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Charred remnants of the late 20th century.


My fellow traveler and I had a pretty surreal experience in Belgrade. For the last week or so we hadn’t run into any other Americans- everyone we talked to on buses, in hostels, etc. was from elsewhere- but there was one other person at our airbnb, and he happened to come from maybe ~20 miles away from where we lived back in Colorado. It felt very strange to run into someone from your home town in such a far-off place!

The guy we ran into also happened to be a fellow enthusiast of checking out abandoned buildings and a generally awesome person, and showed us a burned-down warehouse he’d explored nearby.


I don’t know if this applies in general, but at least in my experience, one of the best things about exploring in southeastern Europe is that nobody gives a damn. The gate to this building was wide open and we waltzed right on in, and nobody in the bustling center of Belgrade gave us a second glance.





Archaeologists of the recent past.


I think this tile says “C. LEPOGLAVA – 93”. I looked up what Lepoglava is, and apparently it’s a town in Croatia a bit north of Zagreb, where the tile must be from. Other than where the roof was made, we know almost nothing about this warehouse- how it burned down, whether it was related to the war, or what it once stored. All that was left amongst the tiles were stray plastic, wristwatch pieces, and the dismembered limbs of clothes mannequins.



concrete silhouette

“Our world, like a charnel-house, lies strewn with the detritus of dead epochs.”

               – Le Corubiser, The City of Tomorrow

A silhouette of concrete rises up before the summer sky. Winds sweep through the mountainous grasslands and the sun and elements beat down over the decades, yet here stands a monument out of time. The Buzludzha feels like history itself melted down and reformed into concrete and steel rebar.

The Buzludzha Monument was built to commemorate the foundation of socialism in Bulgaria and to serve as the headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party. After the fall of the communist government in Bulgaria, the structure has been left to decay.


I was overjoyed to see the monument- I’d gotten pretty sick back in the nearby town of Veliko Tarnovo over the last few days and had been afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it. Fortunately I felt good enough that morning to crawl out of the hostel, so we rented a car and ventured out onto the Bulgarian highways. The monument was built far away from any populated areas in a mountain pass, so we had to navigate through some obscure backroads to get there. We thought we were getting lost when we turned a corner, and then all of a sudden there it was- a massive concrete UFO saucer.


The hands of some forgotten giant.



We’d heard claims back in town that the police had won a long-running game of cat-and-mouse with urban explorers at the Buzludzha, finally managing to seal off the last of the entrances. Fortunately this turned out to be quite untrue! We slid through a crack in the concrete and lowered ourselves into the depths of the structure.

After climbing a few meters underground, we put our feet down in a room that looks like it was once a big storage closet. There’s a deathly silence about the place. Climbing into the foundations of this cavernous building feels like entering a crypt- tomb robbers in the graveyard of utopia.

The bowels of the building are cluttered with electrical panels and ventilation shafts. The pictures didn’t come out very well, but if you’d like you can see them here and here. Like a lot of the Buzludzha, the basement looks like the decaying remnants of some science-fiction starship, halfway between a forgotten past and an unrealized future.


We slowly navigate our way through this metal labyrinth and find staircases climbing up the structure. Eventually, we ascend into the main room.


As we emerge from the dark underground sections into the main room, we’re bathed in light and kaleidoscopic color. The beams of light fall like they’re cutting through jungle canopy, glittering off spectacular murals composed of tens of thousands of individual 1×1 cm glass squares. Everywhere you hear the sound of water dripping and then echoing throughout the huge space.

Proletarians of all countries, unite!.png

“Proletarians of all countries, unite!”




The place space feels (maybe by design or maybe not) sacred, like you’re inside a cathedral. A temple for a now-vanished god, a mausoleum for dead ideologies, a modern mecca for urban explorers.


We follow passages out of the main room and find huge banks of windows, looking out on the surrounding mountains and valleys.


attic window

The Buzludzha is probably the most otherworldly place I’ve ever been in my life. This monolith is one of those things that simply doesn’t seem like it’s from our reality, a location lost in space and definitely in time. It makes me incredibly sad to see this place falling apart, but at the same time I can’t imagine it looking any more beautiful than it does in decay.


We spend a few more hours exploring this fantastic fever dream of metal and concrete, soaking in the atmosphere before heading back down the pass and continuing our journey.




Stony soldiers and concrete women look out on the Black Sea.


Sitting atop a hill in Varna, Bulgaria is the Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship.

Built in the 1970’s to commemorate unity between Bulgaria and Russia, it’s been left to decay since the collapse of the USSR. Pictures online show the ‘Staircase of Victors’ covered by hundreds of Communist Party officials back at its opening ceremony- these days it seems to be visited only by people jogging up and down the steps, walking their dog, or interested in the ruin.




