Travel through much of Ukraine and also get a taster of the sights in Moldova on this journey of discovery into a region, which has successfully emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, but is still off of the main tourist trail. Chernobyl - Explore the Exclusion Zone including the ghost town of Pripyat, the Duga Radar and the New Safe Confinement structure around Reactor 4 Tiraspol - Discover the capital of the breakaway territory of Trans-Dniester, which is like a USSR time capsule Odesa - Spend time on the Black Sea coast and see the Monument to the Orange Tree, Mother-in-Law Bridge and Devil's House
This adventure through two fascinating countries begins in Ukraine's capital city, Kyiv, on the banks of the Dnieper River. The city has been inhabited for almost 2,000 years and was once the capital of the Kyivan Rus State, from which all later Russian states descended. Although Ukrainian nationalism is stronger than ever, you will still hear Russian spoken widely here today. You will be met on arrival at Kyiv's International Airport (KBP) by a local guide, and driven to your centrally-located hotel. There are no activities planned today, so feel free to arrive in Kyiv at any time. For those booking their own flights, you will just need to let us know your flight details no later than two weeks prior to departure, in order to be met on arrival. You'll have the rest of the day free to relax and take in the city. There is a wide selection of good restaurants and bars to choose from in the evening. Ukraine is well known for its dumplings, called varenyky, that come with a range of different fillings such as mutton, cabbage or sweeter varieties like cherry. You should also try nastoyanka, which is a Ukrainian liqueur made from honey and herbs and comes in a selection of fruit flavours and even horseradish! Potential dining spots include Spotykach Restaurant, which is a retro Soviet style canteen cellar or for something quicker, you could try the local fast food at Kyivska Perepichka, which specialises in fried dough encased sausages. Please note that many of Kyiv's museums close on a Monday or Tuesday, so if you wish to visit a particular attraction then please check that it is open on the day you want to visit.
It's a busy day today, with the aim of exploring a selection of Kyiv's many historic sights and to get a feel for this great city. Start with a guided walking tour of the highlights, including the Golden Gate which was once the main entrance to the city, Saint Andrews Baroque church and the onion domed exterior of Santa Sophia Cathedral. The cathedral is the city's oldest remaining religious building and inside we'll have the chance to see mosaics and frescoes that date back to 1017. This afternoon, take the metro to Arsenalna, which is the deepest station in the world, and continue by metro to the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, which is one of the largest museums in Ukraine and tells the story of the German-Soviet War in iconic and Brutalist style. It has over 300,000 items on display and the memorials are spread over 25 acres. From here, the imposing Mother Motherland statue takes over the eyeline - at 100 metres high it was built to honour the heroes of the Soviet Union.
This morning is free for you to further explore Kyiv, or there are several popular excursions located just outside the city. You might like to visit the Mezhyhirya Residence Museum, which is the lavish property where Ukraine's controversial former president Yanukovych resided before the 2014 uprising. Or perhaps you'd prefer to visit the Pyrohiv Open Air Museum, which exhibits a range of historic wooden buildings that demonstrate traditional Ukrainian architecture and what life would have been like in bygone times. Alternatively, visit the Lavra Historical and Cultural Reserve to see the remarkable 'Monastery of the Caves' founded in AD 1051, where the labyrinths provide all the natural conditions needed for mummification. When the monks first dug into the ground they discovered the soil was rich in silver and so this helped the monastic complex to grow in size and today we can see the huge number of ornately decorated buildings that were created. There is also plenty to do in Kyiv, and with limited time in the city on this trip it is well worth some free time spent here. Perhaps explore the leafy parks in the Holosiivskyi District on the banks of the Dnieper River. In the afternoon, you'll be taken to the train station for the seven hour train journey to Odesa, arriving around midnight.
