Without a doubt the most interesting part of visiting Pripyat is the amusement park, located behind the Palace of Culture in the center of town. The park had four attractions: bumper cars, swing boats, a carousel swing-type ride, and a ferris wheel -- the latter of which produces some of the most iconic images of the area on the internet. Interestingly, the amusement park was rumored to open on May 1, 1986, five days after the nuclear explosion took place. It has long been believed that these rides were never actually used, but it was brought to light recently that they had in fact been used at some point, as the images below will show. Some theories suggest the amusement park rides were opened early during the 36 hours before emergency evacuations to keep Pripyat residents entertained. No one remembers for sure. Photographs are courtesy of Pripyat.com.
Whilst visiting this section of town, the atmosphere takes on quite an eerie tone. On one hand you can hear almost nothing except the occasional breeze and maybe a few birds singing. On the other hand, you have this massive ferris wheel towering over you, and just by its dominating presence you expect it to be making some type of noise as if it were in use -- maybe the motors underneath should be whirring away or the excited cheers of children as they enjoy this and the other park rides. The lack of sound whilst in the presence of such a monolithic structure makes you much more aware of the near silence in the area, and at the same time, you're always conscious of this giant standing over you. This is probably one of the most profound places to visit in the zone, and one that will stay with me forever.
Radiation levels around the park vary greatly. For the most part, liquidators did an effective job of washing most of the radiation into the soil, so the concreted areas are relatively safe. Through all of my initial research, I thought the bumper car ring was one of the most contaminated areas. However, our guide pointed out that in fact the bumper cars are relatively clean. The areas around the edges -- where leaves and moss have built up -- is where most of the radiation is still residing near the surface. Our guide also pointed out a patch of moss about ten feet away from the ride that has extremely high levels for the area. Dosimeter readings over the spot (roughly one square meter in size) show 25 µSv/h, one of the most radioactive in the city. Most of this can be attributed to helicopter landings in the park during rescue and cleanup after the accident.