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4 Day Chernobyl Trip: Impressions, Advice and Photos

Chernobyl trip - abandoned classroom

I thought it would only be about abandoned buildings. And while we did visit and wander through dozens of schools, cafes, bus stations, hospitals, hotels, boat houses, supermarkets, television shops, summer camps, and a ton of more places, the experience of a Chernobyl trip went far beyond all of that.

For 3 nights and 4 days we were in ‘the zone’.

It was eye-opening, educational and very raw, all in one. We stayed in an old Soviet hotel in Chernobyl city, the only working town in the exclusion zone and home to several thousand people, almost all of whom work in some power plant / disaster related job. The rest of the population in town run the shop, two hotels, restaurant and other small businesses that support the workers.

Each day of our Chernobyl trip we learned more about the 1986 disaster, with our excellent guide, Nazar, providing details and information about every single site that we visited.

In between the education, I was left to stare out the window of the van or walk quietly along paths that meandered through the spectacularly overgrown forest, pondering the remains of a once flourishing region. I was left to try to comprehend the masses of people whose lives were uprooted and left behind, all within a few quick days (or slow days depending on how you look at the response to the disaster).

Chernobyl trip - apartment building

Sure enough, I found myself equally affected by the stories of those who sacrificed their lives to ensure the disaster didn’t escalate even more. And by those who knew the risks but decided to play a major role in securing and cleaning the area nonetheless.

Even today, there are still a couple of thousand people who work at or near the nuclear reactor, in various capacities. They spend 15 days in the exclusion zone and then they’re required to leave the zone for 15 days before they can return. Such workers include scientists, security personnel, contractors, technicians, engineers and more.

Again, this Chernobyl trip was far from a mere stream of photo opportunities.

Did you know that Sweden played a crucial role in uncovering the disaster?

Sweden detected radiation soon after and in their search for the source, they put pressure on the Soviet Union to confess if something had occurred. Had Sweden not detected the radiation and forced the Soviet Union to admit the situation, who knows if we would ever know what actually happened. And that would have been even more dangerous.

Chernobyl trip - control center

Places Visited During My Chernobyl Trip

As we traveled around, there were indeed the checkpoints, the bursts of radiation in certain areas, the feeling of desolation and the disgust at how the situation unfolded. There were the lunches at the local canteens, the memorials and the sad tales around every corner.

But at the same time, most of where we went inside the exclusion zone had a radiation level that would not be considered terribly excessive. The reason, I learned, is that the radioactive elements are heavy and as a result, have sunk into the ground by this stage.

We still found areas with levels as high as 10 uSV (microsieverts) and one piece of machinery that was a very high 750 uSv, but most places were between .4 uSv and 1 uSv on the Geiger counter radiation detector.

As the days passed, I saw the abandoned ferris wheel and the main square in Pripyat. I stood in front of the now covered Nuclear Reactor #3 where the disaster all began. There was a massive, rusted 1920s steamboat we climbed around, stuck in the mud near the Belarussian border. The piano shop was simply eerie, with rotting pianos lying silent all around the room.

Old piano shop

Chernobyl trip - reactor #3

The once grand swimming pool, the isolated summer camp on the shores of a river, the massive Duga radar station and an abandoned school deep in the woods along a road that seemed to receive no traffic for a long time. Dusty doll heads, broken desks, a boxing ring.

Dental implants and vials of chemicals, huge propaganda posters sitting behind a massive stage, an open purse on a kitchen table, in a house that was clearly abandoned in an instant.

A boat house, a rusted bus, a field of huge silent tractors. A cafe with impressive stained glass windows, a supermarket with shopping carts still scattered along the aisles, a room where soldiers studied the various missiles that might one day attack the Soviet Union.

Paperwork and school books, toys and broken televisions, old drink dispensers, gas masks and scattered clothes. Everywhere we went, every day, was a trip deep into the abandoned lives of thousands of people, into the stories and education and work and social activities of those who once called the region home.

Abandoned school house

Chernobyl trip - the gym

Chernobyl trip - dentist

Visiting a Resettler

And then, there was Vasily. One of 170 remaining re-settlers, this kind, golden-toothed 64 year old man returned to the exclusion zone shortly after the disaster, unwilling to have his life uprooted.

