kiev it would have been closer to -10°C. It is funny how the body becomes accustomed to its surroundings though; when it drops to 15°C in the evenings in Melbourne we put on jumpers, trousers and even – yes it sounds ridiculous, but honestly – jackets; in Scotland when spring sets in after winter and it starts reaching 12°C in the afternoon we strip off down to t-shirts; and we became accustomed in the same way to these desperately low temperatures and found ourselves considering anything higher than -5°C to be warm and it had to be well into the negative teens to be “chilly”. There had been a few days of uncharacteristic warmth (as in only a couple of degrees below 0) in Kiev just before we arrived and it hadn’t snowed for a little while, meaning everything on the ground had solidified and turned into very slippery ice, stuck to the ground in lumpy piles. This of course causes much amusement as long as you can either stay on your feet or keep your car on the road depending whether you’re walking or driving, but poses quite a hazard for those who struggle to do those things. Fortunately the drought was broken the night we arrived so everything was covered in a much more manageable layer of fresh powdery snow, but sadly that soon turned back into packed down mounds of slippery ice.
The Kiev metro is a textbook example of the Soviet style, of which we have seen so many on this trip. The stations are ornately decorated and highly policed and are typically built very low underground (especially the central ones), doubling as potential bomb shelters. In fact Arsenalna station which is one of the more centrally located ones in Kiev is 105.5m underground, claiming the title of world’s deepest train station. 100m might not seem like a lot when it’s running flat on top of the ground but catching the escalator from one of these deep train stations to the surface of Kiev demonstrates just how far it is. The escalators aren’t slow, in fact they are much faster than the ones I’m used to, and they still take several minutes to take you to the top. A few times we came across a broken escalator, but fortunately they switched them around so that you had to walk down but could still catch the escalator up.
We had planned to visit Chernobyl, about 140km from Kiev. To visit the still highly unstable exclusion zone you have to travel with a guide and tours must be organised with a minimum of 10 working days notice in order to receive all the necessary permits and paperwork. We did organise our tour in time, but unfortunately the company we had gone through pulled out with only a few days to spare and no one else would/could take us on at that short notice. We considered driving out ourselves anyway, seeing if we could see anything at all, or maybe we could try and follow on with another group once we got close. We realised that this was a pretty stupid idea though, considering just how dangerously toxic the whole area is and the fact that without a guide we would have had no idea what to look at anyway and would probably just end up driving around in circles, endangering ourselves and not even seeing anything anyway.
On the bright side, this gave us the opportunity to go on a tour of the Obolon brewery which our hosts were attending on the day on which we had planned to visit Chernobyl. Visible from our hosts’ apartment and only a five minute walk away, the Obolon brewery is Europe’s largest brewing facility, producing not only beer but also other alcoholic drinks, soft drinks and natural mineral water. We donned the fine looking disposable lab coats and hair nets that we were presented with for sanitary purposes (you know, the ones made out of the white papery/meshy material) and followed the group of 25 or so into a classroom where we were shown a very exciting and informative video about the brewery. Well it was probably informative. If you can understand Ukrainian. We signed some documents which we were assured by our host were ok to sign and followed on as we were marched through the corridors of the brewery. Our host translated some things, but regardless of the language barrier the massive scale brewing process was fascinating. The scale was just so huge and every process was completed in huge motorised production lines which snaked around the rooms on several levels. We kept getting left behind because we were so enthralled by each intricate stage in the procedure and as we couldn’t understand the words being said to us would just stand there, mesmerised, and forget to follow the group. On conclusion of the tour – which was free by the way – we were given goody bags of their produce and merchandise, including calendars, pens, posters, other various bits and pieces and even some beverages. We were disappointed though that we weren’t given any beer to try.