Explore Ukraine, a vast country which is still largely undiscovered and feels like one of Europe's last frontiers. Its Soviet history, stunning natural beauty and colourful traditions make it a truly unique travel destination. Chernobyl - See the ghost town of Pripyat, the Red Forest and the 'New Safe Confinement' structure around Reactor 4 Lviv - Discover one of Ukraine's most beautiful cities with its elegant, brightly coloured houses, tucked away courtyards and golden domed churches Odesa - Spend time on the Black Sea and visit a decommissioned nuclear missile base at Pervomays.
Arrive in Kyiv. Our adventure through two fascinating countries begins in Ukraine's capital city, which is 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. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 8pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Kyiv at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Kyiv Boryspil International Airport (KBP), which is about 35 minutes' drive, depending on traffic. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to explore the city on foot or using metro. The nearest metro station is five minutes' walk from our hotel. The city is filled with attractive architecture, wide shopping boulevards with coffee stands every few metres, parks where the locals stop to feed the squirrels and play chess, and a mix of high-end department stores and a warren of underground malls selling everything from hot corn on the cob to traditional ceramics. Kreshchatyk is the capital's main street and stretches from the traditional food market of Besarabsky to Maidan Square, where the 2014 revolution took place, which resulted in the country's president Viktor Yanukovych being overthrown and fleeing to Russia. You'll find a selection of good restaurants and bars to choose from this 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. During this trip, we have packed in as many highlights of Kyiv as we can, but there is very little free time in the city, so if you wish to spend some time discovering more on your own, we would recommend extending your stay for a night or two. If you choose to do this then we'd suggest visiting the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, which is one of the largest 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 here are spread over 25 acres. It's here that the Mother Motherland statue is located and although we will see this from a distance during our city tour tomorrow, you might like to get up close and go up to the observation platform. Please note that many of Kyiv's museums are closed on a Monday/Tuesday, so if you wish to visit a particular attraction then please check that it is open on the day you are want to visit on.
We have a busy day today, as we aim to explore a selection of Kyivs many historic sights and to get a feel for this great city. We'll start with a guided walking tour of Kyiv to see the onion domed exterior of Santa Sophia Cathedral, the Golden Gate which was once the main entrance to the city, Saint Andrews Baroque church and Mother Motherland, a 100 metre high statue to honour the heroes of the Soviet Union. This afternoon we take the metro to Arsenalna, which is the deepest station in the world. We continue from here to the Lavra Historical and Cultural Reserve and visit 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 that the soil was rich in silver, and so the monastery became very wealthy and the complex grow hugely in size. Today we can see the vast number of ornately decorated buildings that were created. A guide will take us on a tour of the caves and we will have time to either visit the Museum of Miniatures or the Museum Of Historical Treasures and the Holy Trinity Church.
We make an early start this morning and begin our drive to Odesa on the Black Sea coast. In total today the drive will take us around 7 hours, but we'll break our journey and pass by a variety of interesting scenery and towns along the way. We have a guided tour of the Strategic Missile Force Museum at Pervomaysk, which before being decommissioned was an actual nuclear weapon launch site. We will see the most powerful Cold War Soviet missile - the R-36M2 'governor' bomb, which was nicknamed 'Satan' by the Americans. We will descend down in a small lift to the original control room - the Unified Command Post (UCP), which is three metres below the surface and part of 150 metre long tunnel complex. We have the chance to have lunch in a local restaurant during our journey and will arrive into Odessa this evening. Odesa is a character filled port city with tree lined streets and colourful buildings. Although it's on the Black Sea coast, it has an almost Mediterranean feel to it, as in years gone by thousands of immigrants from all over Europe were invited to make the city their home and they brought their own architectural styles with them, including Neo-Classical, Renaissance and Art Nouveau.
This morning we set off with our local guide on a walking tour of Odesa. We will walk down the tree-lined Primorsky Boulevard, see the many steps of the Potemkin Stairs leading down to the seafront, the elegant Baroque style 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, which has given it the name Devil's House, because it plays tricks on the eye and doesn't look like it should be able to remain standing. After our walk, this afternoon is free for you to continue your own explorations. You may choose to join a local guide with a trip 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 that you might like to join. You could visit Coastal Defence Number 411, which is now an open air museum and a Memorial for the Heroic Defence of Odessa during World War II. Here you can see an armoured train, artillery guns, an Odessa 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 metres 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 take a 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 among others. For food lovers and bargain hunters you could go to three of Odessa's most famous markets. The Flea Market selling many old Soviet items; Privoz the bustling food market best known for its fresh fish or 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. If you enjoy a glass of wine then there's the chance to visit the Shabo Winery, which is around 75 kilometres outside the city. Here you can try seven varieties of the local tipple and take a tour of the winery. This evening we will drive to Odessa railway station to board our overnight train to Lviv. We will use sleeper carriages with four bunk beds (two beds at floor level and two above) per compartment. Bedding will be provided and there is a shared toilet and wash basin in each carriage.
Our train arrives in Lviv this morning and we drive to our hotel for breakfast and to check-in. Later this morning we will discover the history and stunning architecture of the old quarter on a guided walking tour. Along the way 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 originally 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! We also see the Old Rus Quarter of the city and the High Castle, which affords great views over the city below. 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. Among 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.