Today he lives way in the countryside, in an otherwise empty village located a one hour drive from any other sign of civilization, a village that can only be reached along a narrow, terribly pot-holed, completely forgotten road.

Vasily lives in an abandoned village, in a simple, but warmly decorated home. He grows an incredible amount of fruit and vegetables on his land, with beautiful looking cabbage, apples, plums, potatoes, berries, pumpkin, eggplant and more filling up the fields. He also raises chickens and some ducks, feeds the local storks and makes his own liquor, even though he doesn’t drink.

He leaves the village 1 or 2 times per year, that’s it.

Resettler Vasily

Chernobyl trip - Vasily's house

Our guide knew of Vasily but had never been to his village in the 7 years he’d been leading Chernobyl trips. He decided to take us out there on our third day.

What was supposed to be a quick stay to say hello turned into 5 hours as we dined on a wonderful spread of food – salads, eggs, stuffed tomatoes, sweet bread and of course some shots of his homemade brandy. Generous with his time and happy to have visitors, we asked him endless questions and listened to his stories of life before and after the disaster as we continued to nibble on the endless plates of food he served us.

And while you might hesitate to eat from his garden, the radiation level in his village is around .4 uSv. To give you an idea, a chest x-ray is about 100 uSv, some 250 times as strong. Even with that, Vasily’s health, his house, his land, chickens and even his cat are checked twice per year by scientists and doctors to ensure that it continues to be safe for him to live in this area.

Pripyat's old cafe

Chernobyl trip - cultural center

On our last day of this Chernobyl trip, I woke up in my simple yet somewhat cozy room at the Hotel Pripyat, took a shower in an impossibly small tub and soon found myself eating eggs and pancakes for breakfast. Life in Chernobyl city was remarkably normal considering the devastation that lies only a few kilometers away.

We passed through one last checkpoint, each of us standing inside a radiation detection machine in order to ensure we were radiation free. Then we handed over our lanyards/personal radiation detection devices that we were required to wear during our stay and we crossed the ‘border’ out of the exclusion zone.

And that was it. The Chernobyl trip was over and the exclusion zone was left behind, in a much different fashion than the thousands of people who had no choice back in 1986.

Quick Tips for Your Chernobyl Trip

I highly recommend visiting Chernobyl if you get the chance and I definitely recommend doing a multi-day trip.

A one day trip simply covers the same handful of sites that 95% of visitors see. If you spend a couple of nights in the exclusion zone, you’ll get to visit endless locations that very few people get a chance to explore.

In our 4 days, we saw almost no other tourists apart from at our hotel and at a couple of monuments in Chernobyl city. Everywhere else, we basically had to ourselves, all day, every day.

And while the temptation is high to turn a visit to Chernobyl into one big Instagram photo session, something important is definitely missed if you do. It’s worth taking time to learn as much as you can and to really appreciate the scale of the disaster and its effects. It’s quite an intense and draining experience when you do but it’s extremely valuable nonetheless.

  • Book through a local tour operator in Kiev
  • Book 2-3 months in advance as hotel rooms in Chernobyl city are limited
  • Either a private tour or a group with less than 6 people is the way to go (avoid big groups)
  • 3-4 days is highly recommended
  • Clothing rules require you to wear long sleeve shirts, long pants and closed-toe shoes
  • Take a comfortable day pack as you’re not allowed to put your bag on the ground while out exploring
  • Bring some money for snacks, drinks and basic supplies at the local shop in Chernobyl city
  • Ask your guide to include a visit with one of the re-settlers in the region
  • Eat at least one lunch at the power plant workers’ canteen
  • When to visit: Summer (great weather), Autumn (leaves have fallen, clearer views), Winter (quiet and eerier), Spring (few leaves, also good views)

Any questions? Just send me a message and I’ll be happy to assist!

Looking for more photos from my Chernobyl trip?

Check out my post: 33 Fascinating Chernobyl Photos

The post 4 Day Chernobyl Trip: Impressions, Advice and Photos appeared first on Wandering Earl.

