Join YPT this summer in a land that we know and love, the nuclear wasteland of Chernobyl and unrecognized country of Transnistria.
The tour begins in Bucharest where you’ll see the most important places in the story of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the former Communist dictator of Romania whose trial and execution were shown on TV around the world during the Christmas of 1989. As we bid farewell to Bucharest, we will then board a DDR era night train to Moldova. It remains a 1970’s time warp and often still has the ‘made in the DDR’ plaques attached to the walls. The train is lifted in the air at the border to change the wheels. This is a Stalin era technique deployed at the borders of the Soviet Union in order to deter Western invasion.
You’ll then explore the least visited and poorest country in Europe: Moldova. Here we will tour the capital of Chisinau before visiting an underground winery to sample a hearty amount of Moldova’s most well known export. Inside are the personal wine collections of Putin, Merkel and even Hermann Goring! We will even enjoy a tasting session in the same suite that both Vladimir Putin and Yuri Gagarin celebrated their birthdays in.
Moldova will be our crossing point into the unrecognized country of Transnistria, trapped in the style of the Soviet Union since a brutal civil war with Moldova during the collapse of the USSR. We will spend two days here and our years of experience and vast array of contacts in Transnistria mean we can show you the far-flung corners of this fascinating rebel republic.
Crossing into Ukraine across smuggling territory, our next destination will be the rough port town of Odessa. Infamously known as the maternal city of the Russian Mafia. Here we’ll spend the night and have the chance to relax at the welcoming waters of the Black Sea as well as mix it up a bit with a tour of the dark history of Odessa through its gangster neighbourhoods and abandoned Soviet areas.
A refurbished Soviet night train will bring us into the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, where we will venture into the nuclear exclusion zone of Chernobyl, featuring the ghost city of Pripyat. Led by our guide who was born inside the exclusion zone, we can guarantee access to places that most visitors never see. We will spend our final night of the tour in the eerie silence of the exclusion zone in a Soviet hotel in the safe area of Chernobyl town.
Own arrival at any time into Bucharest and check into our hotel located near Gara De Nord Station.
We’ll meet up as a group in the hotel lobby at 6pm.
Dinner at Care Cu Bare; easily YPT’s favourite restaurant on the planet.
We’ll round off our first night with some drinks in Bucharest’s old town.
Overnight in Bucharest.
Saturday 16th July – Bucharest
We’ll check out and store our luggage in the hotel baggage room.
We’ll meet our local Romanian guide for a day tour of Ceausescu’s Bucharest! No trip to Romania would be worth its salt unless we went and looked at everything and anything Ceausescu related, the don of Eastern Bloc extreme. We will do a local walking tour, seeing all the must-see sites from “revolutionary” times such as the enormous Palace of the Parliament, see where the Communist regime went down in flames on the bullet riddled streets around Revolutionary Square, see the churches that avoided Communist destruction by being placed on wheels and slid across the city and much more.
Free afternoon in Bucharest to explore the city at your own pace. You may use this opportunity to wander the streets of the charming old town, visit the ruins of Dracula’s palace in the centre of the city, explore the flea market near the old Russian church, view a severed arm that is said to bring you luck in one of Bucharest’s most charming churches, or you can venture out of downtown to visit the infamous Spring Palace. It was here during the decades of Communist rule, that Nicolae Ceausescu and his family lived in luxury. Preserved by the military during the violent downfall of Communism in Romania, the house looks almost the same as when the dictator and his family were in power. Expect gold plated bathrooms, gifts from Chairman Mao, and opulence like you’ve never seen!
Meet up up back at the hotel in the evening to collect your bags and head to the train station.
We’ll board the 7:15pm train to Chisinau, this is an old school Communist era 4-berth sleeper and still has the made in the DDR plates on some of the walls!
During the night, we’ll pass border control and the train will be lifted off the tracks to change wheel gauge
Overnight on sleeper train
Sunday 17th July – Chisinau
Early morning arrival in Chisinau and transfer to our central hotel.
Check-in and catch up on any needed rest
City walking tour of Chisinau. We’ll visit the abandoned National Hotel, see one of the most stunning monasteries in the city which was thankfully spared destruction under Communism, see the infamous city prison which has been declared a breach of human rights amongst other things.
We’ll see the enormous World War II Memorial with tanks and surface to air missiles at the Military Museum!
Traditional Moldovan lunch at La Placinte.
Return to the hotel for an afternoon trip to Cricova Winery to see the wine making process and to of course sample a good amount of Eastern Europe’s best wine! This is one of the most fantastic wine cellars you are ever likely to see. We’ll enjoy a sampling of traditional Moldovan food here also.
After some free time at the hotel we’ll head for a hearty meal at a local institution and drinks downtown.
Overnight in Chisinau
Monday 18th July – Transnistria
Breakfast in the hotel
We’ll meet our Transnistria fixers for the 2 hour ride to the breakaway republic of Transnistria. YPT will deal with all permits, border formalities and conversations with the Transnistrian KGB/MGB.