This morning we leave our hotel at around 8am and drive into the Carpathian Mountains region. Our drive will take us around 3.5 hours each way, but we'll get to see some great scenery along the way as we head out of the city and into the rolling countryside. Our first stop will be in Pylypets village to see the tumbling waters of the Shypit Waterfall. Next we take a chair lift up Gemba Mountain to 1,491 metres above sea level to admire the panoramic views back over the rolling tree covered hills and jagged mountain peaks of the Carpathians. There is a unique café at the top of the mountain where they use no electricity and whilst here they'll be an opportunity to sample their food and drink whilst enjoying the view. We drive on to Izky eco village where they aim to be as self-sufficient as possible and so they produce most things themselves including their food and even the tableware that they serve it on. We'll be given a masterclass on how the make cheese and get to sample a number of different cheeses accompanied by wine and Carpathian tea. At a local kolyba - a traditional restaurant serving home cooked cuisine - we'll have the chance for an early dinner before continuing our drive back to Lviv. We'll arrive back at our hotel at around 9pm.
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 or join a chocolate making masterclass. The Brewery Museum takes you on a journey through Ukraine and the World's beer making history and explains the differences. There will of course be the chance to try an assortment of locally brewed beers too. Next to the museum is the Robert Doms Beer House, which is a large medieval style beer hall and restaurant where you can sample more of the local brew and perhaps their speciality dish of pork ribs in beer marinade. At the chocolate making masterclass 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 among 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.
This morning we will begin our drive to Zhytomyr where we spend the night. Along the way we visit the town of Lutsk and our Explore Leader will take us on a walking tour of the main highlights. Competing with Lviv, on the beauty front, Lutsk is definitely worth exploring. The Soviet architecture of the modern town actually works here with its large squares and wide avenues, but of course the main attraction is the town's preserved historic centre. The maze of cobbled streets are lined with carved churches and town houses showcasing Lutsk's Polish, Russian and Lithuanian architectural history. Here we'll also see Lutsk's very well preserved 14th century castle. After spending a few hours here we drive on to Klevan to visit the Tunnel of Love. Along a three kilometre stretch of railway track leading to a factory the trees have all grown up around it forming a green corridor that has gained the name of the Tunnel of Love due to the lovers that come here and make a wish for their future that is said to then come true. We drive on to Zhytomyr, where our Explore Leader will take us on an orientation tour. The city has a number of picturesque churches including the majestic Cathedral of the Transfiguration, but it is also in touch with its Soviet past with rickety old trolley buses rattling past tower blocks, war memorials and numerous parks and public gardens including Gagarin Park. The city is one of the greenest in Ukraine and lies on the banks of the Teterev River and is surrounded by rocky hills and dense ancient forests.
This morning before leaving Zhytomyr we will visit its most famous attraction, the Sergei Korolev Museum of Astronautics. Sergei Korolev was a scientist and engineer who helped found the Soviet space and rocket programme and he was born here in Zhytomyr. The museum is in two sections, the first of which is a memorial to Sergei and tells the story of his life and work. The main section of the museum tracks the history of the cosmonautics development and it has a number of exhibits about space travel, including a capsule that was donated by NASA that still has soil on it from where it landed on the moon. We then drive back to Kyiv and the afternoon is free for you to explore. You might like to visit 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 here are spread over 25 acres. Perhaps you'll also want to visit the Chernobyl Museum with exhibits that are designed to teach us the scope of the nuclear disaster and to ensure that the lessons learnt from this terrible accident aren't forgotten. This is a good introduction to the history of the event before we visit Chernobyl itself tomorrow. Or you could visit Mezhyhirya, which consists of a very large park and houses that all formerly belonged to President Viktor Yanukovych. After the revolution this park was opened to the public and the Museum of Corruption is now housed in his former home. Outside the city you could join an excursion to Pirogov Open-Air Museum of Wooden Architecture, which is about 40 minutes' drive from the city. Set on the banks of Lake Myachino you will be able see a variety of old Ukrainian village houses, chapels and churches that have been preserved to display how people used to live.
This morning we set off on our exciting explorations to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which is 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. On our first day of discovery with a local guide we will explore Pripyat including the fairground, hospital, hotel, bus station, fire station, football stadium, sports centre, elementary school, kindergarten, police station, Palace of Culture, church and the 'bridge of death'. We'll also see the Red Forest and the structure around Reactor 4. The attractions seen in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone may vary depending on local conditions and restrictions, but we'll see the most possible during our two days spent here. This evening we will have the unique experience of staying within the Exclusion Zone in a small hotel within the town of Chernobyl. The bedrooms are simply decorated and there are three bathrooms shared between every five bedrooms. There is a restaurant and bar where we will enjoy a traditional Ukrainian meal this evening. Please note that it is essential that you provide Explore 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 Explore know at the point of booking and ensure that you have your new passport no later than 10 weeks prior to travel.
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.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Kyiv. 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. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Kyiv Boryspil International Airport (KBP), which is about 35 minutes' drive, depending on traffic.
12 Break Fast(s) 2 Lunch(es) 1 Dinner(s)
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