33 Fascinating Chernobyl Photos

Chernobyl photos in the bus station

 

After my recent 3 night / 4 day trip into the Chernobyl exclusion zone, it’s time to share some photos. This trip was intense and everywhere I looked there were scattered pieces of a once thriving community, something that does not make for a light experience.

If you want to read my impressions and advice about traveling to Chernobyl, please check out my blog post: 4 Day Chernobyl Trip: Impressions, Advice and Photos

The below photos include shots from the main abandoned town of Pripyat as well as from villages and areas located all over the exclusion zone.

33 Chernobyl Photos

Chernobyl photos - checkpoint

Gas masks

Chernobyl photos - Duga radar view

Duga radar

Chernobyl photos - stairwell

Chernobyl photos - office building

Stained glass cafe wall

Chernobyl photos - soldier classroom

Greenhouse

Chernobyl photos - theater

Chernobyl photos - hotel

Backstage propaganda

Chernobyl photos - boxing ring

Chernobyl photos - gym wall

Eerie hallway

Chernobyl photos - school desk

Chernobyl photos - bus station lockers

Hospital room

Chernobyl photos - dentist

Chernobyl photos - dental office

Epidemic ward

Chernobyl photos - private home

Piano shop

Chernobyl photos - kindergarden

School building

Chernobyl photos - Roadside Picnic Shop in Chernobyl City

Chernobyl photos - summer camp

Computer

Chernobyl photos - bumper cars

Athletic court

Chernobyl photos - television shop

If you want to learn more about the Chernobyl disaster, I recommend reading Voices from Chernobyl: An Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster.

Here’s a quote from that book that summarizes the disaster well:

It’s certainly true that Chernobyl, while an accident in the sense that no one intentionally set it off, was also the deliberate product of a culture of cronyism, laziness, and a deep-seated indifference toward the general population. The literature on the subject is pretty unanimous in its opinion that the Soviet system had taken a poorly designed reactor and then staffed it with a group of incompetents. It then proceeded, as the interviews in this book attest, to lie about the disaster in the most criminal way. In the crucial first ten days, when the reactor core was burning and releasing a steady stream of highly radioactive material into the surrounding areas, the authorities repeatedly claimed that the situation was under control…In the week after the accident, while refusing to admit to the world that anything really serious had gone wrong, the Soviets poured thousands of men into the breach…The machines they brought broke down because of the radiation. The humans wouldn’t break down until weeks or months later, at which point they’d die horribly.

If you have any questions about visiting Chernobyl, please get in touch and I’d be happy to assist. I can recommend excellent local tour operators and guides that will ensure you don’t have the standard Chernobyl tourist experience that 95% of visitors tend to have!

Want to learn more about taking a Chernobyl trip?

Check out my thoughts and trip advice here – 4 Day Chernobyl Trip: Impressions, Advice and Photos

The post 33 Fascinating Chernobyl Photos appeared first on Wandering Earl.

Non Lucrative Visa for Spain: How I Applied in Just 1 Week

Non Lucrative Visa for Spain - How I applied in one week

Date: July 2019

I did it. My application for the Spanish non lucrative visa has been submitted.

This non lucrative visa for Spain allows a person to:

– stay in Spain for up to 1 year
– rent a place to live and sign up for utilities
– renew your residency at the end of the year (you can apply for permanent residency after 5 years)

It does NOT allow you to work in Spain, use government healthcare or government benefits of any kind.

This visa looked like a great option for me and so I applied.

And contrary to what I had heard and read, almost all of which explains that you need a ton of time to complete this process, I managed to do it all in one simple week.

Of course, if you have more than a week, that’s a bonus and you can complete the process in a more relaxed manner. But if you don’t have much time, a week is sufficient to get your stuff together and apply.


Here’s everything I did to make this happen:

Application Location

You need to apply in your home country. And you need to apply at the Spain Embassy or Consulate that has jurisdiction over your state or province. For me, my home address is in Florida, so I had to apply at the Spanish Consulate in Miami.

Interestingly enough, each Embassy and Consulate seems to have slightly different requirements for the non lucrative visa but the core is basically the same. You can find any extra requirements on the website of the Embassy or Consulate where you need to apply. Also, some Embassies and Consulates require you to make an appointment to apply for the non lucrative visa and some don’t. Definitely check this in advance as it could take a couple of months to secure an appointment.

