Monday, July 16, 2012

With Michael J. Totten to the Ends of the Earth . . .

Michael J. Totten isn't a travel writer, but he can be read as one if you're interested in places to avoid, which include a good many parts of this world, but some are even better to avoid than others, and somewhat to my surprise, Ukraine is one such place, as Totten and a friend discovered, their first inkling of that occurring at the border, where a Polish border guard stamped their passports and warned them:
"It is very strange over there . . . . And nobody speaks English."
Their first evidence of the strangeness was the road they took after crossing the border:
This one would have been no worse off had it been deliberately shredded to ribbons by air strikes. The damage was so thorough that the surface could not possibly have been repaved or repaired even once since the Stalinist era.

I white-knuckled it behind the wheel while Sean cringed in the passenger seat. I did not dare drive faster than five miles an hour. Even at that speed I had to weave all over the place to avoid the worst of the gaping holes, some of which were as wide as mattresses and deep enough to swallow TV sets.
The condition of the road led Totten to wonder "if the roads were so bad because nobody drove or if nobody drove because the roads were so bad," and his traveling companion remarked:
"They should put up a sign on the border . . . saying That was Europe. You like that? Now prepare for something completely different."
The two were on their way to Chernobyl because City Journal had assigned Totten the job of going there and writing about Pripyat, a city that was abandoned after the Soviet Union's Chernobyl nuclear reactor number four exploded in 1986 and scattered radiation all around.

But go and read the excerpt for yourself . . .

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At 3:32 PM, Anonymous Jeff said...

Thanks for this. I've not been to the Ukraine, but I visited the Balkans in the days when my Serbian friends could drolly sum up their country's place in the world by saying, "We are not on Mapquest." Totten does a good job of conveying that same disconnected feeling; I just ordered a copy of his book.

At 4:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I think other parts of Ukraine are less starkly distinct from the West, but just don't visit Chernobyl.

Jeffery Hodges

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