Set off this morning with a local guide on a walking tour of Odesa. Wandering down the tree-lined Primorsky Boulevard, see the many steps of the Potemkin Stairs leading down to the seafront, the beautiful Opera House and Palace of Count Vorontsov, and a few of the more unusual highlights like the Mother-in-Law Bridge, Devil's House and Monument to the Orange Tree. The Devil's House is an especially interesting building; when times were hard the owners of the land didn't have enough money to build a house with four walls, so they built it with three. When looking at the house it creates the optical illusion that the house only has a front wall and like it shouldn't be able to remain standing, which has given it the nickname Devil's House. This afternoon is free for you to continue your own explorations. You may choose to take a trip with a local guide down to the world's largest network of underground catacombs and learn of their fascinating history through the ages.
Today is free for you to enjoy the city and to relax on one of its popular sandy beaches. Alternatively there are a number of different excursions for you to get a feel of Odesa's military or Soviet heritage. You could visit Coastal Defence Number 411, which is now an open air museum and a Memorial for the Heroic Defence of Odesa during World War II. Here you can see an armoured train, artillery guns, an Odesa tank (armoured tractor) and a post-war submarine. You may like to join a day trip to Dniester National Park, which is around 50 kilometres drive from the city. During the days of the Soviet Union the Dnieper River was in a poor state. It was over fished, used for irrigation and hydropower, dredged for sand and in 1983 it suffered one of the worst environmental disasters in recent history when a liquid-waste reservoir collapsed and over 4.5 million cubic meters of toxic brine was released into the river - killing wildlife and polluted drinking water. It took years to recover, but now the river estuary is protected. You can enjoy a bird watching boat trip across the wetlands to see some of the 1,500 species of flora and fauna found in the delta. The national park is best known for its birdlife with 254 species found here, including 11 on the endangered list. You may spot pelicans, spoonbills, egrets and glossy ibises amongst others. For food lovers and bargain hunters you could enjoy a trip to three of Odesa's most famous markets. The Flea Market selling many old Soviet items; Privoz the bustling food market best known for its fresh fish and the Seventh Kilometre Market, which is Europe's largest outdoor market and built out of a maze of shipping containers, which sell everything you could possibly imagine from wedding dresses to leather goods and from ceramics to telescopes.
Today is a long driving day, as you travel to Chisinau, the capital of neighbouring Moldova. It's well worth it, as you'll experience en route one of the most unique places in Europe - Tiraspol, the capital of the breakaway state of Trans-Dniester. It will be quite a long drive and the border crossing can take time. In total the journey will take about seven to eight hours and you'll reach the hotel at dinner time this evening. It's worth thinking about getting some snacks for the drive on your free day in Odesa. Unlike the rest of Moldova, Trans-Dniester hadn't wanted to separate from the Soviet Union, so back in 1992 after a short conflict they declared their independence. However, it's not recognised by any of the United Nations as an independent state even though it has its own government, military, postal service, currency, flag and national anthem. On arrival, take some time for lunch before going to the Kvint Brandy Factory for a tour - it's also possible to do a brandy tasting here, and well worth it! Kvint is considered by the locals to be a national symbol of Trans-Dniester and even appears on one of their banknotes. You'll have a local guide in the city who will take you to explore on foot, viewing the numerous war memorials that the city is so proud of and learning a little of the city's fascinating political background. From here to Chisinau is another two hours, approximately. Located in the very heart of Moldova, the city has a chequered history, dating back to 1420. However, most of it was destroyed during World War II and an earthquake in 1940, so the architecture is mainly in the striking 1950s Soviet style, but there are also two large parks, which give the city a much greener feel. You will find the Moldovans to be some of the friendliest people in Europe and nowhere is that more obvious than in Chisinau. This evening is free for you at your leisure - dinner at the Propaganda Restaurant is recommended, if there is availability. Designed to resemble a Soviet era apartment, the food consists of traditional Moldovan dishes with a modern twist.