The first time I wandered over to the monument it was after a day of drinking on the beach. My fellow traveler went back to the hostel to take a nap and I walked along the shore until I saw the monument, and then climbed up the stairs to get a closer look. When I saw the opening at its center, I was very surprised- I didn’t guess it had an interior at all, much less an accessible one!



I squeeze through the grate and stumble in. The sounds of the city vanish immediately once inside. Turning my flashlight on reveals a flight of concrete stairs going up into the structure.


As I go up the steps, a tablet with Bulgarian text etched into it materializes. I can’t read Bulgarian, but later on I asked a friend who can to help with deciphering what was left of the text. He said it looked like a poem, reading something like “The Soviet Union and Bulgaria are as important to each other as the sun, air, and water are to a living thing.”


As one moves away from the light coming in through the entrance, the steps keep splitting off and heading in different directions, and with only a phone it’s very dark. Eventually I come out into a large atrium with many openings heading into other rooms and hallways. While standing there I hear a rustling noise, what sounds like somebody standing up in one of the rooms. I freeze- it was at that point that I realized it was probably a bad idea to enter an easily-accessed urban ruin in the middle of the city with nothing but a phone, and to admittedly be a little inebriated while doing it. I promptly turned around and got out.

The next day, I went back (sober) with a more powerful flashlight and cautiously ventured a little further into the building. Taking a turn around a wall I hadn’t dared go past the day before, I find this room:


The dimensions of the room, the light coming down from above, and the short steps going up to a little platform give the place the feeling of a small chapel. The huge star cut out of the wall dominates the space.

There’s a rustling noise again, but this time I notice it’s coming from above- the noise that’d spooked me the day before were just some pigeons nesting in the rafters! I leave the star/pigeon room and keep going up the building.


The whole place has an off-kilter, unsteady atmosphere. I think it comes down to something with the layout and design feeling just a little bit * off * – the surfaces in the building never quite align perfectly, the walls and ceilings are all angled, the windows and stairs appear in unexpected places. The building teases at symmetry and then gives you asymmetry, creating a sort of uncanny valley effect of geometry.



One of the staircases zigzags out of the dark and up to the roof.



I go back inside to explore the interior some more. No matter how many times I walk through the different rooms, it still seems like a maze and it still feel like I’m stumbling into new chambers. Standing in the room I ended up thinking of as the ‘main atrium’ and looking at all the shadowy rooms and hallways leading off into darkness, I realize that the building feels much, much bigger on the inside than on the outside. Either it hides its size very well on the outside or it’s the concrete, communist version of House of Leaves.


Sometimes I listen closely and think that I can hear a kind of hum, the muted echoes of far-off conversations. Are there people outside, or are there words from decades ago trapped inside and reverberating off the walls?



Greetings from the Bureau of Exploration. This is the first in a series of reports on a long and fantastical journey through Southeastern Europe. Starting in Germany, we traveled to Romania and then meandered our way back through Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia, exploring cities, nature, and ruins along the way. These reports will be my attempt at capturing the atmosphere of these incredible places and our adventures exploring them.


Our adventure begins with a train. Or more accurately, with a bus which arrives late to get to a train. My fellow travelers and I got on the Vienna-Bucharest night train just in time, though we didn’t have time to get food and there was none on board. One source of calories on the train was inexpensive beer though, which suited me quite well!

We wake up twice during the night to calls of “PASSCONTROL” and “AUSWEISKONTROLLE” and are asked for our passports, by what must’ve been the Hungarian, and then a few hours later Romanian border police. Throughout the night the movements and low rumbling of the train filter into strange dreams. In the morning, I clamber down from my bunk and look through the window to find myself suddenly in a country I’ve never been in before.



Outside the window sunlit expanses of fields and lush forests roll by in the Romanian countryside. Throughout the day, we catch occasional glimpses of intriguing places between the towns- abandoned industrial sites and powerplants, forgotten tunnels in the woods, ruins in the hills. By noon, the countryside gives way to the Carpathians, and later in the afternoon the train pulls in to Bucharest.


Bucharest has the feeling of existing in a million places in time all at once. Back in the US most of the cities are pretty recent and uniform in style, and many of the other European cities I’ve visited may be more ancient but seem to me like they focus on one period of history and halt time there, or at least have distinct districts. In Bucharest, buildings of every imaginable style and era – medieval, Art Nouveau, Soviet, Eastern-Orthodox, Art Deco, modern, and a vast array of others – are all mixed together to the point where I can’t tell when or by whom the structures were built. Centuries lie between each neighboring building.


One of the most striking parts of the city is the Centrul Civic, a planned city originally built to house the communist apparatus of state. At its center is the pet project of Romania’s last communist ruler, the largest parliament building in the world- an immense, imposing structure, with thousands of rooms which are today mostly empty. It’s almost as deep as it is tall- in anticipation of coming nuclear war, eight levels were built underground with 20 km of tunnels connecting it to other government buildings.



