18 October 2014

Inside Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station

A few weeks before I was due to take my second Photo Experience Days group to Kiev / Chernobyl the tour company messaged me to ask if perhaps we'd like to do something in addition to what we currently had planned, namely to go inside of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station.

We jumped at the opportunity.  An opportunity apparently still quite rare outside of the world of scientists & diplomats.

Security was as you'd expect and hope quite tight, with airport style body scanners at the main entrance, and several card / code activated entry gates along the way.

We had to wear protective hats and plastic slippers over our shoes.  I'm not really sure what they would protect us from.  A token gesture at most?

While we didn't see as much as I'd have liked, being able to go inside of control room number 2 (a duplicate of reactor number 4 control room) , and touching the wall now separating reactor number 3 from the destruction of reactor 4 really was a rather special experience.

Most of the pictures below are from the control room.  A couple are of the "golden corridor", the very long corridor that connected all 4 reactors back in the day.  Now obviously it stops at reactor 3.

The final three pictures are in order; a memorial to engineer Valery Khodemchuk whose body was never found after the disaster; the water pumping area for reactor number 3, and finally the new sarcophagus currently under construction.

A rather special experience indeed.

15 October 2014

Independance Square in Kiev

I made my first visit to Kiev in April 2014, just a few weeks after the troubles there.  The square was a mess, with barricades, encampments and memorials to the dead.

Returning just 6 months later I was surprised to see how much had changed, how much it had apparently got back to normal.  The traffic was flowing, the barricades had all gone, and everything was clean and shiny again.

The only reminders of the events of that winter were a display of photographs detailing how the square looked just 6 months earlier and a small memorial wall to those who died in the troubles.

Extreme Tourism in Kiev

On arrival into Kiev's Borispol airport we were greeted by our driver and within hour of wheels down we had arrived at the Statue of the Motherland where we were greeted by our tour guide Helen.

After what seemed like a rather heated conversation between Helen the manager of the statue and a particularly grumpy employee, who clearly wanted to go home (he was really rather vocal about it) we had permission to go to the very top of the 91 metre platform which would take us to the top of the arm.

A cramped four people and a very tight squeeze lift ride later and all 6 of us and an the now extremely grumpy non-English speaking climb guide had arrived at the base of the statue.

With the boys going first, the assent to the top started with a lift so small that we struggled to close the doors with four of us inside.

The remainder of the climb was interesting. By interesting I mean one little slip and we'd have fallen to our almost certain deaths. There was safety gear, but clearly that only gets used when our grumpy tour guide wasn't in a rush to go home. All we were given was a pair of gloves so old and smelly they were probably used during the construction of the statue 33 years ago.

The badly welded ladders took us up at all kinds of angles, until finally a tight bend and a manhole cover and we had reached the top of her left hand.

The view was rather good though.

After an even more terrifying can't really see where you are putting your feet descent, we arrived back back with the girls. Their turn while we slumped into the only three chairs in the enclosed room to recover and discuss our near death experience with each other.

Although the top viewing platform is very clearly advertised, we'd never have been able to do it without a native Ukrainian speaker to fight our side.

03 October 2014

After the Dawn?

Being fortunate enough to get tickets for both the opening and closing nights of Kate Bush's first concerts in 35 years makes me a very lucky man indeed.

Having seats just seven rows (in front of Grace Jones and David Gilmour) from the stage on the closing night was rather special indeed.

Meeting up with three of the musicians (David Rhodes, John Giblin and Omar Hakim) who make up part of Kate's awesome band made it so much more personal.  

The concert had a few visual tweaks since the opening night, with more thought given to the lighting during the first six songs. I'd been told by Rachel Z, jazz pianist and keyboardist for Peter Gabriel some years back that the band had got "exponentially better" since night one. I think that was probably only something that a musician would notice because to me both nights were rather incredible.

One thing I did notice during my second was the use of surround sound during the concert. I've never even acknowledged stereo at a live gig before (normally you are just hit by a wall of sound) so this was quite remarkable.

Kate was again on top form, and clearly enjoying herself. At the end of the concert she gave the smallest of hints that there might well be more live performances on the way.
Not having expectations of certain favourite songs being performed made the second half of the concert much more enjoyable to me. Things may have got a tad emotional during the final few songs, with the breathtaking Aerial and the spinning around with guitarist David Rhodes, followed by the sublime piano solo, Among Angels. With the crowd on it's feet and Cloudbusting being performed it was all over.

Driving back home took me past the Hammersmith Apollo at around 1am and the "Before the Dawn" signs had already been taken down.

Easily the best concert I've ever seen and probably the best concert I ever will see.

Now to sit back and wait for the DVD which was filmed over a couple of nights in September.

Thank you Kate.

I wonder what comes after the dawn?

Below is Rachel Z, Omar Hakim and myself meeting for "coffee".  Definitely not a "meh" moment!