After checking into the original Soviet Intourist hotel, we’ll kick off our city tour of Tiraspol. This is the quintessential Soviet experience in the region’s original tourist hotel.
We’ll walk down the main street called October 25th street which has a billboard of former President Smirnoff: The warlord who turned president for almost twenty years. We’ll see the embassies of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the foreboding HQ of the infamous Sheriff organization and stop at a bookshop to pick up some Russian and Transnistrian nationalist paraphernalia, a mug with Putin or a fridge magnet of ICBMs firing across the atmosphere, why not?
We’ll then stop at the impressive House of the Soviets, built in Stalinist style with a large bust of Lenin outside.
We’ll mix with students at the Dolce Vita café, an inexpensive place with great buffet style food and the eatery of choice for students at nearby Tiraspol university.
We’ll then transfer to the other end of October 25th street to see the North Korean style statue of Russian General Suvorov. Surrounding it are the flags of Russia, Transnistria and the breakaway brotherhood states of Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia.
Have you picture taken in front of a giant crest of Transnistria featuring the hammer and sickle!
Visit Parliament, housing one of the biggest statues of Lenin outside Russia.
Visit the Eternal Flame Memorial complex dedicated to the Soviet-Afghan war, WW2 and the Transnistrian civil war. Check out the battle damaged T-34 monument to WW2, it’s permitted to climb on it and get an awesome photo.
We’ll then switch it up and board an old Soviet ferry without an engine and cross the Dniester river to see how the village people live across from Tiraspol. This is an area truly lost in the USSR!
We’ll visit a still functioning palace of culture with an enormous head of Lenin outside, pockmarked with Kalashnikov bullet holes after Moldovan troops symbolically executed him during the civil war.
We’ll then visit a stunning and completely self sufficient monastery complex that has to be seen to be believed. We know many of the priests there and sometimes they allow us to sample their incredible homemade wine, however, this is subject to whether the one priest with the key is available on the day.
We pay a visit to a local store which hasn’t changed since the USSR and still uses an abacus to calculate the total. Here we’ll stock up on $3 Kvint Cognac (One of the best Cognacs in the Soviet era), $1 Vodka and local smoked cheese.
We then head to a stunning viewpoint and Soviet obelisk that was one of the most brutal battlefields during WW2. In the Russian speaking world, it’s respect to the dead to raise a shot of Cognac or Vodka in their honour and we’ll do just that!
Return to Tiraspol and head for dinner at 7Fridays, a Tiraspol institution!
Afterwards we can head to one of the countries few nightclubs and try our hand at Russian karaoke!
Overnight in Tiraspol
Tuesday 19th July – Transnistria
For breakfast we’ll head to a great, Ukrainian restaurant in Tiraspol. Be prepared to wash away your hangover as they’ll well known for handing out complimentary shots of pepper Vodka, whether it’s 9:00am or not!
We’ll stop at the flea market in Tiraspol, here it’s possible to buy all kinds of Soviet antiques for rock bottom prices. You never know what you will find!
We then Transfer to Bender, one of Transnistria’s biggest cities and a site of fierce fighting during the civil war. We enter one of the largest outdoor markets in all of Transnistria. Guests will be able to shop and buy anything they want at very, very low prices. Also, many opportunities for old world type photos. This is a true old school, Russian market. Expect pigs heads, spices and everything imaginable for sale.
We leave the market and continue walking down the main street until we reach the main church in the centre, well renovated and a favourite place for couples to get married. Here you can buy inexpensive Russian Orthodox jewellery and icons.
We’ll check out the city hall which has been left exactly as it was during the civil war and is still filled with bullet holes.
We continue walking down the main street until we arrive at Lenin Park. We view the main fountain, the bust of Lenin before going into the local cinema which is largely unchanged since Soviet times except Mission Impossible is playing instead of Soviet propaganda.
We continue to walk down the main street until we reach the train station, renovated and well maintained. It seems like a ghost town because only a few trains stop here, and there are almost no passengers. Besides the train station is an old Soviet train from WWII with the hammer and sickle on the front.
We’ll have lunch in the town at a local café called CCCP, this is designed to create a sense of nostalgia for locals and is packed with original Soviet memorabilia and great food.
We head to the river to check out ‘The Great October’ theme park. There are old amusement rides including bumper cars and mini Ferris wheels here. A scene right out of the 1950’s, it may look abandoned but the rides are still operating and are very cheap.
After Bender, we’ll head to a palace of culture (complete with a white Lenin outside) in a village populated by ethnic Bulgarians who migrated and settled here centuries ago
We’ll see their monuments to WW2 and the civil war before heading inside the palace for a look.
We’ll then head deep into the Soviet Wasteland for a visit to some forgotten Soviet war tunnels which run for hundreds of Kilometres!
