Posts Tagged ‘travel’

The Holy Land Experience

03/09/2010

Over the past few years I’ve visited a lot of weird tourist sites in the former Soviet Union in the name of research. Lately, I’ve been researching wacky tourism in North America and came across this: The Holy Land Amusement Park in Orlando, Florida.

I quote: “Experience love. Experience peace. Experience joy. Experience Jesus.”

According to their official website, the visitors to the park can go back in time and experience life as it was in Biblical times. A re-creationist’s wet-dream, the park features the most important parts of the bible acted by professionals: A rather caucasian looking Jesus re-enacts the life of the son of God, including daily crucifixion and resurrection; visitors can experience what life was like for Moses and his children to wander the desert at the Wilderness Tabernacle; and if the kids get antsy, drop them off at the “Smile of a Child” kids play-land. Fun for the whole family, indeed.

I suppose with the actual Holy Land a war zone and the deep distrust in the US of “middle eastern” terrorists, this safe and entertaining option is the way to go. Founded by a Baptist minister Marvin Rosenthal (yup, he converted from Judaism) the park has been protested by the Jewish Defence League as promoting the conversion of Jews to Christianity. Kind of the point of the the life of Jesus, but I digress. What I want to know is when religion became defined as “a thrilling swirl of characters, costumes and colour” and how I missed that memo…

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Soviet Town for Sale: the life and times of Skrunda-1

02/25/2010

Inspired by this article: For sale: one communist-era ghost town

Occasionally after a research trip I spend a month or two in Latvia at a translators’ and writers’ house in the small city of Ventspils, on the shores of the Baltic Sea. One afternoon last winter Ieva, one of the administrators at the house, and I climbed into her green Lada Zhiguli and drove out into the Latvian countryside. I’d been talking to Ieva about my fascination with abandoned Soviet-era military sites — the shores of the Baltic made up one of the borders of the USSR and were heavily fortified — and she thought I should see the abandoned city of Skrunda-1.

The drive took about an hour. We travelled along a narrow highway through thick pine forests then made a right hand turn on a marginally paved road that led towards the radiological observatory, visible from the highway. Part of the site was dismantled in 1994 (the radar) and what remains looks like a giant satellite dish and is currently used by Latvian scientists at the International Radio Astronomy Centre. During Soviet times it was part of the early warning defence system and is rumoured to have been used to intercept communications of all sorts.

It is possible to tour the Radio Astronomy Centre but no one was around so we couldn’t go inside and climb to the top of the dish. Instead we got back into the Zhiguli and drove about two kms back towards the highway to the site of the town. About 5,000 people lived and worked in this secret city during Soviet times. There was a chain over the entrance but we just stepped over it. A couple of young Latvian guys were tearing down a building nearby. Ieva asked them what they were doing. They pointed at the bricks piled neatly at the edgs of the access road — “Selling bricks.” During the late 1990s, this site was being considered for an amusement park but now, according to the workers, the crumbling ruins were going to be torn down and allowed to be rehabilitated slowly by nature. According to them the site is quite polluted with heavy metals and leaked oil and petroleum.

We asked if we could explore the buildings. They just shrugged.

All the buildings were in a serious state of disrepair. Any metal objects of any value had long been stripped. This is the case in most of these military installations; scrap metal equals money. There were many broken windows and a lot of evidence of squatters and parties. Racist graffiti, of course. And a lot of faded murals. It was eerie and beautiful and sad. Most of the people who lived here were kicked out very suddenly in 1994 when the Russian military was ordered out of Latvia. A few hundred stayed for four more years to manage the site, but it was fully abandoned in 1998. According to Ieva, many of the apartment blocks, buildings of reasonable quality, were abandoned with furniture and appliances intact. Something could have been done with the infrastructure, but there was no organization, no money, no foresight.

Skrunda-1 was sold to a Russian company last month. There have been rumours that it will be turned into a huge pig farm or a large factory of some kind.

Whatever ends up on that location, it’s going to cost a lot of time, energy and money to remove this relic. Multiply this story by hundreds of kilometres of border land to be protected, throw in the Stalin Line and the Molotov Line and you’ll get a sense of just how militarized the former Soviet region was, and how much clean up there remains to be done.

Welcome to Lenin Land…

02/16/2010

Hi, hello and welcome to “Adventures in Lenin Land”.

About the project:

This blog is part of an ongoing book project looking at the intersection of history and tourism in the former USSR. Over the past three years I’ve spend a good deal of my time exploring the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, looking at museums and tourist attractions that find novel and controversial ways of dealing with the Soviet legacy. Think Lenin Land, Club Gulag, Bus Tour Chernobyl and Stalin Tours. Think former Soviet prisons turned hostels, “authentic” Soviet apartment tours and Cold War bunkers in Moscow hosting your office party. Think and then re-think Soviet history as you know it.

As I’m working on the book I will be posting out-takes, previews and news links related to the project. I’ll also be streaming photos of my travels (past, present and future) via my flickr account.

Welcome to the wacky world of post-Soviet tourism. I hope you’ll visit again and visit often.

Medeine Tribinevicius