Luckily, for me, the Consulate of Spain in Miami does not require appointments, so as soon as I had all of my paperwork together, I simply showed up the next day and applied.


Non Lucrative Visa: Documents, Documents, Documents

The paperwork is of course the heart of the application process.

When I applied for my visa, the man at the consulate told me that I was the first person in over 6 months to apply for a non lucrative visa and to have all of the paperwork in order on their first visit. He said that most people are missing some paperwork and need to come back at least a couple of times before they have it all right.

So, presumably, if you follow everything I did, you should also have all of your paperwork in order the first time around!

*No guarantees though and you really need to find out the specific requirements of the Embassy/Consulate where you’ll apply to make sure you don’t need other items that I didn’t need.

But again, it only took me 1 week to get it all together. While that might not be realistic for everyone (I probably had a little luck on my side), you definitely don’t need months or even weeks to get this stuff done.

Here’s what you need:

1. Passport (should have 2 empty pages and be valid for at least 1 year past the date on which you’ll apply)

  • bring your actual passport
  • make a photocopy of EVERY SINGLE PAGE of your passport (this includes blank pages, personal information pages, everything!)

2. Driver’s License

  • bring your actual driver’s license
  • make a photocopy of the front and back of your driver’s license

3. National Visa Application Form

  • fill out the National Visa Application PDF on your computer and then print two copies of the completed application form
  • paste a passport photo of yourself (headshot with white background) in the upper right hand corner box on each application form

4. Form “EX-01 – Formulario”

  • This is the authorization for residency form (it’s #11 on that link)
  • Fill out the PDF version of this form on your computer
  • It needs to be filled out and printed out in one go as you cannot save this form once you enter your details
  • Fill out Section 1 and under “Doimicilio en Espana“, if you don’t have an address in Spain already, simply type in the city (Localidad) and the province (Provincia) where you plan to live, leaving the rest of the address section blank
  • Do not fill out Section 2
  • For Section 3, simply fill out the “Telefono movil” and “Email” boxes and leave the rest blank
  • Print out this form and make 2 photocopies of it as well

5. Form “Tasas Extranjeria – Modelo impreso 790”

  • This Tasas Extranjeria form (it’s #12 on that link) needs to be filled out and printed out in one go as you cannot save this form once you enter your details either
  • In the upper right corner, where it says “Ejercicio“, enter the year in the four boxes
  • Fill out the section “Apellidos y nombre” in the format of Last Name, First Name, Middle Name (Smith, Johnathan Greg)
  • Fill out the “Nacionalidad” box with your nationality
  • Repeat the previous three steps on pages 2 and 3 of the form
  • On pages 1 and 2, check the box that says “Principal
  • Do not fill out any other boxes on this form
  • Print all 3 pages of the form and make 2 photocopies as well

6. Criminal Background Check

  • For US citizens, you can obtain either an FBI background check OR an official state background check (here’s an example from Florida) if your home address has been in the same state for at least 5 straight years
  • You cannot use a simple background check that you can order and print online (it needs to be one of the two official versions above)
  • When you order the background check, it needs to be a version that is notarized by the issuing authority, which is pretty standard
  • It must be translated into Spanish (some states, such as Florida, allow you to order the background check in both English and Spanish which makes it much easier; otherwise, when you receive it, you need to get it officially translated and notarized)
  • Once you have the official background check in Spanish, you need to send it off for an Apostille certification (this is a specific certification of the document, in addition to the notarization, that is done by the state government where the background check was issued)
  • Example: For me, I had to send my notarized, Spanish-language Florida background check to the Florida Secretary of State in Tallahassee; the cost of the Apostille stamp was only $10 if I got it done in person or I could have sent it to them by mail, which takes about 2-3 weeks; since I was on very limited time, I used a service that sent off my document, got the Apostille stamp from the Secretary of State and had it back in my hands all within 48 hours
  • When you have your Apostille-certified, Spanish-language background check, make a photocopy of the Apostille certificate and the background check as well as a photocopy of the English-version background check as an extra precaution

