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Veteran Urban Explorer Shares His Favorite Abandoned Places

From unused space shuttles to remote islands, this adventurer breaks down his highlights of the year.

EXPLORE THIS YEAR’S BEST ABANDONED PLACES

Bob Thissen, the filmmaker behind the YouTube channel Exploring the Unbeaten Path, explores manmade spots that have been abandoned and left to decay. He has visited hundreds of locales in more than 50 countries. These are his favorites from 2017.

As a teenager, Bob Thissen rummaged through abandoned buildings for fun. About 11 years ago, he decided to go pro with his intrepid interest. Today, Thissen is the 32-year-old Dutch filmmaker behind the YouTube channel Exploring the Unbeaten Path, where he's upgraded from investigating urban sites with only his curiosity to now having a drone, quality cameras, and a microphone, too.

Thissen is an urban explorer, a subculture of people who explore manmade spots that, for one reason or another, have been abandoned and left to decay. He has visited hundreds of locales, including more than 50 countries on four continents. He's also founded popular Instagram and Facebook pages to go along with his YouTube account, which he continued after starring on the Dutch exploration show Exitus, which aired in 2016.

In the rare times he's not exploring with his friends Eelco Kuijper and Frederick Sempels, Thissen owns a company that makes stop-motion movies. From Soviet space shuttles to disaster-stricken cities, the urban explorer takes apart his favorite adventures from the year, and looks ahead to what 2018 might bring.

What are your favorite places from 2017?

The abandoned space shuttles in Baikonur [is] number one, because it was really hard to get to and not many people have been there. If you get seen, you get shot or at least imprisoned. We were lucky.

Fukushima was my second place because it was insane. It was abandoned six years ago because of the [nuclear] disaster. And when you go there, it's like a time capsule. You can see a classroom and the children just left and the bags are still there on the table, and the fishes and turtles are dead in the aquarium. So it was pretty spooky but also sad to see.

There are also shops that are still full. Here in Europe, it would be looted within a few weeks. People just left and never came back. It was really weird but, at the same time, amazing to see.

My third place is a really famous one. It's Battleship Island. It's where a James Bond movie was recorded and it's a UNESCO [site]. But it's not accessible to tourists. So it was also pretty hard to get there. It was a really nice island, with a lot of history. But now you can see what happens when there are no people around, because it's untouched since 1974.

Why Were These Space Shuttles Abandoned in the Desert? In the Central Asian desert lie remnants of another era: two space shuttles in a massive hangar. Shortly after the dissolution of the USSR, Russia stopped developing its space shuttles, leaving behind something like a time capsule for an alternate history. Photographer Alexander Kaunas visited the disused site within Russia's launch center in Kazakhstan.

How do you choose to visit these places?

I search on the Internet and try to make a nice list of possible locations, because when you do urban exploring, you never know if you [can] get in, get inside. It may be demolished already, it may be reconverted or secured so you can't get in.

But it's difficult because I have so many places [I want to go]. And this year I wanted to see the best known abandoned buildings in the world because everything is vanishing really quickly.

What are some of the main problems you run into when you're urban exploring?

Buildings are getting demolished or vandalized, or reconverted. Another problem is maybe you don't get there. Sometimes you need a boat or inside help.

Security is also a problem because they try to keep you out, of course. And arrest. Sometimes you have to climb fences and dodge security dogs and cameras. You can encounter strange people, like junkies. Some places are really remote. Like Kazakstan, we were in an active military area had to walk like 20 miles in the desert.

So it's quite an adventure.

What makes these places the best for urban exploring you've been to this year?

Amazing architecture, or some piece of history. Like the space shuttles, it's history that everyone has forgotten. A lot of people didn't know there were still some intact shuttles in that hangar, so that's pretty special. And also, places where time stood still.

We show places that are closed to the public or places that nobody wants to go. Fukushima, everyone heard about it but few know how it looks now.

What's in store for 2018?

Pyramiden [in Svalbard, Norway] and Varosha in Cyprus are a few names that are on the list for 2018. Pyramiden is really far up north, it's like minus 20 (degrees Celsius) there. There are polar bears and we have to go to a snow scooter so it's pretty risky. It's a nice adventure. Varosha was invaded by the Turks in 1974, and it's still like a battle zone there. There's a no-go zone. It's also pretty dangerous; I don't know how far I'll get because it's guarded by armed soldiers.

I like to go to other places that nobody has been before, so I hope I will find something nice there.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.


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