A Vacation Spot With An Afterglow
December 13, 2010 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a winter vacation get-away? How about going to Chernobyl? "Tours to Chernobyl are extreme tourism, plenty of curious people are looking for extreme adventures," he said. previously
posted by Xurando (35 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The reviews have been glowing.
posted by tommasz at 11:54 AM on December 13, 2010 [16 favorites]

Well, you know, I figure I've had as many kids as i need to have, so why not?
posted by Artw at 11:57 AM on December 13, 2010

Been there. Done that.

It was awesome.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:58 AM on December 13, 2010

I have often dreamed of doing this.
Which is just further evidence that my generation is fucking weird.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:59 AM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

At 139 euros you get a tour of Chernobyl, nausea you may feel, however, is free of charge!
posted by mooselini at 12:00 PM on December 13, 2010

"An old woman stands in the market with a 'Chernobyl mushrooms for sale' sign. A man goes up to her and asks, 'Hey, what are you doing? Who's going to buy Chernobyl mushrooms?' And she tells him, 'why, lots of people. Some for their boss, others for their mother-in-law...'" src
posted by griphus at 12:01 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's a really wonky old website, but the account of Elena going through Chernobyl was one of my favorites.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:04 PM on December 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm totally going to create a tour company that does nothing but exploit people's sick desire to gawk at other's misery: Chernobyl, Ground Zero, Port-au-Prince, 9th Ward NOLA, Auchwitz, Jonestown, Banda Aceh, man! could make a fortune, and with humanity being bound to suffer the wrath of nature and/or our own making I'm sure to have a never ending supply of new "hot spots" to ply my sociopathic customers with! Cha-ching!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:09 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I notice you didn't list Detroit.
posted by spicynuts at 12:12 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Detroit and Bhopal.
And a Flint Michigan tour for the labor historians.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:20 PM on December 13, 2010

Gowanus Canal scuba.
posted by spicynuts at 12:24 PM on December 13, 2010

I notice you didn't list Detroit

Who the hell wants to go there, that place is a mess!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:25 PM on December 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm totally going to create a tour company that does nothing but exploit people's sick desire to gawk at other's misery: Chernobyl, Ground Zero, Port-au-Prince, 9th Ward NOLA, Auchwitz, Jonestown, Banda Aceh

My flippant remark earlier may belie this, but I find that most people who have chosen to see one of these places instead of Disneyland or whatever, seem to be more thoughtful, interested, and engaged with this world.

I've spoken to Americans about Chernobyl, and no-one really knows about it. They know something bad happened there, and that it's (seen by some as) a reason against nuclear power, but its an empty watered-down abstract. Some power plant blew up and people died.

To what extent people should be insulated from the past, or even ignorant, is a topic for debate, but I don't think it should be held against people if they don't want to be insulated. If they want to see for themselves.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:33 PM on December 13, 2010 [9 favorites]

Why shouldn't you wear Ukrainian underpants?

Because Chernobyl fallout.
posted by biffa at 12:41 PM on December 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


If you meet the Energizer Bunny on the road: Kick him in the face with extreme prejudice.

Union Carbide rebranded to Energizer, and sold itself off.

What were we talking about? Oh yeah vacations...

Sorry, I just can't stand that fuckin' sick little fuckin' bunny.


posted by Skygazer at 12:41 PM on December 13, 2010

plenty of curious people are looking for extreme adventures
I wonder if their curiosity extends to thyroid and pancreatic cancer?
posted by Thorzdad at 1:11 PM on December 13, 2010

I'll go if they throw in a free Pip-Boy.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:16 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm totally going to create a tour company that does nothing but exploit people's sick desire to gawk at other's misery: Chernobyl, Ground Zero, Port-au-Prince, 9th Ward NOLA, Auchwitz, Jonestown, Banda Aceh, man!