7. Medical Certificate of Good Health

  • You need your doctor to sign off that you don’t have certain communicable diseases as per the International Health Regulations of 2005
  • I simply used the template that can be found at #8 on this page, printed it out, brought it to my doctor to review and he signed and stamped it
  • The document needs to be in Spanish, so if your doctor is not willing to sign the template above (which is in both English and Spanish), you will need to get the English version officially translated

8. Proof of Spanish Health Insurance

  • This sounds tricky but it wasn’t too bad of a process in the end
  • Every non lucrative visa applicant needs to show proof of having private Spanish Health Insurance
  • You CANNOT use travel insurance or any insurance from your home country (some people get away with it but there’s a high chance you’ll be rejected if you don’t have insurance from a Spanish company)
  • It needs to be a health insurance plan without deductibles and without co-payments
  • I used the company Sanitas and ended up paying about 70 Euros per month for the required insurance
  • Sanitas was excellent, they knew exactly what was required for non lucrative visa applicants, the process was quick and I found their coverage to be one of the better deals out there
  • From the first email I sent to Sanitas, I had the official certificate/confirmation of health insurance letter in my inbox within 72 hours (they move very quickly if you need them to)
  • Make sure they send you all of the documents in Spanish
  • Print out the official health insurance certificate/letter they send you, as well as the proof of payment and a copy of your policy (what it includes and excludes), all in Spanish
  • Make a couple of photocopies of everything

9. Visa Fees – Money Orders

  • The only way to pay for your visa application is with money orders
  • You need to get two money orders from your bank or the post office
  • As of right now, the non lucrative visa fee for US citizens is $140 to apply and another $12 tax (one money order should be for $140 and the other for $12 – they need to be separate)
  • For citizens of other countries, simply find the visa fee page on your local Embassy or Consulate’s website to see what you need to pay
  • DO NOT fill out the “Pay to the order of” section of the money orders in advance
  • The staff at the Embassy/Consulate will fill that out for you

10. Proof of Financial Resources

  • To obtain this visa, you need to show proof of investment income of 2151.36 EUROS per month OR a total of 25816.32 EUROS in bank accounts, investment accounts or a combination of both (it increases by about 540 EUROS per person per month if you’re applying with a spouse or children)
  • Technically, the income you show should not be derived from actual work as the visa is designed for those who have sufficient money to spend 1 year in Spain without working
  • You should print out your bank statements and investment account statements for the past year (yes, 12 months of statements for each account!), make a photocopy of them all and bring them with you
  • Make sure the statements have your name and address listed on them so that it is very clear that they are your bank/investment accounts

11. Proof of Accommodation in Spain

  • You can use either a notarized invitation letter from family or a friend in Spain who will be responsible for your accommodation, an actual lease for an apartment/house in Spain or a deed of a property if you own a house/apartment in Spain
  • OR you can write a letter explaining why you chose a particular town/city in Spain to live in
  • Since I don’t have a place in Spain yet, I went with the letter option
  • Simply write a few paragraphs about why you want to move to Spain and why you chose a particular town or city to live in
  • At the bottom of the letter, include a list of everything that you’re including in your application such as application forms, medical certificate, proof of health insurance, bank statements totaling ‘x’ amount and so on
  • The letter needs to be in Spanish
  • As I have decent Spanish-language skills, I simply wrote the Spanish version myself
  • If you’re not able to do that, you’ll need to get your English letter officially translated into Spanish
  • Get the English and Spanish versions of your letter notarized
  • Make a photocopy of the notarization certificate, the Spanish letter and the English letter

Time to Apply

Once you have everything listed above, it’s time to actually apply for the non lucrative visa. Again, depending on where you need to apply, the Embassy or Consulate may or may not require you to make an appointment in advance. I did not need an appointment and so, once I had all the paperwork in order, my application process went like this…

      1. Woke up at 4:15am
      2. Started the drive to the Consulate of Spain in Miami at 4:45am
      3. Arrived at the consulate at 6:20am
      4. Got in line outside the office building where the consulate was located (There were already 2 people ahead of me, 2 hours before it opened!)
      5. Wait, wait, wait and wait some more, until the consulate opened
      6. Received a number and took a seat in the waiting area
      7. Waited 5 minutes until my number was called
      8. Handed over everything they asked for and within 15 minutes, I was done!

