Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Rolling Oven of Death and other misadventures

Sunday night, shortly after 11pm, B, N, A, and I boarded the overnight train for Dnepropetrovsk (which, as the shite 2010 edition of the Bradt guide to Ukraine says, 'is pronounced almost exactly as it's spelled') in order to visit D and his fiancee, K. We - being the cheap sort of travelers that we are - had purchased tickets for platzkart, or third class. It's like a rolling dormitory on wheels. Just imagine spending eight un-airconditioned hours confined with 50 of your sweatiest, stinkiest, ventilation-phobic friends. Ukrainians (like most Slavs, apparently) have an ingrained fear of the skvosnyak, or cross-breeze. Any sort of breeze blowing on you will, without a doubt, immediately lead to your death.

My seat/bed on the way to Dnepr was in a separate section of the train-car than my friends. I was on the bottom bunk. Top bunk passengers do have access to a window (which barely ventilates the bottom at all, but is better than nothing), but the locals on the top bunks slammed it shut as soon as we left the station. Wouldn't want the skvoznyak to get you while you're sleeping. I sent D a text, informing him that we were all aboard the rolling oven of death, then tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to get some sleep. (I tried consoling myself with the thought that people sit in saunas for pleasure... and tried to ignore the responding thought that if one sits in a sauna for 8 hours, one will probably die.)

We arrived in Dnepropetrovsk at 7am, having had little to no sleep, and feeling pretty much like shit. D met us at the train station, looking unbearably chipper (nothing like being greeted by a morning person who has had a full night's rest in his own comfy bed...). D was ready to start partying right then and there (I should mention that this popping over to Dnepr was a bit of a stag/bachelor party for him), but the rest of us demanded a short nap.

Dnepropetrovsk was a closed city during the Soviet Union, as it was home to the CCCP's main intercontinental ballistic missile factory, ЮЖМАШ (UZHMASH). It wasn't even shown on maps until after Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union. Not that much has changed in Dnepr since then. ЮЖМАШ is still cranking out ICBMs of suspect reliability, and the rest of the city still seems trapped in the late 1980s.

D rousted us from our nap far too soon and took us down to see what little one can see of ЮЖМАШ from the street:


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Then the madness of Dnepr's First Ever Stag Party occurred. I figure the less said about that the better. Here's the only picture from that part of the trip that I'm willing to post:

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The plan for the next day was to go swimming in the pleasantly polluted green waters of the Dnepr River. Nope, I'm actually not kidding. The combination of industrial pollutants and and agricultural runoff has led this portion of the Dnepr to become a fabulously dark green color, topped in many places with a sheen of neon green algae. Why wouldn't one want to go swimming in that?

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An almost civilized looking sort of beach...

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D was actually disappointed - he'd promised us exceptionally green water, and said that this was actually the cleanest he'd ever seen it.

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B bravely (er...) wades out into the waters.

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K, D, and B. D has gone native and now wears speedos. Yeah.

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N & A debate getting in. As you can tell, I was in the river when I took this!

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A didn't get in, but N did!

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D and B were the only ones who actually went swimming though.

That night we took the night train back to Kiev. The way back was far more pleasant. I was in the same part of the train-car as my traveling companions, and slept on the upper bunk with the window open. It was noisy - and even a tad chilly - but paradise in comparison to the trip down to Dnepr.

4 comments:

Mr. K said...

Bohzhe moy--I can NOT believe you actually got into that river. Anyway...did you finish "Wolves Eat Dogs?" Like it?

Anonymity said...

Wolves Eat Dogs was *wonderful*! So very accurate with regards to the modern day situation in Pripyat and Chernobyl, and quite fun to read while in the area!

G said...

I want to vomit just thinking about the rolling oven of death.

Anonymity said...

I was really worried I might - I had an extra barf bag that I'd nabbed off Aeroflot at the ready just in case. I've no idea how I made it 8 hours without puking.