Kiev, Ukraine: 5 Things To Know Before You Go

couple in Kiev, Ukraine carrying small monkeys

I surprised William with a trip to Chernobyl a while back and whilst I’ve made a video about that separately, I never got round to telling you about Kiev, where we stayed. Kiev is the capital of Ukraine and where you’ll likely fly into. It’s about two hours drive from Chernobyl.

We’ve always liked going off the beaten track a little bit, so whilst we haven’t yet visited classic places such as Rome, or Paris for a romantic break, we thought nothing of packing our rucksacks to go and explore lesser-known Ukraine. 

Chernobyl was a whole experience in itself and I will follow up the video with a full overview of THAT experience, but for now, here’s a few things we thought we should pass on if you want to experience Kiev. 

We absolutely loved it and are hoping to go back at some point to explore more; we never seem to have enough time to squeeze the experience out of a place!

1. You Can’t Take Currency With You

The Ukrainian Hryvnia is a closed currency, which basically means that you won’t be able to get any from your local Bureau de Change before you go. We couldn’t, and I was super paranoid because I like carrying at least £50 in local currency wherever we go, just in case. However, when you’re there it’s easy to grab some from the airport ATMs – off the top of my head I don’t think the fee was too much at all. After this, you can find ATMs all around the city, and many places will take debit and credit cards. Depending on where you ask, some places will also take Euros. Another tip: if you’ve got cash spare before you leave, you may as well spend it because you likely won’t be able to change it when you’re back in your country. FYI, as of June 2020, £1 is 33.21 UAH.

2. The Food Is Awesome

I have a rule that when I’m in a different country, I try to eat as much local cuisine as possible. To that end, we sought out little local boutique restaurants for our meals. Sometimes, especially when there are dodgy English translations, it’s hard to know what you’re ordering, but to be honest, it was so cheap that you can order a selection of things to try. The best thing I tried were these little boiled dumplings filled with meat and soaked in butter (Varenyky). The amount of different cheese, pastries and sweets on offer was insane and I wished that I couldn’t get full up so I could carry on. The worst I had was this stew which on top wasn’t bad – it was rich meat and cheese, but underneath was this thick, bland wallpaper paste that I later discovered was cornmeal (Banosh) – vile. We also both tried the local Borscht – a beetroot soup that we both absolutely haaaated but everyone seems to eat so much of it that we must be wrong.

Woman standing in front of 1970 Chernobyl welcome sign

3. Hire A Guide 

We’re arrogant little buggers and prefer to be left on our own when we’re travelling, doing some research beforehand and going to find landmarks and figuring things out ourselves. Whilst this is good in some respects, we sometimes don’t get the most well-rounded experience. This was super true in Kiev. We went to visit Kyiv Pechersk Lavra which was a monastery in some underground caves. It was an incredible experience but we didn’t have a CLUE what we were looking at or what we should be doing. Everything is in the Cyrillic alphabet as Ukraine is not as geared towards tourists as other countries. This is a great thing on one hand as everything feels unsullied and authentic, but on the other, it can be difficult to get around!

Two moments that stick out in my mind are when we entered a church and began to look around, but were told off for walking on the carpet by someone – god knows why! Secondly, women were wrapping up modestly to go into the caves (as you would when you visit a Thai temple for example), but some weren’t. I just looked helplessly at a woman and she wrapped a scarf round my legs (I was wearing jeans and a big coat) and sent me in. I’m sure there’s a good reason, but it didn’t make sense to us – having a guide that day would have been great and if we did it again, we’d get one.

4. People Will Be Surprised You’re There

Lots of people we met, especially people drinking in bars and waiting staff appeared shocked and surprised we were visiting, especially when we told them we’re from London. After watching a band in a bar one night, I asked if they were on Instagram so I could keep up with their journey as they were bloody good. They were so excited that we were going to be FOLLOWERS from LONDON we were a bit taken aback. I’m not sure really why this is, so if someone knows, let me know! We went to Kiev pre-HBO Chernobyl, so with the worldwide interest garnered from that, I’m not sure if this will have changed. 

