5 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Chernobyl

There are lots of homeless dogs living around the check points in Chernobyl and the general vicinity. These dogs are no more radioactive than the ones you’ll see around Kyiv.

This past December I did something I have wanted to do for years! I got to visit Chernobyl. I considered it to be just another exciting day trip, but then my family membered began crossing themselves and praying under their breath whenever I mentioned it.

This made me a little nervous, so I started doing some research. The information I read on English-speaking tourist websites varied greatly from what local Ukrainian websites said. I ended up sitting in the van confused and slightly worried about my safety… I wish somehow had told me the following:

1. It is 100% safe to visit Chernobyl on a tour

Although thousands if not tens of thousands suffered from the negative side effects of radiation and even died, visiting Chernobyl today is completely safe. There are people living within the “danger” zone year round. Even in the frosty December temperatures, we saw a lady going about her day from a store in Chernobyl.

The city that no one lives in is Pripyat, where certain areas do have radiation hot spots. Although no one lives there, our tour guide told us that many people break in illegally and spend the night or several nights in the long-abandoned buildings telling ghost stories and sometimes creating beautifully haunting graffiti.

2. The dogs are not radioactive

There are lots of homeless dogs living around the check points in Chernobyl and the general vicinity. These dogs are no more radioactive than the ones you’ll see around Kyiv. These dogs are all spayed, vaccinated, and they are taken care of by the local residents and employees. These dogs are also super sweet and love a good scratch. Our guide was petting them and reassuring us that it was safe!

3. Tour prices vary greatly, shop around

When Isaac and I were searching for tickets, we found tours for as much as $300 per person. Keep in mind that there are different tours, including overnight that let you sleep in a hotel in Chernobyl! But even the same day trip can vary in price, which is why I let my mom search Ukrainian websites for the best one.

The tour she chose had tickets for about $150 for foreigners and only $100 for Ukrainian-passport holders. Apparently it was the European Union, who have sponsored the protection of Chernobyl, who made the law that locals should be able to visit and learn about their history at a discount.

4. There are lots of rules on the tour

According to my mom, all these rules are just for show as part of the thrilling experience. I can see why she would think that, but I didn’t mess with any of them. One guy on our tour, however, broke every single one without consequence. He walked inside of buildings that he was told to stay out of and he took photos of things he was told not to.  Finally, I would bet anything that he snuck out souvenir that he collected along the way.

5. It is a unique and exciting experience

Even if it’s no longer unsafe and if all the precautions are overdone, what happened in Chernobyl is an important part of history. I hope that all tours play the Chernobyl documentary on the way there. You should watch it even if you never go on the tour.

The facts are that even today, there is no safe way to completely secure the reactor. Every few years, new precautions need to be made. While all of this is happening, there are still nuclear generators around the world and their dangers are 100% real. The accident at Chernobyl was unexpected and it was a miracle that it didn’t wipe out all of Europe. If it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of a handful of brave heroes, most of Europe would be unlivable today.

If you get the chance to visit Chernobyl, don’t forget where you are and what happened there. So many people suffered painfully and died in the most horrible way due to the accident. It was a terrible accident that could have been worse, but was absolutely devastating to so many already. Think about that when you walk through the abandoned kindergarten and past the homes of what was once the most prosperous city in the Soviet Union.

Advertisements

Scuba-Diving at Pileh Bay: Phi Phi, Thailand 2018

When it’s cold where you currently are, remember warmer times!

When it’s cold outside, it’s nice to think about warmer times in a tropical place! I know I can’t complain because -14 is nothing compared to the -50 polar vortex killing people in Chicago, but it’s still colder than I’m used to!

Droning at Pileh Bay: Phi Phi, Thailand 2018 (Video)

Pileh Bay was beautiful and amazing to explore via kayak and even underwater. We were lucky enough to get to also see it from above, and now you can too! We use the DJI Mavic Air drone.

Pileh Bay was beautiful and amazing to explore via kayak and even underwater. We were lucky enough to get to also see it from above, and now you can too! We use the DJI Mavic Air drone.

Soi Cowboy Street in Bangkok Thailand

Soi Cowboy is the crazy street in Thailand known for strip clubs and prostitutes, but there are no ping-pong shows here! We visited the street just to people watch and it was quite a show. We saw women aggressively dragging single men into the clubs and offering all sorts of services.

Soi Cowboy is the crazy street in Thailand known for strip clubs and prostitutes, but there are no ping-pong shows here! We visited the street just to people watch and it was quite a show. We saw women aggressively dragging single men into the clubs and offering all sorts of services. They also had a great happy hour deals which I enjoyed and it was an interesting place to visit. Of course, you couldn’t film inside and I only went in quickly to use the bathroom!

Check it out:

Govinda’s Vegan Restaurant: Ao Nang, Thailand 2018

Govinda, a vegan restaurant in Ao Nang, Thailand was delicious and the staff was incredibly kind!

Govinda, a vegan restaurant in Ao Nang, Thailand was delicious and the staff was incredibly kind! We arrived over half an hour before opening and sat downstairs waiting. It was pouring and miserable, the owner noticed us waiting and invited us in, carrying our heavy luggage in. It was awesome. We spent and ate way too much but it was worth it!

Paddle Boats on Xuan Huong Lake: Da Lat, Vietnam

One of travel traditions is going on paddle boats in as many countries as possible. As soon as we saw the Swan Boats on Xuan Huong Lake in Da Lat, we knew we had to go! For just $2 per boat for an hour, you can paddle around the lake and enjoy some beautiful views.

