Archive for Vacation

Costa Rica

Posted in Costa Rica, La Fortuna, Manuel Antonio National Park, Monteverde, Quepos, San Jose, Santa Elena, Travel, Vacation with tags , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2017 by Amanda

I am finally going to write the posts I should have written months ago.

I went on a trip to Costa Rica in March.  While I enjoyed some aspects of the trip, I found Costa Rica to be surprisingly Americanized (they have Wal-Mart, Denny’s, Curves etc. etc.)

My flight leaving Saskatoon was delayed and, as I had a barely legal connection time to begin with in Calgary, I’d resigned myself to missing my flight to Houston.  However, there was a woman from Air Canada waiting at the wait with my name and the names of three others on a sign.  She rushed us to security/customs and I made the flight without incident.  The airport in Houston was filled with students going on trips for Spring Break; I definitely was one of the older people waiting at the gate!

Upon arriving in San Jose I was concerned as there weren’t all that many immigration officers but the lines moved pretty quickly though there was one idiot who decided to wait until he was in front of the officer to fill out his form.  I spent most of my first day just walking around San Jose which was fairly interesting.  When I arrived at the hotel where my tour was starting from, I was surprised that the keep the tv and a/c remotes behind the desk; apparently, people stole the batteries otherwise.


San Jose

On the first real day of the tour, it was raining a little which was apparently very unusual for the time of year.  Our first stop was at a coffee plantation.  It was pretty interesting even though I don’t drink coffee.  Upon arrival in La Fortuna, we signed up for tours the next day.  Later that afternoon, on the way to go hiking we say a lot of cars parked along the road; this was because three was a three-toed sloth on a nearby tree.  The hike was good but the volcano was somewhat obscured.  After that we went to a local hot spring which was not what I had expected but still good.


The coffee plantation

The next morning I went canyoning which I really enjoyed though it consisted of less rappelling than I had expected.  In the afternoon, I went to the Venaro caves which were about 45 minutes away from La Fortuna.  My group was just two guys, me, and the guide.  Unfortunately, this meant we went through the “birth canal” which he doesn’t often take groups through as not everyone can fit.  Why can’t I end up in groups with the old and obese?  Anyway, I did end up enjoying the rest of the caving.  In the evening, we went to hot springs at a resort which were definitely much different than the local hot springs.



The following day we headed for Monteverde via a van, then a boat, and then another van.  The boat ride was quite scenic.  I still didn’t get a full volcano view though there was apparently a few minutes of one the previous day (likely when I was in the caves).  We stayed in Santa Elena which is small but quite touristy.  The serpentarium was interesting but seemed overpriced considering its very small size.  I also spent some time walking around a restaurant that had been abandoned after a fire.  In the evening, there was a night walk.  We saw some things but I think it would have been much better if people had obeyed instructions to be as quiet as possible!  I was very excited when I found a small yellow bird sleeping that the guides hadn’t noticed.


On the boat to Monteverde

The next morning began with a hike in the St. Elena Cloud Forest.  It was rather rainy and beautiful but we really didn’t see a lot (just some birds and insects).  The area is filled with micro-climates and there was no rain when we headed to the hanging bridges.  Once again, we didn’t see a whole lot of wildlife although I enjoyed following a coati round the parking lot!  After that it was ziplining time.  It was quite different from other ziplining I’ve done.  Some of the ziplines were very long and done in the superman position.  I did miscalculate what was halfway on one where you had to open up your arms halfway so I didn’t quite make it to the end but otherwise it went well.  It ended with the Tarzan swing which I guess can best be described as a bit like a mini bungee jump.

It was rather cold when we left Monteverde and while the Monteverde area was very scenic I don’t think I could put up with the extreme dampness for long.  When we stopped to see the crocodiles by a bridge later on it felt so hot.  Later in the afternoon we went to the beach at Manuel Antonio, an easy bus ride from our hotel in Quepos.