Another thing we noticed is that people were really interested in asking about the UK and London especially. I think the reason for this is that whilst it’s easy for us to visit the Ukraine, the UK has a  disproportionately strict visa policy towards allowing Ukrainian residents to visit us. 

5. It’s Cold!

After underestimating Berlin in February, I came prepared to Ukraine with thermals. However, getting out of the taxi during a blizzard and trying to find our hotel was a SHOCK. We did go in February though, so with temperatures hitting about -7 to -10 for us, either go later in the year or go prepared!

Couple standing in front of Chernobyl ferris wheel

Finally…is Kiev safe?

People ask this question quite a lot of us, and I’m going to go with yes. I never felt unsafe once whilst out there. For the most part, people are either very friendly or ignore you completely. We did see some police presence (and obviously military in Chernobyl) but nothing worrying. As always when visiting another country, it is best to be courteous, kind – and if you’re not sure – ask with a smile and bang out the old Google Translate.

Have you been to Kiev or do you want to go?

Why Orlando Ought To Be On Your Bucket List

– this post is sponsored –

The City Beautiful is calling, and you might be crazy if you don’t respond. Orlando is the perhaps best-known city in the state of Florida, aka, the Sunshine State. However, the city has a lot more to offer than the sun alone (not that it isn’t great) Here, we’re going to look at just some of the reasons to consider aiming your next trip at this bucket list-worthy city.

I headed there when I was a lot younger and think I’d have a totally different experience now. I loved it and can’t wait to go back.

disney world florida

Wonderful Theme Parks

To talk about Orlando, Florida, without giving it the proper respect it is due as the global capital of the theme park is to do the whole city a disservice. From Walt Disney World to Seaworld, Volcano Bay to Universal Orlando, and much more, it’s all here. The theme parks are constantly updating and adding new attractions too, so much so that the state has created a whole new type of tourist who will keep coming back for the parks to enjoy all their favourites and see what new twists have been added.

Go Exploring In The Gorgeous Nature

As comfortable and stylish as Orlando is, it puts you right on the doorstep of the diversity of natural beauty Florida has to offer, thanks to its subtropical climate. It’s easy to find, too, with places like Kissimmee villas putting you right next to places like the Everglades. If you want to explore what feels like an entirely different world, taking a trip out from the city into the swamps and tropical forests is a must.

Take a Taste of Florida

Florida is well-known for being a cultural mixing pot and there few ways that it shows better than the food on offer. There are more top-class authentic restaurants than you can shake a fork at, and there are plenty of recipes you won’t find elsewhere like Florida Lobster and Key West pinks. It’s especially good for those with a love of fresh seafood thanks to its place right on the coast.

The perfect place to pick up a souvenir

Whether you’re a lover of fashion or you simply want to pick up a local souvenir to take home with you, Orlando is a heavy-hitter when it comes to the retail. There are two huge malls alongside a whole range of other shopping arcades and little boutiques to explore. The Premium Outlets at Vineland are particularly worth checking out for some exclusive goodies.

Hit the Beach!

Orlando is the city perfectly situated for exploring the rest of Florida and, as a result, it’s right by some of the best beaches in the state, including Vero Beach, Cocoa Beach, Clearwater Beach, and Daytona Beach. Be sure to bring all your holiday essentials, including your swimsuit and plenty of sunscreens. If you’re up for taking a cruise then be sure to hit Port Canaveral, as well.

From world-class Instagram opportunities to the kind of thrills that will make you totally forget social media, Orlando offers it all right on your doorstep. It is time to arrange your trip?