Explore Chisinau on foot with a local guide, including the Orthodox Cathedral of Christ's Nativity and the Holy Gates, which are known as Moldova's 'Arc de Triomphe', as well as the local bazaar and Stephen the Great Park and Monument. Stephen the Great was the Prince of Moldavia who reigned in the 15th century and gained popularity for successfully defending the country from the Hungarians, Polish and Ottoman Empire. Join the locals promenading down the Avenue of the Classics of Moldavian Literature, lined with statues and busts of Romanian and Moldovan authors and social figures. You'll have the opportunity (optional) to visit the emotive Army Museum in the Centre of Culture and Military History. The exhibits here document Soviet-era repression and the crimes perpetrated by Lenin and Stalin. They tell the story of mass deportation, gulag labour camps, manmade famines and other harrowing tales. This afternoon, leave the city and discover the site of Orheiul Vechi, in rural Moldova. Of great historical and archaeological importance, the site is home to one of the most unusual church complexes in Eastern Europe. Set in a ruggedly beautiful valley gorge, shaped by the Raut River, there are several ancient monuments amongst and carved into the huge limestone outcrops that date from 10 century BC up to 14 century AD. The Cave Monastery was dug into the cliff by Orthodox monks. Take the opportunity to have a traditional Moldovan meal here before returning to the city - traditional dishes include zeama - a tasty chicken soup - and mamaliga - a type of polenta with fried meat and fresh seasonal vegetables washed down with homemade wine.
Leave early this morning and bid farewell to Moldova. The drive back into Ukraine takes around seven hours, but stops will be made along the way and this includes the time taken to cross the border. Arrive into Kamianets-Podilskyi in the early afternoon. This UNESCO-listed city has an impressive diversity of architectural styles, from medieval fortifications, an Armenian cathedral, Turkish minerets and classical architecture found at the Catholic church of Saint Peter and Paul. Walk with a guide through the centre, up to the stunning Old Castle that dominates the skyline. Ukrainian poet Lesya Ukrainka described the medieval fort as 'a flower on stone' due to its graceful appearance. Set on river loop this powerful defensive complex has protected the city for centuries before becoming military quarters and then later a prison. Today much of the fortress remains intact and is part of the National Historic and Architectural Reserve and exhibits explain its history through the ages. After a guided tour of the castle, take the rest of the afternoon and evening free to discover the architectural gems of this compact city, and have dinner.
Driving out of Kamienets this morning, stop at Khotyn Fortress for a guided tour. This compact 10th century fort is very well preserved due to its excellent defensive position beside the Dniester River along with its eight-metre thick walls and five lookout towers. Continue from here for around one hour, arriving into the characterful and often overlooked city of Chernivtsi at lunchtime. This lively and ramshackle city has a mix of renovated and partially ruined buildings and different architectural styles including grand old Austro-Hungarian houses, which reflect the decadence of days gone by. The city is six centuries old and used to be part of old Moldavia (now Moldova) and was known then as Bukovyna (Beech Tree Land), it was later in the Habsburg Empire and for a brief time after World War I it belonged to Romania. Explore the city on foot with a local guide, visiting the main sights including the Ringplatz Square, the Palace of Culture, the Square of a Turkish Well and probably the city's most impressive attraction - Chernivtsi National University. The UNESCO-Listed red-bricked buildings are a wonderful mix of Byzantine, Moorish and Hanseatic wings. Constructed in 1882 for the Orthodox Church leaders as their official residence, it became a university in Soviet times. It's important to mention that the university is closed on Saturday and Sunday, so you may not wish to begin this holiday on a Friday or Saturday.
