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O2 Presale: 10am on 25 September
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Posts Tagged ‘Genocide’

A long day in Kiev

June 18th, 2013 No comments

After a great buffet breakfast this morning we all met downstairs in the hotel lobby ready to head out for our tour of Kiev. Our first stop was St Michael’s Monastery, which is one of the sights you see in all the photos of Kiev, and within a few minutes of entering I was sorry that I had forgotten to pack sun cream in my bag for the day. It’s very hot out today! The grounds of the monastery are lovely and we spent some time looking around the grounds within the walls being told all about the history of the location. After looking around the grounds we entered the Cathedral that’s within the complex and were presented with some beautiful sights – many, many lovely statues, murals, paintings and photo opportunities including monks praying. However we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the building which was a shame – some of our group did but I didn’t want to break the rules.

Statues in Kiev

Statues outside the Cathedral

St Michael's Cathedral

St Michael’s Cathedral

Outside the monastery there is a memorial board to the Ukrainian Genocide outside in both English and Ukrainian so after visiting the complex we were given some information about the events that were committed. I must admit the Ukrainian Genocide isn’t an event that I had heard about but it was very shocking to hear about and brought back sad memories of visiting the Rwanda Genocide Memorial a few years ago. We also saw the statue of Princess Olga in the square before heading down the road, past the British Embassy, to St Andrew’s Church.

We didn’t have the opportunity to see inside St Andrew’s Church unfortunately as it wasn’t on the itinerary but one thing you notice when visiting old Soviet countries is how beautifully decorated and ornate the religious buildings are. The care and skill that must have gone into the domes and the ornate work on the outside almost puts some of the buildings in the west to shame!

Memorial to the Ukrainian Genocide

Memorial to the Ukrainian Genocide

St Andrew's

St Andrew’s Cathedral

In the UK for the past week it has been quite cold so it’s been a nice relief to have full summer weather while in Kiev – I believe the temperature today was above 30. However by the time we reached the area of St Andrew’s Church the heat was starting to get to us and we had all mostly run out of water. Luckily this area is tourist central so in addition to tens of souvenir stalls there are also stalls where you can by snacks and refrigerated drinks. We stocked up on a couple of litres of water each and then made our way towards the National Museum of Ukraine.

The museum was another sight which unfortunately wasn’t on our list of places we were due to visit but our guide wanted to take us here to show us some old hieroglyphs that had been engraved into some stone slabs in the museum grounds, and also to allow us to see a good view over the city. I’m glad she brought us here as it was a good view.

Walking around Kiev

Walking around the museum grounds

Hieroglyphs

Ancient Hieroglyphs in Kiev

The old Linden Tree

The old Linden Tree

We spent a little time in the museum grounds enjoying the sunshine before it was time to head back to our minibus to head down to the Chernobyl Museum. On the way we stopped at a very old Linden Tree which is described by legend as the oldest tree in Kiev. The age of the tree seems to vary depending on which account you read but you could tell it was indeed very ancient.

The Chernobyl Museum was a very moving experience. It meant even more as we are due to visit Chernobyl tomorrow but I highly recommend a visit here to anybody that travels to Kiev. The museum itself is fairly cheap to enter, although it was included in our tour, and we had to pay an extra token payment to be allowed to take photos. All of the exhibits are in Ukrainian, as was the tour we were given, but our guide translated everything for us. We spent some time looking at the museum and saw so many exhibits detailing the history of the plant, the build-up to the accident, information about the accident itself, the aftermath and the cleanup process. We also saw a lot of personal items belonging to the people that were first on the scene including radiation suits, uniforms, posthumously-given medals, letters home to families and much more. I can’t recommend this place high enough if you are in any way curious about learning more about the disaster.

Chernobyl Trucks

Trucks outside the Chernobyl Museum

Chernobyl Medals

Medals given to the people who died trying to contain Chernobyl

Inside the Chernobyl Museum

Inside the Chernobyl Museum

Lost towns

Signs for the towns lost after Chernobyl

Mutant

Mutated animal

Lunch time!

Lunch in Kiev

The museum seems a little hidden away as it’s down a side road in the old town so make sure you know where you’re going before trying to find it – or just ask a local! We relaxed outside the museum for a bit before being taken to lunch in a very surreal restaurant (translation of the name is moonshine) which sounded as though it was full of budgies! The food was nice but very weird, as were the drinks, but I enjoyed the atmosphere.

Kiev is famous for the Cave Monastery and this was our next stop of the day. After arriving, and drinking most of the water that we had bought by this point, we were informed that regulations meant we had to have a guide from the monastery show us around so we waited for a little while and took photos. The guide that arrived was a very friendly person who spoke perfect English but you could tell everything she said was scripted compared to most tour guides who give you a personal experience. For example the phrase “please take note of the magnificent stone work on the opposing side of the church”.