Laid out before it is a main boulevard explicitly designed to be just a bit bigger than Paris’ Champs-Élysées. Towering over the streets are colossal neoclassical buildings, once meant to be housing for the party elite, now converted into everyday apartments. The monolithic and uniform look of the buildings is countered by the growth of vines and plants on the walls, the individual air conditioning units on the apartment windows, and the presence of decidedly un-communist advertising billboards on the rooftops.




Bucharest is an awesome city- it’s got great history and architecture, and a fantastic atmosphere to it. We were sad to leave, yet there were further environs to explore- after three days in the city, we boarded a bus and continued our journey south into Bulgaria.



Greetings from the Bureau of Exploration. This is an aside from our series of reports on European expeditions over the last year, returning to the US briefly in the state of California. You might not at first imagine that there’s a ghost town in the developed, crowded Bay Area, but strangely enough there is. Sinking into a marsh in the bay wetlands is the town of Drawbridge, CA.


To get over the water to the town, one must walk atop a railway dike for a few kilometers. It’s technically trespassing and trains come occasionally, but we didn’t run into trouble. On a map it’s very close to the dense cityscapes of the Bay, but it feels a very long way from civilization.


The plants growing in the marsh feel like millions of little reddish-brown fingers gently grasping at our shoes.



The hazy golden atmosphere, the warm Californian sun, the gentle sound of the tidewater slowly moving in or out of the wetlands give this place a strangely sleepy air.





One of the weird things we stumble across in this place is this little shrine. A bust that kinda looks like Einstein, a doll  head with a railway spike through it, candles, an illuminati eye, and what I’m pretty sure is a bust of Aristotle that shows up in a lot of       VAPORWAVE videos? We ducked behind as an AMTRAK passed by.



Most of the buildings are half-consumed by the mud or filled in by murky pools. We stumble across a few by surprise which were more sunken than the others, hidden by the tall marsh grasses.



Eventually the marsh yields, coming out to horizon-spanning tide pools.



My fellow travelers and I stood at the banks of the Eibsee, surrounded by thick forest, far below the soaring peaks of the Wetterstein mountains in southern Germany. A few hours ago we’d been on a train traveling through rolling countryside- now, all of a sudden, we found ourselves deep in the Alps.



We spent a long time relaxing on the shore, taking in the spectacular atmosphere of water, forest, and alpine rock faces. At some point we dove into the water and embarked on an expedition to one of the nearby islands- absolutely freezing, but worth it! During the swim, we ran a timelapse of the clouds hitting the mountain.


High above the lake with its peak shrouded in clouds we could see the Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in Germany. A train runs from the nearby town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen up the mountain, allowing us to venture to the summit.


Life amongst the clouds!

The view from the top of the Zugspitze is nothing short of otherworldly. Vertical rock faces suddenly drop off to reveal an endless expanse of mountains stretching out in every direction, and the heights are such that it almost feels like you can see the curvature of the Earth between clouds. People walk around casually atop windy platforms and jagged outcroppings, behind them the most surreal background imaginable.

It’s always seemed to me that the clouds are like the surface of an ocean, and that coming up above them is like emerging from deep underwater to encounter some strange new world. It’s so bizarre and awesome to see something which is always up in the sky above your head, all of a sudden below your feet!


Deep valleys and lush forests stretch out far below to the north, dotted with lakes and towns. To the south are the Alps, rock and snow and sky all the way to the horizon.





The Bureau of Exploration is an inextricable knot of interlocking and overlapping departments, sub-committees, and task forces that is so extraordinarily complex that it is unfathomable to even our most senior staff members. This confusion keeps increasing as the Bureau metastasizes constantly, with ever-more new departments being formed, expanded, or rediscovered in old paperwork.

It is in this spirit of exponential growth that I am pleased to announce the creation of the Bureau Overseas Exploration Division: European Branch, which shall lead all expeditions in Europe. Furthermore, in this report I am happy to introduce a sub-group within this new Division: the Alpine Exploration League! Its first journey: to Hallstatt, Austria!



Being in the region for two days, my fellow operatives and I were lucky enough to behold the surreally beautiful Hallstätter See and the surrounding mountains in two very different kinds of weather. When we arrived, the sun was beaming- a gorgeous day perfect for hiking and exploration!


We made our way through forests toward sharply-rising cliffsides. As we grew closer the cliff walls became vast and ominous, with caves hidden in the rock and waterfalls cascading down from above.



We awoke the next day to find the mountains wreathed in clouds, creating an entirely different atmosphere. I loved the sunny beauty of the first day, but I think I liked the eerie feel of the second even more.





Later in the day we finished off our survey of the region at the Gosausee, another lake surrounded by even steeper mountains. High above us the fog churned, spires of rock fading in and out of view.


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The final image was taken and edited by fellow operative Kimberly Luo- many thanks!