In a whistle stop week on the Journey of Discovery, a trip to Chernobyl was the haunting highlight of a route intersecting all the intriguing urban hubs of Eastern Europe and Ukraine. It’s more than 25 years since the world’s worst nuclear accident in Chernobyl. The Journey of Discovery explored dilapidated houses in the forests, all peeling paint and sagging ceilings, and the ghost town of Pripyat, once home to 50,000 young professionals who worked at Chernobyl but now desolate and crumbling, a snapshot of a life destroyed.
The clean-up operation has many years to run before this place can ever be safe again, yet people are filtering back into the region around it and, with plans to build a new sarcophagus around the reactor, there is hope that one day the town may breathe again. Rolling through this deserted district was in stark contrast to the spectacular sights the Journey of Discovery has enjoyed over the rest of this week – leaving the glitter of Milan behind and heading through Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest, L’Vov and Kyiv as the clock ticks up 8000 miles towards Beijing.
Having been in the mountains for a while, exploring avalanches and meeting key members of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) for which this trip aims to raise a million pounds, the slopes flattened and Austria’s geographical Jekyll and Hyde character unfolded as the wide plains to the East rolled out.
A quick detour took the team into the capital of Vienna to soak up a little of the architecture, culture, and of course some excellent ‘Sachertorte’, the chocolate cake the city is renowned for, before making a break for the border into Hungary. To the accompaniment of wailing sirens, the four Discovery 4s were guided through central Budapest by local police escort, allowing an unobstructed tour of the city’s jaw-dropping parade of statues, monuments, castles and stately buildings.
Just two motorcycle outriders, lights and sirens ablaze, were able to clear a regal path for the convoy with ease, holding traffic at junctions as they breezed through red lights and even directing whole traffic jams to part like the Red Sea. This was the ultimate in city driving, and it brought the team to a photocall at Budapest’s most famous landmark, Heroes’ Square, where statues of Hungary’s founding fathers flank the towering Millennium monument forming the square’s centrepiece.
The Discovery vehicles were then set free, heading out of town to a wild ground peppered with deep sand tracks for miles in every direction, providing a perfect demonstration of their versatility, from the urban jungle of Budapest to this mighty tough terrain just outside the city.
Across the Ukrainian border, the Journey of Discovery was quick to arrive at the location for its next urban adventure, L’Vov, overcoming potholes and passing by varying traffic, including a horse and carriage and the notorious Ukrainian Panel van en-route.
In L’Vov, and further down the road in Kyiv, two bizarre museums were the centrepiece of the journey’s exploration as the week came to a close.
In the narrow cobbled streets of the old town, the only clue that something beyond the ordinary lay behind the door of a fully operational pharmacy was the heavy old wrought iron sign above it.
Once through the doorway, however, it was like a step back in time, with Hogwarts-esque rooms filled by drawers of ornately labelled pots, saucers and containers. Beyond the entrance portal lay a bamboozling labyrinthine sprawl of inter-connected rooms, stairways and subterranean passages where, back in the day, the pharmacists cooked up potions, lotions, and remedies. Now though, they leave it to the modern drugs in the front room.
In Kyiv, things got a whole lot smaller
Placed on the large and spacious Land Rover Discovery 4s, the Museum of Micro Miniatures’ three-and-a-half millimetre long model ship, made of almost 400 gold parts, would simply have been lost in the dust and dirt gathered on the flanks of the cars through the journey so far.
Fortunately, this intricate piece of micro art was safely in the steady hands of its Ukrainian craftsman Mykola Syadristy, who gave the team a tour of a dozen other pieces in his gallery – including, rather bizarrely, a flea with gold shoes.
From this wacky world, the Journey of Discovery now heads deeper into Ukraine, where it will drive through the secret submarine lair that was once home to a cold war frontier and visit a collecting point for some of Russia’s most unique motoring memorabilia before heading into Moscow.
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