The next morning I visited Manuel Antonio National Park itself.  I opted to walk around by myself instead of with a guide as there were groups of people wherever there was actually anything to see that worked out well.  The Waterfall Trail was kind of disappointing as it ended with no waterfall but in the dry season I really should have expected that.  I saw some sloths and deer and butterflies and birds but monkeys were by far the most prevalent sight in the park.  In the afternoon we went on a catamaran where after fairly extensive searching we did end up seeing dolphins.  They were too quick to take pictures of but I did manage to record some video of them.


Just a couple of the many monkeys.

The following day I was lazy and went on mangrove boat ride where I just got to sit and watch instead of opting for kayaking.  Lunch beforehand was accompanied by orange cashew juice which wasn’t bad but was definitely unusual.  We ended up taking a detour to get back to San Jose as there had been a deadly accident (a tree apparently hit a car) on the main highway.

On my last day, I again wandered around San Jose.  I went to a really good vegetarian restaurant.  I wandered around a cemetery and did a bit of shopping.

September 3: Strategic Missile Forces Museum

Posted in Russia, Soviet Union, Strategic Missile Forces Museum, Travel, Ukraine, Vacation with tags , , , , , on November 5, 2016 by Amanda

Today I spent more time travelling to and from the destination than actually visit it; it was worth it though!  I went on a tour of the Strategic Missile Forces Museum which is more than three hours south of Kiev.  The tour ended up being cheaper (75 USD instead of 110 USD) as the group increased from 3 to 6 people at the last minute which was a nice surprise.  All of the missile bases in Ukraine were destroyed after the fall of the Soviet Union expect for this one which was kept as a museum but obviously made not to function.  The United States provided much of the money for the closure of the bases; it actually cost significantly more to close them than to build them.  The scary thing is that in Russia that bases with the exact same design are still in use.  When relations between Russia and Ukraine were okay, it was not uncommon for men who worked at these bases to bring their families to show them what it was like where they worked as they couldn’t actually show them their workplaces.

We were very lucky that we arrived a few minutes before a whole busload of people.  As only three or four people can fit in the slow-moving elevator at a time to visit the command centre, we would have literally be delayed for hours had we not gone down first. If they’d launched a missile it could have hit the US in 20 to 25 minutes.  The command centre is located 11 stories down in a tube with sleeping quarters below.  These are the only two levels people can visit.  It was designed for people to stay for up to 45 days in the case of emergency but they neglected to put a shower in!  The stairs between these two levels were kind of scary.


Part of the command centre.

Outside there were a number of missiles including the type that brought down the Malaysia Airlines flight in eastern Ukraine; I was surprised at how small these missiles are.  There were also much larger missiles there as well as museum building, part of an electronic fence, a launch pad, the guard house with windows but no door, huge trucks et cetera.


One of the huge missiles.

This place really could improve their souvenirs though.  They had a single cabinet of souvenirs but they could only find the key for half of it and our small group probably half of what was accessible.  The prices were very reasonable too.

I had dinner in Kiev and then bought some more souvenirs before heading back to the hotel for an early bedtime as I had an early flight the next mornings.

[The flights all went well.  I felt great on Labour Day which was a rare day between vacation and work for me but on the Tuesday a cold struck.]

September 2: Kiev

Posted in Kiev, Pirogovo, Travel, Ukraine, Vacation with tags , , , , on November 5, 2016 by Amanda

I got a bit of a late start this morning and didn’t leave my hotel until nearly 10 am.  I took a taxi to Pirogovo which is an open air museum of village buildings from across Ukraine; it was located at the edge of the city.  I had considered getting a driver for the day to take me to some actual villages in the countryside but the cost was more than I wanted to pay.

Pirogovo was an interesting enough place to visit though I’d been hoping that there would be English-speaking guides available at the entrance which apparently happens according to Tripadvisor but there were none.  There were basic English signs but more would have been helpful.  It was quite spread out but the blisters weren’t bothering me by this point so I didn’t mind.  Other than a handful of school groups, the place was pretty quiet.  Most of the buildings (houses, churches etc.) were from the 16th to 18th century but there was also a section of homes from the 1960s and 70s.  Only a few of the buildings were open inside.  The souvenirs here weren’t here in price than anywhere else, surprisingly.