Auschwitz already has a massive tourism industry around it. And Ground Zero, well, pretty much everyone whose visited NY has been by there, right?
posted by Artw at 1:18 PM on December 13, 2010

Lower 9th Ward NOLA, unless you're just into having people gawk at artists and hipsters in the densely populated quarter or so of the upper section.
posted by raysmj at 1:56 PM on December 13, 2010

Really you probably shouldn't step outside your door in case someone has had a genocide there or something.
posted by Artw at 2:10 PM on December 13, 2010

I've played Call of Duty... that'll do for now
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:29 PM on December 13, 2010

What the hell are you doing playing Call of Duty at your house! A roman could have stabbed a pict there!
posted by Artw at 2:49 PM on December 13, 2010

I went and visited Halabja in Iraq about 6 years ago. Here's a short excerpt from something I wrote on the experience:

It's set in the rugged foothills of the northeast, which some 8,000 people claim as their grave. An aerial chemical attack in March of 1988 had emptied, the now reoccupied, village. Affirmation of that attack still litters the hills around the tiny town. Empty chemical shells with Russian markings stand upright in the dug up earth like grotesque mushrooms. Casings are everywhere; local scrap yards and even used as flowerpots by Halabjans. Many scientists claim that the soil and water supply is still contaminated and it was the only town where I didn’t see an American presence.

Here's a photo I took of the sign outside the memorial of the massacre, which Colin Powell inaugurated in September of 2003.
posted by gman at 2:53 PM on December 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Quoted from the video.. "the zone is dangerous, and should not be treated like an amusement park".
posted by CynicalKnight at 4:26 PM on December 13, 2010

As I mentioned, I've been to the exclusion zone. It was an intense experience (arguably literally). I could talk about it for hours, so I'll try to keep it to just things that really stood out to me. Firstly, about the disaster itself:

One of things I learned is that it's a much bigger deal than I assumed, and while we think of it as something that happened, it didn't - it is something that is happening. Largely out of sight, out of mind.

Chernobyl was a disaster so massive that it collapsed a global superpower and changed the world. (Here in the USA, we prefer to credit Reagan and ourselves with that.)

When the reactor exploded, people initially didn't realize there was any radiation leak, because their geiger counters were so overloaded that they didn't function. When they figured out that there was a radiation leak - that it was big enough to saturate their geiger counters, they figured they should rapidly do some essentials and get out within a few hours. They didn't realize that the radiation was not merely beyond the saturation point of their instruments, but orders of magnitude beyond that point. They died.

When trying to contain areas of contamination (not clean it up - merely to slow it spreading further), a small mountain of super-contaminated debris needed to be moved off the roof. The area was so radioactive that robots couldn't operate there - the circuitry would succumb to the radiation and fail. So they had to use people. Thousands and thousands of people.
Think about that. It touches on a recurring theme in Chernobyl - problems so huge and intractable that there is nothing that can be done, yet the stakes are so high that doing nothing is absolutely not an option, so... something has to be done, and the cost is unthinkable. (The official deathtoll is low, but is a political number. The actual deathtoll is vastly larger)

The exclusion zone is an area the size of Massachusetts, too contaminated for human settlement, sealed off from the world for quarter of a century.

It's about two hours drive north of Kiev. Some of the guides who take visitors to the exclusion zone show them this documentary during the trip. Take a look.

The trip itself... too much to talk about.

The perimeter of the Exclusion Zone is serious and sobering. It's guarded by soldiers with machine guns. Part of their job is to stop people entering. Part of their job is to make sure nothing leaves. In many areas you will need to be accompanied by a military escort.

Inside is a land without people, a city slowly being consumed by the earth.
Stay on the concrete. The concrete is constantly washed down by the rain, so it's safer, cleaner. The soil and plants in contrast, absorb and store the fallout. My meters easily confirm this.

Don't put your camera down. If it (or anything else) gets contaminated and can't be sufficiently cleaned, it won't be allowed out of the Zone. They don't want a scene if they have to take your expensive toys.

The contamination is not uniform. It could be quite safe to stand over here, and only 100 yards away, decidedly unsafe! This means that with a guide and/or geiger counter, you can move about and see things without the kind of risk you might expect, while at the same time, it's still a very bad place for almost any kind of human activity.

Contaminated vehicles. As cars, trucks, tanks, and aircraft are used in the zone, they become contaminated and must be abandoned there. I approach a military tank/APC, and my geiger counter starts buzzing. This thing has been washed countless times - hundreds perhaps. It has stood in the rain and the sun and the wind, scoured clean by the elements for decades, until even the paint is stripped from the steel, yet nothing can clean it of the contamination. With each step closer that I take, the radiation reading on my scintillator doubles the reading from my previous step. (I decide that three steps is enough of that, I'll keep my distance!)