Today is a free day to explore at your leisure. The scenic, cobble-stoned streets of Chernivtsi are a lively place to drink coffee, people watch and explore at a leisurely pace. Alternatively, there are several excursions on offer outside the city. You might like to take a full day trip to the small town of Verkhovyna in the Carpathian Mountains. This is your chance to discover rural Ukrainian life, meeting a local farming family who will show you how they make the traditional Carpathian cheeses such as brynza, vurda and budz and of course to sample some of them. Take a short hike in the area with a local guide, and visit a privately owned museum dedicated to the Hutsul life. Hutsul's are a local indigenous people who have their own unique culture and customs, which can be seen in their colourful and intricate craftsmanship including clothing, metal work and wooden furniture, and traditional songs and dances. You will get to hear a song played with a Ukrainian national instrument - the trembita, which is a type of long wooden horn. Lastly, you will go to a local kolyba, a Hutsul restaurant before returning to Chernivtsi later this evening. Alternatively, you might like to take a full day trip to visit three of the Caves of Ternopil - Crystal Cave, Verteba Cave and Monastyrok Cave. The labyrinth of over 100 caves and tunnels found in Ternopil stretch for over 600 kilometres underground and are known as 'the kingdom of eternal darkness'. Each of the caves has its own characteristics and the three we visit are very different to one another. At Crystal Cave you can see uncut gems covering the walls, in Verteba Cave there is a museum with sculptures and ceramics on display, and lastly in Monastyrok - Monastery Rock Cave you'll see an Orthodox church built into this natural grotto.
Leave Chernivtsi this morning and head towards the beautiful city of Lviv, yet another of Ukraine's stunningly preserved cities, packed full of architectural diversity and historical interest. Discover all of this with a guided walking tour. We will see the old market square of Ploshcha Rynok, the ornately carved exterior of Boyim Chapel, the Dominican Church and Monastery and the Citadel Inn. The inn was built in 1850 as a circular red fort that during World War II became a Nazi concentration camp and was known as the 'Tower of Death', but today it has remarkably been turned into a five star hotel! Lviv is home to not just one, but three different cathedrals; there's the Latin Cathedral, Armenian Cathedral and Saint George's Cathedral and they all vary greatly in style. This evening is free for you to have dinner and Lviv is the perfect spot for relaxing. In amongst the cobbled streets with their pretty red-roofed buildings and tucked away courtyards you will find a variety of good cafes, bars and restaurants. One dining option is the Dim Legend Restaurant that is spread over seven small floors and a roof terrace and each floor is decorated with a different theme telling the city's history through the ages.
Today is free in Lviv for you to further discover the city. Lviv is well known for both its beer and chocolate, so you may choose to visit the Brewery Museum, of course with the chance to try an assortment of locally brewed beers, or join a chocolate making masterclass. Here you can learn all about how chocolate is made and try your hand at making your own chocolate master pieces with advice from a professional chocolatier. Apparently chocolate has been produced in the city since the Middle Ages and in the 19th century it was exported to aristocracy throughout Europe. Today there is a huge variety of different flavoured chocolates, ice cream, milkshakes, cakes and more to tempt you. Alternatively you might like to visit Lychakiv Cemetery. This burial ground is a protected historical monument and believe it or not is one of the most popular attractions in the city. Established in 1786 by the Austro-Hungarians, there are grave markers here written in Ukrainian, Russian, German, Polish, Armenian and Latin, which show how the city's rulers have changed throughout its history. In amongst the elaborately carved tombs there are also communal graves for soldiers and freedom fighters and simple communist graves. Sadly during the Soviet era the graveyard was used as a dumping ground and only reopened in 2005 after being restored. At around 4.30pm you'll be taken to the train station, to board the train to Kyiv. The journey takes around five hours, and you'll arrive into Kyiv at approximately 10.30pm.
Visit the Chernobyl Museum this morning, with exhibits that are designed to teach the scope of the nuclear disaster and to ensure that the lessons learnt from this terrible accident aren't forgotten. It'll help to provide you with some of the background information ahead of visiting the Exclusion Zone tomorrow. The rest of the day is free for you to explore. The Chernobyl Museum is located in the hip district of Podil, so you might wish to stay here and visit one of the many excellent coffee shops or lunch spots, before discovering the area on foot.
