Holiday by the dried-up Aral Sea or enjoy an abandoned amusement park in Chernobyl - these travel guides offer tips for destinations that are anything but ordinary.
Why should vacations always mean Majorca, Tuscany or the beach at Phuket? Trips like those are predictable. How about Turkmenistan, Karakalpakstan or Chernobyl in the Ukraine for a change? You need to be intrepid and slightly stoical to enjoy their peculiarities. A glimpse into travel books on daring holiday destinations.
From opulence to desolation
If you don't want to go to Majorca or Phuket, you'll find ideas for remote destinations in various travel guides. "Sovietistan" is Erika Fatland's guide through the five "stans": Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan - all former Soviet republics. Even for seasoned globetrotters, Turkmenistan is a real challenge. The country in Central Asia is one of the world's most secretive states. Even so, the capital Aşgabat flaunts its marble and gold. This city of superlatives - eclipsing Abu Dhabi - boasts the most marble buildings, the largest fountain complex and the tallest Ferris wheel in the world.
Even the bus stops here have air conditioning. The "Great President" smiles benevolently down from billboards at every corner and his spies are guaranteed to follow you right up to your hotel room. Is that somehow reminiscent of North Korea? Definitely. But Turkmenistan is the luxury version!
After so much megalomania and paranoia, a trip to Karakalpakstan in neighboring Uzbekistan almost has a ghoulish charm. The lake known as the Aral Sea once lay here, but because of excessive artificial irrigation for cotton cultivation, it silted up. The vanished lake now attracts a modest number of disaster tourists.
Discovering art in the desert
In the town of Mo‘ynoq, once a center of the fishing industry, only a sign with a blue fish is a nostalgic reminder of its nautical past. The town looks like a deserted gold rush village: "In front of the concrete blocks, sheep graze; sand drifts through the streets. The old fish canning factory, once the heart of Mo‘ynoq, resembles a haunted house." The town's only hotel is so dilapidated that only a few travel agencies dare to book tourists rooms in it.
But in this isolated, inhospitable, windswept backwater, there's a sensation: a top-class museum with a collection of avant-garde art that a painter and collector in the former Soviet Union amassed obsessively in Nukus, this farthest-flung of all places in the Uzbek desert.
Attraction for Western tourists
A trip to Chernobyl, which Berlin-based British comedy writer described in his book "Du fährst wohin?!" (You're going where?!), also belongs in the disaster tourism category. The deserted town looks like a giant film set. The devastated school, stewn with shards of glass and gas masks, looks like a conscious theatrical arrangement. The highlight of the touristic horror show is a rusting amusement park in the shadow of the nuclear reactor. Overnight stays are also an option: a hostel for tourists just opened in the city of Chernobyl, which was evacuated after the nuclear disaster in 1986.
Transnistria, that forgotten pseudo-state between Moldova and Ukraine, is a bizarre travel destination. Fletcher describes his stay in a crumbling hotel with "Barbie aesthetic," a gruesome atmosphere, a cross between "Psycho" and "The Shining."
Dennis Gastmann's linguistically much more sophisticated and very readable travel book "An Atlas of Undiscovered Countries" offers a great deal of Absurdistan. In it, in addition to micro-states such as Akhzivland near Israel and the emirate Ras al-Khaimah, Transnistria and Karakalpakstan are also given their due. Evidently it's mainly Communist or former Communist countries with their bizarre autocracies that have a peculiar attraction for Western tourists.
Sibylle Peine/ms (dpa)