We were shown around quite a few buildings in the monastery including an old church, an old church bell, a cathedral and several other sites, the names of which I can’t remember, before our tour ended at an amazing viewpoint overlooking Kiev. By this time our brains were in overload – partly because of the heat of the day and partly due to the monotonous script that we had been told for over an hour. Don’t get me wrong the guide was very knowledgeable and the guided tour was well worth it but we were glad to be able to move on to the caves on our own.

The caves that form part of the monastic complex are famous for housing the mummified remains of monks, saints and other people of note from the history of the monastery in or very close to the caved rooms where they lived their lives. To be able to enter you have to hold a candle between your first and second fingers, with the palm facing up, and women must either wear dresses or the robes provided. It’s also advisable that you aren’t claustrophobic due to the cramped conditions although when you’re inside you really get a sense of how isolated the monks must have felt living in the caves for their whole lives away from the sun. As a result of their devotion the caves are a sight of pilgrimage for many so the crowds can sometimes build up. We were fairly lucky when we toured as the crowds were fairly low.

Cave Monastery

Walking around the Cave Monastery complex

Kiev

A view of Kiev from the Cave Monastery

Monastery grounds

The grounds of the Cave Monastery

We were all fairly exhausted by the time the tour of the monastic complex was over but there was still one more sight to see – the Great Patriotic War Museum. The Great Patriotic War is better known as World War 2 in the west but it is known by this term in Ukraine due to the struggle against the oppression of the Ukrainian way of life that formed the major battle in this part of Europe.

The museum is away from the roads and next to the big statue that you can see from all over the city so it was a bit of a walk to get to. On the way we walked past the Afghan War Museum and their outdoor exhibits that included tanks, rocket launchers and helicopters before passing sculptures depicting the struggle to defend the Ukrainian way of life which reminded me of some of the sights I saw in Pyongyang a few years ago.

According to our guide tomorrow is the passing out day for the local military cadets so in the parade ground directly outside the museum we were treated to a sight of hundreds of smartly dressed and uniformed soldiers getting ready for a dress rehearsal for the ceremony.

The war museum housed a wealth of artefacts from all aspects of World War 2 and our guide was incredibly informative in telling us everything that we needed to know. Until today I had never visited a World War 2 museum, unless you count Anne Frank’s House, and so some of the things I saw were a bit of a shock. In addition to the usual military hardware we also saw gallows from a concentration camp, gloves made out of human skin, a bone crushing machine and clothing of people that were executed by the Nazi regime. It was a very moving experience and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable about every aspect of the war but unfortunately we only had time to see about 2/3 of the rooms in detail before the museum closed and we had to leave. It’s a shame we didn’t have a chance to spend more time there as it was huge and incredibly well presented – make sure you visit when in the city or you’ll miss out on something special, in a sombre way.

Kiev Motherland Monument

The Motherland Monument

The Great Patriotic War Museum

The exterial of the Great Patriotic War Museum

Flamethrower

A flamethrower at the museum

A Bone Crusher

A bone crusher at the museum

A careful squeeze around the outside of the military parade and it was back to the minibus for the ride back to our hotel for a rest and shower. Earlier on in the day a few of us decided that we were going to head into town to have a meal together but unfortunately it took us a long time to find anywhere that was suitable to eat – everything was either overpriced or generic TGI Fridays etc. After probably 45 minutes of looking around we ended up wandering up a side road off Khreshcatyck Street where we found a lovely Bavarian restaurant which served everything from German beer to Schnitzel and even Apple Strudel. I ordered Chicken with Almond Sauce followed by the strudel and it was absolutely beautiful so hopefully we’ll be back here again later on in the trip after getting back from Chernobyl.

Dinner in Kiev

“Chicken under the Almond Sauce”

I finished the meal off with a Tequila Sunrise before saying goodbye to the group and wandering around the city for my own taking in the atmosphere for a bit. I like the support of being in a group while travelling but I also need the freedom of being able to explore and do my own thing so spent maybe an hour walking around taking photos, sitting in the square with a drink and generally people watching before making my way back to the hotel.

A few people were still in the bar so I had a quick drink with them before returning to my room. It’s pretty late now and we’re due to head off to Chernobyl at 8.30 tomorrow so hopefully I’ll sleep well.

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Africa Day 10 – Kigali Genocide Memorial

August 30th, 2009 No comments

Today was a very long day but one that would show us so many things and be memorable for good and bad reasons.

I woke up really early in an attempt to have a nice shower before everybody used the hot water but fell down a ditch that ran across the campsite in the process. Luckily I didn’t injure myself and I was treated to a lovely hot shower, albeit in the dark. By 6am breakfast was ready and we left just after 7am so that we wouldn’t arrive in Rwanda too late and would have enough time to stop at the viewpoints along the way. The first viewpoint was at the top of the hill overlooking Lake Bunyonyi where we took some good photos and talked to a little kid who was reluctant to come close until I said hi in his local language.