Return to Tiraspol, we will head out for dinner at 7Fridays
Overnight in Tiraspol
Wednesday 20th July – Odessa
After breakfast, we’ll board our bus for the 3 hour drive to Odessa, Ukraine. On arrival at the border we will cross the no man’s land between Ukraine and Transnistria which is an infamous smuggling route and we register with immigration and KGB/MGB. You’ll also be legally stamped out of Moldova by Moldovan peacekeepers, so you will have no issues if you wish to return to Moldova one day.
Upon arrival, check into hotel and explore this famous Black Sea city at your own pace. Downtown offers a range of attractions ranging from the famous Potemkin Steps that were a prominent feature in the famous Sergei Eisenstein silent film Battleship Potemkin. You may wander the lively and charming pedestrian street called Deribavoskaya which is a great place to find great street food, souvenirs, and see local street artists. There is also a quirky smuggling museum that focuses on crime and smuggling in this port city through the centuries up to the current day.
Enjoy the rest of the day relaxed at the beach by the Black Sea.
Dinner and drinks in town
Overnight in Odessa.
Thursday 21st July – Odessa
We’ll enjoy breakfast in the hotel and enjoy a relaxed morning for those who want to get some extra beach time in.
Meet our local Odessan guide who will take us away from the charming side of the city and show us the dark side of this city.
This is the ‘Odessa Depression’ tour, prepare for abandoned Stalin era factories, abandoned Soviet brothels and nightclubs and the killing ground of hundreds of victims of the Odessa mafia.
After the tour, we will store our luggage in Odessa station and you will have free time to explore downtown Odessa.
We’ll meet back at the train station later in the evening to collect the bags and board our night train to Kiev.
Overnight on the train.
Friday 22nd July – Kiev
Morning arrival in Kiev and check into our nearby hotel.
After a short break we’ll meet up with our local contact who was a veteran of the Euromaidan revolution and begin a city walking tour of Kiev, seeing where the revolution raged, where Lenin fell and talk about what has changed and the future holds for Ukraine.
An optional trip to a shooting range where we are able to experience firing some high calibre Soviet-era guns this will also be combined with tank driving, where you will get behind the wheel of an original, Soviet-era tank! (extra charge).
We meet up in the evening at 6:00pm and go out for dinner and drinks at Palata No 6, one of our favourite places and recently featured in the list of “10 places to drink in before you die”. Be sure to try the shot requiring you to wear a straitjacket and be set on fire…
Overnight in Kiev.
Saturday 23rd July – Chernobyl
Group Amembers– tour concludes
Group B members – continue Chernobyl tour
Wake up nice and early and board our comfortable AC minibus to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. On the way we will stop for breakfast at a well stocked gas station as well as watch a documentary of the Chernobyl disaster. The journey to the first checkpoint will take around two hours.
On arrival, we go through the entry procedure and processing of our permits. This can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to one hour.
Visit the village Zalissya, the main square of the town of Chernobyl, “Fukushima” memorial, Statue to Lenin, the abandoned Synagogue and the only active church in the zone.
Lunch at the Workers Café (no produce is grown on site).
Visit the Dock, local shops, Monument to the Firefighters, exposition of the remotely operated machines, hills of the buried village Kopachi, rustic kindergarten, panoramic angle of NPPA and existing sarcophagus, the construction site of the new sarcophagus, the Stone Road sign of Pripyat, Bridge of Death, Lenin Street, the main square of Pripyat, supermarket, Amusement Park, School #3 (with gas masks), and the Olympic swimming pool.
We will also try our best to visit some sights we cannot mention online.
Transfer to the Chernobyl Hotel for a classic Soviet experience. We will head for dinner and a sampling of vodka back at the hotel.
Overnight in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
Sunday 24th July – Chernobyl
Wake up early with breakfast at the hotel, before we head back into the zone.
Visit Duga 3, nicknamed the “Russian Woodpecker,” a Soviet “over-the-horizon” radar at its base “Chernobyl 2.”
We’ll visit the abandoned Soviet army base and radar control centres.
Visit the unfinished Cooling towers on the side of the unfinished reactors 5 and 6. Visit the “Red Forest.”
Visit the Panel buildings with Soviet emblems, Palace of Culture and “Jupiter” factory.
Visit the ruins of the School #1 and the infamous Pripyat hospital.
Pripyat passenger boats on River Port, “Prometheus” cinema, music school and athletic stadium.
Laboratory in the former kindergarten, abandoned village and palaces of culture.
After a long day of exploring we board our bus for the drive back to Kiev.
Arrive in Kiev between 6:00pm – 7:00pm where the tour concludes
• Letter of Invitation and visa support
• All transport (except transport to Bucharest before tour, onward travel from Kiev after group 1 and onward travel from Kiev after the tour finishes)
• Lunches within Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
• Entrance fees
• English Speaking local guides and YPT tour leader