Speaking of geiger counters - I can't find a good example, but the clicking sound is eerie. The associations are of cold-war measurement of horror. I am travelling with some others. We have counters, so I am surrounded by a 3D space of eriee clicks emanating from all around me. As we drive, the clicking intensifies. Suddenly all around me the clicks are going frantic. Then an alarm goes off, then another, within two seconds, every geiger counter is sounding alarms. The feeling is almost primal: Get out! Get out of this place!

I am walking in a modern city with no people. It seems familiar, I realize that what I see is reminding me of a scene from "I am Legend" - the overgrown prairies of New York City, overgrown grasslands amidst the crumbling office towers. (Outside the city, there is no shortage of Mad Max either. Giant rusting ruins of a lost people litter the land.)

I look at a tree growing through a cracked tile - the tree and I are six stories above ground, in a hotel. Wind-blown seeds are carried through long-gone windows, and trees take root and grow. Their roots enlarge cracks in the concrete, which will allow water to seep in. The water will further crack and break down the concrete, exposing the steel, allowing it to rust. Piece by piece, the structure will fall apart, until it collapses, becoming rocks in the soil of a forest where once there stood a city.

Already, some areas of the city are so overgrown that it looks like a forest. But walk a dozen yards that way, and hidden just beyond the greenery you'll discover... a city apartment block!

I am in a time machine. The USSR disappeared from our world over 20 years ago, yet here I stand - in the USSR. Shelves of books, film reels, newspapers (dated 1986), artifacts and appliances of the era. All still here, gathering dust. Mostly untouched. (Some areas anyway. Other areas are heavily looted. Of the hundreds or thousands of vehicles so contaminated they had to be abandoned, I'm told almost all have the hood open - the engine missing. Smugglers come into the zone, to find things of value to sneak out and sell to unsuspecting buyers. The similarities to Roadside Picnic and STALKER are striking)

Walking through classrooms. Little models made of paper by children are still here. As is everything else, desks to homework. Child-sized gasmasks too. Feeling like a schoolboy breaking the rules, I sneak into the teacher-only room behind the classroom. Masses of teaching supplies. Models, keepsakes, books, hand-written notes. Most of the building, items have fallen or are strewn around. With every step, a dozen fascinating artifacts of another time just crunch underfoot.

All of it has been here for over 20 years. But as the plants invade the structure, the roof will eventually crack and leak, and then all these things will be destroyed and turned into soil within months of the arrival of water. Everything is still here because the structure has kept it dry all these years.

It is spring. New luscious green growing everywhere. With nature reclaiming the land, wild and fresh and clean, the Zone is beautiful.
All you see is beauty, it's all you can smell, your senses are delighted. What a wonderful place! But your instrument is beeping and buzzing a different story.

That's the conflict - only your instruments say "Danger!" - your instincts say otherwise.
In this place your every sense is false, your most trusted feelings lead you astray. It's a deeply creepy experience.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:38 PM on December 13, 2010 [476 favorites]

I notice you didn't list Detroit.

We almost listed Detroit.
posted by dhartung at 9:35 PM on December 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

I went there a couple of months ago. -harlequin- said it better than I could.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 10:27 PM on December 13, 2010

As I mentioned, I've been to the exclusion zone. It was an intense experience (arguably literally). I could talk about it for hours, so I'll try to keep it to just things that really stood out to me. Firstly, about the disaster itself: . . .

Wow. Just wow.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:53 AM on December 14, 2010

Reminds me of that show on History Channel or A&E "Life After People". Really well written, yours is.
posted by sobersearchparty at 5:19 AM on December 15, 2010

I've flagged a lot of stuff, thinking it deserved the sidebar, but apparently I was just playing. This deserves the sidebar. Best of Metafilter.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:13 AM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

-harlequin-: Smugglers come into the zone, to find things of value to sneak out and sell to unsuspecting buyers.

That's very unsettling. Back in 1993, when the world was still enraptured by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, I was traveling in Sicily, and came across a group of rough looking Polish ex-pats selling stuff in the square, of a small town called Canicatti (in the ancient province of Agrigento, with it's amazing Valley of the Temples to Greek Gods).