Set off this morning to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, about two hours' drive from the city and close to the Belarusian border. Back on the 26th April 1986 the Number 4 nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded with catastrophic consequences. Since then an Exclusion Zone has been in place around the plant and nature has reclaimed the towns and vehicles left within this. The accident was the result of a flawed Soviet reactor, operated by inadequately trained staff that had been ordered to carry out a poorly planned test. There were four reactors and a further two being constructed when Reactor 4 exploded twice, killing two workers and releasing at least 5% of its radioactive core into the atmosphere. A further 28 fire fighters died of radiation poisoning following the accident. At the time this was the largest uncontrolled radioactive release recorded. The city of Pripyat was built three kilometres from the site to house the plant's workers and their families and, at the time, it had 49,000 inhabitants. Within a 30 kilometre radius of the power plant, there was a population of up to 135,000 people. All were evacuated after the accident and most of these towns and villages including Pripyat are now ghost towns. Surprisingly after the accident the other reactors at Chernobyl were restarted. Their safety was improved but due to energy shortages the last reactor wasn't turned off until December 2000. In 2011 Chernobyl was declared safe enough to be recognised as a tourist attraction. Reactor 4 was enclosed in a large concrete shelter which was erected quickly after the incident and contained around 200 tonnes of highly radioactive material. The old shelter only had a shelf life of 30 years and at the end of 2016 a huge 'New Safe Confinement' structure was built on the site and moved into place over the old shelter. It is the world's largest movable structure and inside a team of robotic cranes is taking the old shelter and radioactive core apart in an effort to make the area safe again. Today, explore Pripyat with a local guide, visiting the key sites of the town including an elementary school, fire station, hospital and even an overground fairground. Your guide will also take you to see the Red Forest and the structure around Reactor 4. The sites seen in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone may vary depending on local conditions and restrictions, but you'll see the most possible during your two days spent here. This evening stay within the Exclusion Zone in a small hotel within the town of Chernobyl. The bedrooms are simply decorated and there are two bathrooms shared between every five bedrooms. There is a restaurant and bar where you will enjoy a traditional Ukrainian meal this evening. Please note that it is essential that you provide us with the correct passport information at the time of booking and that you check this is accurate on your booking confirmation/the online customer information gateway, as this will be required in order to request the permissions needed to enter the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Corrections and amendments may incur additional charges at your own expense or result in you being denied entrance to the Exclusion Zone. If you intend to renew your passport please let us know at the point of booking and ensure that you have your new passport no later than 10 weeks prior to travel. In order to be permitted to enter the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and to travel on this holiday you must be at least 18 years old.
Today we will most likely see Pripyat's swimming pool, grammar school and music school and visit the secret Soviet Duga Radar Facility. The radar military base was named Chernobyl 2 and didn't appear on any civilian maps and the trees were strategically planted to block the view from the neighbouring towns. There are two radars here that were constructed as part of a Soviet early missile detection system. The bigger of the two is almost 500 metres long and around 150 metres high. Also on the site are an abandoned fire station, small power plant, hospital and apartment buildings where the military personnel stationed here and their families would have lived. We will also hopefully get the chance today to speak with people still living within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, who are known as self-settlers. A year after the accident over one thousand people returned to their homes and despite efforts from the authorities they kept returning until eventually being allowed to stay and they have been living off grid ever since. Many of the people who choose to return were retired at the time and since it has been over 30 years since the disaster many of these people have sadly now passed away, so many of the towns and villages in the Exclusion Zone now only have one or two people living there. We should be able to meet with a couple of the self-settlers to hear their stories of what their lives were like before, during and after the explosion. Late this afternoon we drive back to Kyiv for our final free evening in the city.
Your trip ends today, and you will be taken to the airport to meet your international flight. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Kyiv at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel.
15 Break Fast(s) 2 Lunch(es) 1 Dinner(s)
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