 

7 Signs You’ve Picked An Amazing Hotel

There’s much to love about travelling, but it’s not always going to go right to plan! There are plenty of variables that play a role in determining whether your trip is a success or failure, including where you stay. Choose the right hotel, and you’ll be on your way to having a comfortable, relaxing trip away from home. Choose the wrong hotel, and you’ll find that your enjoyment of your trip is compromised. But what are the signs that you’ve picked the right place? 

 

Man on hammock with cat beside him

 

A Good Website

One of the main problems with booking a hotel is that while it may once have been great, it has now fallen behind the times. So it’s recommended to look for signs that there’s still life in the hotel, that it is actively managed and looked after. If a hotel is taking the time to ensure that it’s social media pages and website is on point, then it’s likely they will have made an effort with the quality of their accommodations. It’s when a hotel has all but abandoned their pages that alarm bells should begin to ring; staying on top of these things is the first sign that they still care about their appearance and reputation. 

Great Reviews

I would never book a hotel without looking at reviews! If the hotel you’ve chosen has outstanding reviews, then you can be reasonably sure that you’ll have selected a great place. Of course, all hotels have bad reviews, but it’s important to remember that even they don’t have to suggest you’ve picked a dud. It’s always worthwhile looking beyond the rating, and reading why they’ve left a negative review. You might just find that they decided to give a 1 star review for ridiculous reasons that are out of sync with your own values. I once read a 1 star review for an amazing place that was put there because they were upset about the fish in the sea! Some peoeple…

No Surprise Charges

At their best, hotels function as a temporary home for travellers. When you’re at home, you want to feel safe, secure, and well taken care of. You don’t want to be on your guard or have doubts about the motivations and actions of the people around you. If you’ve booked a hotel at one rate, but then find that you’re receiving surprising additional charges after the fact, then it’d be reasonable to have second thoughts about the place you’ve selected. This will show that they’re trying to squeeze as much money as possible out of their guests, which could suggest that they’d be happy to save money on other areas of their hotel too. 

A Warm Welcome

You can tell a lot about how you’re greeted when you arrive somewhere. If it’s warm and happy, then you can be reasonably sure that the rest of the trip is going to go well. The best welcome we ever got was at Viking Beach Resort in Thailand. We arrived by long boat and all the staff had lined up to wait for us, taking our bags and presenting us with cold drinks – it was utterly delightly. If your welcome is cold or non-existent, then you would rightly raise eyebrows. However, that’s not to say that your stay would be less than enjoyable just because they didn’t roll out the red carpet and throw confetti as you arrive; but it would surely be a sign if they did!

Woman on swing at the beach in Thailand, Koh Phi Phi

Touches of Quality

Surface aesthetics are fine, but the real magic lies in those little touches of quality that can really enhance a stay. If your hotel has gone to the effort to ensure that the small details are noted, it can make such a difference. So what do these look like? It could be that they’ve added fresh flowers or bottles of water in the fridge, or perhaps they’ve taken the time to buy hotel quality tablecloths from Richard Haworth, which help to elevate the overall appearance of their dining room. For us, again in Thailand, we were given a little foot spa before entering our cabin, to ensure no sand got inside! Once you arrive, be on the lookout for these small details which give your hotel a luxury feel. 

Smooth Check In

A great hotel knows that guests don’t want to mess around when they arrive; they just want to get checked in and begin enjoying their trip. A hotel that understands this will ensure that the check-in process is as smooth as possible, with minimal complications. Of course, sometimes technical systems have problems but by and large, the process of arriving at your hotel and entering your room should be fluid. Some hotels even have self-check-in desks now, where you can get your key and all the necessary information without any queuing or waiting around whatsoever. 

Handling Issues and Problems

The test of a hotel – indeed, any business –  isn’t how they cope when everything’s going well. It’s what they do when there are problems that really count. A great hotel will go above and beyond to ensure that its guests are happy and satisfied during their stay. If you’ve got an issue and they’re blowing you off, then they’re not all that concerned with your happiness and comfort. 

