As I stepped into the dark room, the damp wood floor creaked under my feet. Chills shot down my back. My eyes adjusted, I scanned the room -- had I walked into the Overlook Hotel from The Shining? Peeled paint, shattered windows, rusted beds strewn with old clothes and toys, we had stumbled into a nursery school. Once alive with the laughter of kids playing, it had been abandoned -- left untouched, stark, creepy -- 29 years ago after panicked residents fled the greatest nuclear catastrophe in world history. I was standing in the heart of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
What was I doing here? Vacation, of course. Well, something like that. For two full days, I was playing tourist inside this 1,000-square-mile forbidden zone that remains cordoned off by military checkpoints. Definitely not your typical holiday. Although around 12,000 tourists visit Chernobyl a year (by comparison, Disney World sees 12,000 visitors in just two days!), 75% opt for the day trip (less exposure to radiation, right?). I wanted more time to explore this seemingly haunted world.