One of travel traditions is going on paddle boats in as many countries as possible. As soon as we saw the Swan Boats on Xuan Huong Lake in Da Lat, we knew we had to go! For just $2 per boat for an hour, you can paddle around the lake and enjoy some beautiful views.

The lake is quite large and has a surprisingly strong current so we had to keep paddling! If you’re here in July, like we were, don’t forget to put on sunscreen because the sun is strong. In case you enjoy drinking wine or beer while paddle boating as much as we do, Vietnam doesn’t seem to have any laws against it. You can get some pretty great photos from the boat so don’t forget to bring your camera.

The Best View of New York City: One World Trade Center

One World Trade offers a unique view of New York’s spectacular waterfront. While you can see both the Hudson and East rivers in the distance from Top of the Rock, One World is right on the water. You can both rivers clearly merging into the Upper Bay and watch the sunset over New Jersey…

Everyone always debates between going up the Rockefeller Center‘s Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building to see the best views of New York City. My advice? Go to the One World Trade Observatory (Freedom Tower) instead.

Isaac and I travel a lot and one of the highlights of any trip that we take is going up the highest point. Nothing beats seeing a place you’ve been exploring from a new vantage point and we always try to schedule our trip around sunset to experience the city going from day to night.

Although we still haven’t seen the view from the Empire State Building, we’re confident that nothing will beat One World Trade and here are the reasons why:

1. The Waterfront

One World Trade offers a unique view of New York’s spectacular waterfront. While you can see both the Hudson and East rivers shimmering in the distance from Top of the Rock, One World is right on the water. You can both rivers clearly merging into the Upper Bay and watch the sunset over New Jersey.

2. Brooklyn Bridge

New York’s most iconic bridge, the first steel-wire suspension bridge ever constructed and finished by a woman is one of the highlights of the city. One World offers a beautiful view of not only the Brooklyn Bridge but also the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. Seeing the bridges light up at dusk was magical and not possible from Top of the Rock.

3. No Obstructing Construction

Construction is not an issue at night because the lights of the city drown out the many cranes. However, on our last visit to Top of the Rock during the day, the view was quite obstructed by construction – we couldn’t really see Central Park because at least three buildings are coming up in front of the park. On the other side, right next the Empire State Building, surprise, surprise, there’s more construction!

Since One World Trade is so much taller than all of the buildings surrounding it so there’s no cranes in view. The construction happening uptown is too far to interfere. Unfortunately you can’t see Central Park from the One World observatory at all, but the Top of the Rock isn’t a good place to see it anymore either.

4. Picturesque Skyline

Both One World Trade and Top of the Rock offer great opportunities for photos. On our visit to Top of the Rock we saw a couple getting their wedding photos taken. There are a few big differences between the views. Top of the Rock offers the best possible close-up shot of the Empire State Building and you can even take a selfie with it.

From the One World Trade observatory, you can see Empire State but from a distance. You can take beautiful shots of the entire city with Empire State, Top of the Rock and all of the other iconic sky scrapers all lined up in the distance. Seeing the entire city like that was spectacular, but you couldn’t make out any of the buildings clearly in a selfie. Enjoying a great view should be a bigger priority than the perfect selfie, but to each their own…

5. Floor-Length Windows

When you’re standing up against the floor-length windows in the One World Trade tower, you can see all the way down and feel like you’re flying above the city. With so many people touching the glass and leaning their greasy foreheads against the windows (like I did) create unsightly smudges and reflections that interfere with the view and with photos. But having windows also makes it weatherproof, which gets me to #6….

6. Weatherproof Views

Top of the Rock is outside which is great on a breezy sunny day, but I’ve been there twice in the middle of winter which was less pleasant. Sure, there’s something to be said about the crisp night air, but if it’s raining a lot or if there’s a storm, the observatory is closed. You can visit One World Trade whenever you want and enjoy a (slightly too strongly) air-conditioned space.

7. Tallest Observatory Deck

Size doesn’t matter, but when it comes to views, height makes a difference. One World Trade is significantly taller than Top of the Rock and was actually the tallest building in the USA (if you count the height of the antenna). As I previously mentioned, it’s height puts it over ugly construction on nearby buildings and it just makes it more excited to be as high off the ground as possible.

8. The WOW Factor

This might be an unfair category since the Top of the Rock was built almost a hundred years ago and opened to the public in 1933… but I can’t not mention the cool extras that the One World Trade Center offered that made the experience more special. The elevator that took us up took only 45 seconds and shows us a video of New York as it changed (and grew) in the past 300+ years. It was unexpected and beautiful!

Next we were waiting in line watching yet another movie about the building. It wasn’t boring but staring at screens gets old when you’re itching to see the real thing. The video ended with the screens lifting to reveal our first glance of the bay from (almost) the top of the building! Everyone was so genuinely surprised that we wowed and clapped. Sorry for spoiling the surprise…

Conclusion:

The two buildings offer completely different view of the city. If you can only do one, I’d say go to One World Trade. If you get the chance to do both, it’s definitely worth going to Top of the Rock too. They charge you extra for going around sunset so if you do both, go to Top of the Rock during the day and then do One World Trade for sunset to save a few dollars. Or get the New York Sightseeing Pass and save a lot of money on visiting various attractions in New York.

Both buildings have a fascinating history – if you do One World Trade I’d recommend visiting the 9/11 Memorial first to truly appreciate what a symbol of hope the Freedom Tower was in the light of the terrible attack on the Twin Towers. It’s a somber experience that made sure to emphasize the One World Trade Center’s part in New York’s healing process.

40560600_10156615600928134_3723590230196879360_n40584159_10156615600863134_778866648110071808_n40613474_10156615600493134_3806448601832357888_n40524670_10156615600783134_8371101356819218432_n