They were selling all manner of Cold War Made in the USSR doodads: Big watches with red hammer and sickle design, heavy 35mm cameras, lighters, boots, medals, flashlights. Your usual flea market type stuff. There was one mysterious item. A small radio-like thing, made of hard black plastic, about the proportion of an iPhone, but thicker heavier and longer, with a speaker on the front, a red on diode on the top and two small plastic knobs next to it. One it turned out was for volume and the other for sensitivity. It had some cool minimal Cyrillic markings. And even came with it's original box, which had slightly fancier Cyrillic words on it.

I turned it on and from the speaker came the clicking of what I knew could be nothing other than a Geiger counter picking up what I assumed had to be normal ambient radiation. I handed over the not inconsiderable, for the time and place, $10 bucks in Italian Lira to the pretty Polish woman wearing heavy military boots and a dress, lest she sense my excitement and ask for more money.

It was the coolest most prized thing, I found on the train trip through Europe that Summer. I was one of those kids through the 80s who went to bed wondering if I'd see daylight again or be vaporized instantaneously and that Geiger Counter was such an great reminder of how that danger was over. The USSR was history.

When I got it back home, I ran the Geiger Counter more or less over everything I could think of cars, furniture, food stuffs, gardens, beaches, roads and while here and there there might be a slight uptick it was always short lived and not very exciting. Nothing every made it go into any sort of high gear clicking which was good news but boring. After a few years, I passed it on to my brother who is a Jedi level tinkerer and way more into the nuts and bolts of electronics and scanners and radio's, and mechanical stuff than I ever was, (much more of a realist I guess) and I'm pretty sure he even let his daughter play with it a few years after that when she was a toddler entertained and beguiled by the clicking sound.

Well, she's fine (and has grown up into a lovely girl of 13 at this point) and I'm fine and my brother is fine, everyone is fine. But -harlequin's comment has given me some major pause. What if that device had come out of Chernobyl, one of the thousands the USSR had to produce to deal with the disaster, and what if it might be slightly contaminate, or even worse, been saturated with radioactive contamination from overuse. What horrid consequences...

So, I'm going to ask my brother to dig that thing back up, i'm pretty sure he has it somewhere still and expose a cannister of 35 MM film to it and have it developed. Wouldn't something appear on the film if the Geiger Counter was "hot."

The similarities to Roadside Picnic and STALKER are striking.

I've been watching Tarkovsky's STALKER, recently and slowly working my way through it (one needs to expose oneself to the beautiful imagery, ideas and poetry needs in small doses. Fully pun intended...). And although STALKER is imbued with a sense of spiritual and metaphysical mystery and discovery, I find it incredible it was made 7 years before the Chernobyl disaster, because that is so much the landscape/zone that it invokes. It's prescient sense of foreboding, timelessness and hidden death in the zone, as-harlquin- describes it is a mind-boggling supernatural accomplishment.
posted by Skygazer at 12:58 PM on December 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Skygazer, you could call around to the high schools / universities / museums in your (or your brother's) area. Somebody will have an untainted Geiger counter. Just take your Geiger counter over to them, and see if yours sets theirs off.
posted by Alt F4 at 6:38 PM on December 18, 2010

Are there maps of the radioactivity within the zone?
posted by mecran01 at 7:59 AM on December 21, 2010

On a related note to harlequin's smuggling comment - unscrupulous eastern european smugglers also sold cobalt control rods and lead shielding for use in the burgeoning pottery and crystal industries. Enjoy that beautiful blue and white Polish water pitcher you got at a steal!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:06 AM on December 21, 2010

Speaking of STALKER, if you are interested in this event/area, the PC video game STALKER is quite good. Developed by a Russian team, they recreated the area quite faithfully but set their adventure in the future. It is a tense 3D first-person action-rpg, collecting and selling weapons and radioactive artifacts, exploring "The Zone", and following a series of plotlines through the factions that vie for control of the area. There have been 3 games so far, if you have the computer to handle it I would recommend the most recent, Stalker: Call of Pripyat, or the first game Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl.
posted by sophist at 7:48 PM on December 21, 2010

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