Inside one of the newer houses.


An old church.

After resting at my hotel for a bit, I went and randomly walked around the city a bit more.

September 1: Chernobyl

Posted in Abandoned buildings, Administration building, Apartment buildings, Chernobyl, Ghost towns, Kiev, Parishev, Playground, Pripyat, Self settlers, Stores, Summer camp, Taxis, Train, Travel, Ukraine, Vacation with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2016 by Amanda

This morning we again headed to Pripyat.  The first stop was a store with a yellow phone booth in front of it.  This store had several locked locks but, of course, there were other ways in!  This store still had several cash registers and a piano amongst other debris.  A lot of the ceiling tiles were in pristine condition.


Store with the yellow phone booth.

After that it was the administration building.  I found a 1995/1996 calendar so this building was probably used to around that time.  There were also a few interesting signs but this building was mostly empty.


The 1995/96 calendar.

I then briefly looked at a small playground near some apartment buildings and separated by a street.  One part of the playground looked a bit like a UFO.

I looked around one of the apartment buildings for a bit.  It seemed to be a less-visited one but there was evidence of squatters in one of the apartments with intact windows.  This building had quite a variety of wallpaper left in it.  There was also a fair bit of furniture and some of it was in pretty good condition.  One apartment had a chair that matched the wallpaper.  Of course, I also found a piano!  I definitely could have spent more time here as I didn’t even approach the upper floors.


Matching chair and wallpaper.

Then it was off to the former liquor store that now holds a number of pianos from a neighbouring apartment building.  Some of the pianos still work!

After leaving the city of Pripyat for the final time, we went to look at trains.  I would have liked to have seen the actual train station but that wasn’t allowed.  There were also some tanks there but we were told not to touch because of the high radiation.  There was also some wood cut from the red forest and definitely didn’t look normal!


Wood from the Red Forest.

After lunch, we headed to the village of Parishev to meet a well-known self-settler named Ivan Ivanovich.  To get there we had to go past a guard booth on one road where the actual gate was actually located around the corner on a different road and had to be moved manually.  This village still has an operating fire station which serves a large area and several self-settlers but Ivan is the only one who welcomes visits.  On Thursday, we were his first visitors that week but he’d had four groups visit the week before.  The village has a number of houses and a former bus shelter.  Some of the roads are getting a bit overgrown though.  The levels of the radiation in this area are the same as most places outside the zone.  He evacuated but returned about a year after the disaster.  His wife died a few months ago and he seems a lonely and sad now.  He was upset that his television wasn’t working when we visited; hopefully, he managed to get it fix as I can see how important it would be for him.  He showed us he (non-working) car from the 1950s which he keeps in his garage.  We also had time to briefly look at another (abandoned) house in the village.


Ivan showing us his car.

We then headed to a children’s summer camp.  It clearly had been visited in a while as there was a tree blocking the road.  I think I would have loved this place as a young child.  Quite a few of the cabins were painted with children’s illustrations.  The place had a very peaceful feel and was located near the river though trees now block the view.  Liquidators stayed here during the aftermath of the disaster.


One of the cabins.

We arrived back at Kiev’s train station in the early evening.  The taxi system is definitely weird.  It is much cheaper to call a taxi which our guide did for us.  There were plenty of taxis there but we had to wait for specific ones and it was rather chaotic.  You’d think this would be a place to have a taxi stand.  Anyway, I arrived at my hotel without incident though the driver was definitely crazy.

August 31: Chernobyl

Posted in abu dhabi, Apartment buildings, Chernobyl, Cinema, Fire Station, Ghost towns, Hospital, Jail, Jupiter Factory, Morgue, Police Station, Pripyat, Radioactivity, River port, Schools, Soviet Union, Travel, Ukraine, Vacation with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2016 by Amanda

We began this morning by visiting the morgue.  It was a fairly small, but quite interesting, building located near the hospital.  They also did cremations here.  The morgue was very dark.  There is also a small, overgrown cemetery right nearby; so, a one-stop death experience!