    Non Lucrative Visa: The Next Steps

    I was told that my non lucrative visa would be ready in about 4 weeks. They will let me know by email and then, I have 30 days to pick it up in person. If I didn’t need my passport during those 4 weeks, I could have left it with the consulate and they would have mailed it back to me with the visa inside once it was ready. But I do need my passport over the next month so I’ll have to come back to pick up the visa myself once it’s ready to be collected.

    After that, you need to enter Spain within 90 days. And then, there’s a couple of final steps to the process to actually get your residency card and register yourself properly in Spain. Hopefully my visa will indeed be approved and after I complete the next steps, I’ll be sure to update this post.

    Any questions? Just let me know!


    The post Non Lucrative Visa for Spain: How I Applied in Just 1 Week appeared first on Wandering Earl.

    The Unsung Hero That Makes My Travels Safer

    You know how they say it’s the little things that matter? Well, today, I want to quickly mention one of the unsung heroes of my traveling life. So, let’s wander off the beaten track for a bit and talk about a little tool that helps me keep my mind at ease when on the road.

    I’m talking about a VPN app. VPN is short for Virtual Private Network. What’s a VPN have to do with traveling? Here we go…

    Find the best deals on airplane tickets and hotel rooms

    I’m going to dive straight into it.

    Firstly, full disclosure. The VPN app I’ll be talking about is CyberGhost VPN. I’m not saying it’s the best, the prettiest, the most amazing one out there, or anything like that. But it’s what I’ve been using, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other at the moment. I saw that CyberGhost VPN is often named the Best Value VPN by various tech-related websites.

    With VPNs and traveling… for starters, before booking a plane ticket or hotel room, I strongly suggest you use a VPN and see if you can find a better deal than what you’re getting now.

    That’s because both airplane and booking companies use something called geo-targeted pricing. This means that they offer different prices based on your location.

    With a VPN, you can use this marketing exploit against them. Just turn on CyberGhost VPN and start switching between countries and IP addresses. Since websites use them to determine your location, changing your IP could also potentially trigger much-welcomed airplane tickets or hotel room discounts. Pretty useful if you’re looking for the best deals.

    With CyberGhost VPN, you can switch between IPs from 61 different countries – although I hardly ever try more than 6 or 7 before booking something.

    Avoid being a data-theft victim

    Next, there’s the issue of online data security. That’s a rather big thing, especially when you rely on public Wi-Fi networks to go online, something that travelers tend to do often. And since public Wi-Fi is now everywhere, the threat looms larger than ever. All an identity thief needs to steal your data is a battery-powered hotspot and some patience.

    There are common-sense measures you can take to make sure you don’t fall victim. Checking that the name of the Wi-Fi you’re trying to connect to matches the name displayed on the columns or walls of the restaurant/bar/airport is one of them.

    However, if you’re like me, the last thing I tend to remember is to check all the details when I connect to Wi-Fi. CyberGhost VPN has a useful little feature though that automatically encrypts my data with the same security standards used by banks and military institutions whenever I connect to an unprotected network. This way I know for sure that I can check my emails or my account balance without the risk of my most sensitive information getting stolen. As I said, it’s the little things.

    Enjoy the same content you’re used to back home

    Since travel can often leave us quite tired at the end of the day, there are indeed times when we just want to burn through the rest of the night by watching Netflix US, Hulu or something else. Yet being abroad has its downsides. Without a VPN to help us work around geo-restrictions, watching the content we could get back home can be impossible at times.

    How does a VPN do that? It simply tricks US-based online streaming providers into thinking you’ve never left home. All you have to do is power up the app and connect to a US-based VPN server.

    So, those are some quick reasons why every traveler should use a VPN.


    If you’d like to try out CyberGhost VPN  there’s a 77% discount available by following this link.

    One CyberGhost VPN subscription is actually enough to secure up to 7 different devices at the same time. And it’s compatible and optimized for iOS, Android, Android TV, Linux, Windows, Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV stick, and even Kodi.

    The post The Unsung Hero That Makes My Travels Safer appeared first on Wandering Earl.