Me at Lake Bunyonyi

Me at Lake Bunyonyi

The reluctant kid

The reluctant kid

On the way down the hill into Kabale the leg snapped on one of our seats at the back of the truck but luckily as we were driving through the town one of our group saw somebody welding something outside their house and we stopped to ask for their help. He agreed and spent 45 minutes helping us in exchange for a token payment – before 8am on a Sunday which was incredibly good service. We talked to some local kids for a while before making our way to the Rwandan border, arriving just after 9 and finally getting into Rwanda just before 11. Luckily the time was an hour behind in Rwanda so it was really 10am.

At the welders fixing Oscar

At the welders fixing Oscar

Me and the kids while Oscar is fixed

Me and the kids while Oscar is fixed

Rwandan Border Controls

Rwandan Border Controls

We arrived in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, at 1130 and made our way to the Genocide memorial. To start with we were given a brief tour of the gardens containing mass graves of over 258,000 people before being shown and a wall which has been started containing the names of all the people buried so far. After looking around the gardens we were taken to the main building for a self-guided tour of the exhibits.

The exhibits inside the memorial centre told the story of Rwanda in history, before occupation, the colonialisation by Belgium, the first genocide of 1959, the problems before the 1994 genocide, the role of the UN, experiences during the genocide and then the aftermath. It also showcased photos of people that were killed, their stories and finally showed the bones of some people that had been killed which was an incredibly moving experience. Upstairs there were further exhibits of other genocides such as Namibia, Germany, Armenia, Serbia etc which we browsed for a while before going to the gift shop in the courtyard where I managed to spend 15000 of the 19800 Rwandan Francs that I changed at the border on everything from charity wristbands and t-shirts.

Rwandan Scenery

Rwandan Scenery

Kigali city

Kigali city

Name wall at the Genocide Memorial

Name wall at the Genocide Memorial

Mass Graves at the Genocide Memorial

Mass Graves at the Genocide Memorial

Around 2 hours after arriving at the centre members of our group started congregating in the memorial centre car park for lunch, being attacked by flies in the process, before seeing people leaving a memorial service that had been taking place at the centre for somebody that was killed in the genocide but had only recently been identified.

Lunch at the memorial centre

Lunch at the memorial centre

Me in Kigali

Me in Kigali

We left Kigali and drove towards Ruhengeri, taking lots of good photos on the way. There are so many hills in this country which is how Rwanda earned its nickname – The land of 1000 hills – and in fact I didn’t see a piece of flat land during the entire journey. After arriving in Ruhengeri fairly late we made our way to Fatimas which is the accommodation attached to the convent that we are staying in for the next 3 nights. I have decided to upgrade to a private room as it was only $14 a night extra which was very reasonable and a few private nights in bed will probably do me the world of good as I haven’t slept much recently.

We had a nice meal of chilli and rice and drinks in the bar to talk about tomorrow’s gorilla trek before heading off our separate ways for an early night. We need to be awake at 5am tomorrow so all of the people in the rooms have agreed to wake each other at around 530 to ensure we are ready in time.

Mountains of Rwanda

Mountains of Rwanda

A Volcano close to Ruhengeri

A Volcano close to Ruhengeri

My room at Fatimas

My room at Fatimas

I’m looking forward to tomorrow and hope we’re lucky enough to see Gorillas. We’ve been warned that although it is virtually guaranteed that we will see Gorillas there are some days where nobody sees any.

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Africa is all booked again

May 26th, 2009 No comments

I’m pleased to announce, now that I’ve added a full blog of my first ever overland Africa trip, that my next one is now fully booked – Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda with Dragoman!

I’ll be flying out to Nairobi in the last half of August, staying there for the night before heading out through Kenya, into Uganda and finally to Rwanda to see the rare Mountain Gorillas. Then we’ll be making our way back through Uganda to Kenya again where I’ll have one final night in Nairobi before flying back to the UK.

Highlights of the trip will include

  • Nairobi, Kenya
  • Lake Nakaru
  • Eldoret, Kenya
  • Kampala, Uganda
  • Jinja / Lake Victoria
  • Queen Elizabeth National  Park
  • Trekking with Chimps in the Kibale Forest
  • Lake Bunyoni
  • Lake Mburo
  • Kigali, Rwanda
  • Rwandan Genocide Memoria
  • Trekking with Mountain Gorillas near Ruhengeri, Rwanda

There’s no point going into too much detail as I don’t know everything that will be going on just yet – and being Africa things will change quite a lot. I thought I’d post it now that everything including any extras have all been booked, so that you can access the RSS feed of this category to subscribe should you wish to. I’ve given this trip it’s own category as I’ll be out of the country for 18 days and will have lots of things to talk about so it’s probably a good idea to separate things 🙂

I’m getting really excited about this. I love Africa and had a great time in Namibia when I was there in 2002. I don’t know why but I’ve always wanted to visit Rwanda and in a few months I’ll get my chance :). Expect a full report from me when I get back, maybe quick updates from me when I’m out there if I get net connection.

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