Read more about my travel adventures and tips here. Where was the best place you’ve ever stayed? Let me know x

The Best Ways To Explore The UK

Travelling is not only a great way to see the world, but to also learn more about the world around us. Expanding your knowledge by learning more about nature, architecture, history, and the culture of different countries and people is something we should all experience at some point in our lives. And why not start that journey at home in the UK?

Photo: Pexels CC0 License

The best thing about this little island is, there’s no need to travel far, there are so many amazing places to discover right here in the UK.

We’re just about to head to lovely Cornwall to spend Christmas with Will’s family. For the first time, we’re taking the train instead of driving (save the planet and all that) and I’m quite looking forward to sitting and watching the countyside go by!

But which are the other best ways to explore the British Isles, so you get to experience as much as possible?

Water Holidays

Exercise those sea legs and take a trip around some of the Great British coastline. Sure, there is so much to see and do on dry land, but why limit yourself to exploring on land only? See the country from a whole new viewpoint by taking a cruise around the UK or even embarking on a sailing holiday if you prefer to be in more control of your trip.

One of the most unique ways of travelling around the secluded Western Isles is with sailing holidays Scotland. Take to the water and see the country from a different perspective. Get up close and personal with some of nature’s most breathtaking landscapes and rare wildlife by sailing your way around the coastline of Scotland, the West Coast, or indeed any other part of the UK.

Campervan Holidays

Fancy seeing as much of the country as possible for as little as possible? Then how about hiring a campervan and driving your way around the country taking your accommodation with you. No expensive hotels, no pitching up a tent, and absolutely no packing and unpacking as you move from place to place. In a campervan, you create a little home from home as you explore the length and breadth of the country.

Hitch up at campsites that allow campervans to stop overnight, and plan a holiday that is on your terms, at your pace seeing what you want to see. Plan your route, pack up your belongings, and head out on the journey of a lifetime. 

I have been on at Will for months about this, but he won’t do it! What can I do to convince him!?

Canal Boat

Fancy the slow route? Then look no further than hitting the canals of the UK. Bunk down on a barge and navigate the serene waterways that connect not only the biggest cities in the country but also navigate some of the most breathtaking scenery there is to see around the UK.

If you like the idea of living in small quarters and ambling along your chosen route, then hiring a canal boat to explore some of this country’s rich history and beautiful countryside could be right up your street…or rather, canal!

By thinking outside of the box, you can plan yourself a perfect trip that is a little bit out of the ordinary and tailored to you. There are so many places to see and explore, it would be a shame not to make the most of your travels by sticking to just one place.

 

We went to Chernobyl and Pripyat…because of course we did

Couple standing in front of the abandoned ferris wheel in the town of Pripyat

Back in February, Will and I headed to Ukraine to visit Chernobyl and Pripyat.

This was 100% not a surprise to our close friends, as it’s just the type of place we’d go. However, we had so many shocked reactions from people who know us less well, wondering why we’d ever go to a place like that.

Well, this is why. It’s different, it’s interesting, it’s an experience and crucially – it’s IMPORTANT.

A major historic event took place in Chernobyl on 26th April 1986, and it needs to be remembered.

31 people died as a direct result of the Chernobyl blast, not including the fireman who gave their lives helping to contain the radiation.  In addition, untold numbers were affected following the settling of radioactive dust afterwards, its effects still undefined.

I won’t go into the finer details, but you should watch ‘Surviving Disaster‘ on YouTube – it explains everything well without losing the human element. It also stars Ade Edmondson and you can’t go wrong there, really. There is a new series on HBO called Chernobyl too, which people are enjoying – it’s great that more people know about it.

We filmed a fair amount of content whilst we were there, but not everything. Chernobyl and the ghost town Pripyat is a place that needs to be fully appreciated for what it is, rather than filmed non-stop. I’m glad we got some footage, but I’m even more glad we experienced it.

We’ve another video coming up, which includes our time staying in Ukraine and some questionable local spirits…stay tuned!