In the Zone: Overnight in Chernobyl
The first thing you notice about Chernobyl is the air. There is a slightly metallic taste to it mixed with a hint of decay, a reminder that all is not well here. To the eye, the landscape is deceiving. Dense brush and forest surround the collapsed buildings and deserted landmarks.
When I first realized there was a fall break built into my study away at NYU Prague, I decided I wanted to take my time abroad in Europe to another level. I wanted to go somewhere out of the way that had a real shock factor when people asked about it. When I realized you could still visit the exclusion zone, I was sold immediately. All the information you need to provide is your passport number and to register with an official tour guide agency. I highly recommend Chernobylwel.com.
We met up with our guide, Sergei, and the rest of the group outside of a KFC in the middle of Kiev, and two hours later we were outside of the checkpoint. Armed guards verified our information and off we went into a surprisingly lush forest surrounding the towns of Chernobyl and Pripyat. There are legitimate contamination concerns that come with visiting Chernobyl. The international safety recommendation for radiation is 0.5 mSv/hr. At several points we went far past that limit, but on the whole we stayed somewhere between the Ukrainian safety limit of 0.3 mSv/hr and the international standard. The real problem was to avoid stepping in any hotspots, as you would have to leave that object or piece of clothing behind when leaving the zone.
Throughout our time in the zone, we toured the village of Pripyat as well as Chernobyl. We explored abandoned hospitals, classrooms, cafes, cooling towers, and saw the sarcophagus where the explosion site is sealed. The personal belongings strewn about reminded us at every turn of the abnormal emptiness in the town. Our overnight stay was also unique, as the Chernobyl Hotel has preserved the atmosphere of a 1970’s soviet building. The amenities included all the normal services of a hotel, and the two-day tour we were on included the price of accomodation and all meals in the initial booking. By the time it came to leave, we had bonded well with our group and did not want to separate. Arriving back into Kiev felt like entering Time Square - full of all the lights, sounds, and crowds that were sorely lacking in the zone.
To some it may seem crazy, but for those seeking adventure, Chernobyl offers an unparalleled experience. Just grab your Geiger and get going!