One of the morgue’s two autopsy rooms.

Then it was time to explore the rather large hospital which consisted of one main building and a smaller building somewhat hidden off to the side.  I think the hospital was my favourite place in Pripyat.  I did manage to see most of it but I moved around pretty fast.  I think one could easily spend an entire day here.  The variance in conditions between different areas of the hospital was almost unbelievable.  I saw an office with pristine medical journals and rooms with unopened, undamaged vials of medicine and perfect-looking pills; conversely, there were hallways that were barely navigable because of all the debris and rooms with grass growing through the floors.  Of course, most areas were somewhere in between in terms of their condition.


One of the hospital’s less hospitable hallways.

There were plenty of unexpected sights in the hospital including chest x-ray film and a very new teddy bear sitting on a chair which had obviously been left relatively recently.  There was a table were abortions were performed complete with illustrations; abortions were apparently the only birth control option in the Soviet Union.  There were also some very interesting signs and what appeared to be medical records.  In a way I wished I could be read them but on the other hand that would have likely distracted me and I wouldn’t have seen so much of the hospital.


The chest x-ray film.

The basement was sealed off at some point because it is very radioactive as that is where the firefighter’s clothes were taken off.  There was one piece of quite radioactive cloth in the lobby that we were warned not to touch but otherwise the hospital was quite safe.

Then we quickly visited School #1.  Parts of its roof have collapsed.  I never would have contemplated entering the building alone but the guide knew the safer places to go in.  Still, we were only in there quite briefly.  I was told the roof had collapsed because of a design flaw.  Nevertheless the way things are deteriorating I’m doubtful that the buildings will still be safe to enter in even a few years.


School #1

Next was a fairly quick visit to another apartment building.  This building had an interesting design where there were a bunch of exterior doors which each led to a staircase inside which led to just three apartments on each floor.  The building also was of surprisingly varied condition.  I wasn’t comfortable interesting some of the apartment because of the state of their floors whereas others were totally okay.  When I left the building, I could still hear the floor creaking and no one was instead the building!

Then we went to see the river port.  This consisted of a terminal, a milk bar (aka snack bar), and a dock.  There were also rusted pop machines outside.  It was obviously once a really beautiful place, especially because of the stained glass mural windows.


Part of the river port building.

Then I walked over to a building that had a cinema on one side and a music school on the other.  The cinema was very dark.  The music school was only navigable in a certain way as some of the floors were the most frightening I’d seen.

After lunch (at the power plant again) we tried to go the Jupiter Factory but there were some military-type people there so the driver very quickly turned around and we went to the police station/jail instead.  The holding cell there was well-lit but the rest of the cells were in total darkness.  There were some documents in the police station but they were apparently rather mundane (eg. accounting documents).  The important documents were apparently removed before Pripyat was even evacuated!

Behind the station there was a garage where vehicles had been driven onto the roof to prevent them from being vandalized; that was not an effective strategy though!  There were also plenty of vehicles on the ground including one that starts a video game called Stalker; this video game is apparently the impetus for some people to visit Chernobyl.


Garage with vehicles on its roof.

After a brief stop at the fire station, we were able to go see the Jupiter Factory.  It is not visited often, by tourists at least.  Despite being there for about three hours, there were buildings I didn’t even enter.  There was just a lot to see!  The official story was that this was a factory that made radios.  However, few radios were ever produced and there was plutonium there; so, it really made weapons. The underground secret labs were flooded with water.  This place was in use long-after the disaster (until 1994).I wasn’t initially sure that this place would be all that interesting but it was fascinating and huge; there was much more than just machinery.  There were offices, what looked like at least occasional living spaces, a cafeteria et cetera.  There were also plenty of interesting signs and furniture.  I also found a lot of something called polysorbum which is a medical product used to absorb metals.


Flooded secret underground lab.


Some of the furniture in the factory.


Just a few of the many, many bottles of polysorbum.