Dangerous Culture

12 Places You Will Never Set Eyes On

No, these forbidden places are strictly off limits to your, or anyone else’s, physical presence or prying eyes. There is no Lonely Planet or Frommer’s Guide to these places. These are simply places you will never set eyes on.

Coca Cola Recipe Vault

The Real Thing is locked away, heavily guarded and out of sight to the general public in a purpose-built vault in Atlanta, Georgia. Well, the recipe is, anyway. In December 2011, the recipe was retrieved from its original vault at SunTrust Bank and, under high security, was transferred to its new home, a high-security vault at the company’s World of Coca- Cola exhibition. No one knows for sure if the recipe is scribbled on a simple scrap of paper or in John Pemberton’s favorite recipe book. Either way, it is stored in a metal box, which in turn is housed inside a two-meter (6.6-ft) high steel vault. This vault is never opened, and is protected by a barrier that keeps the viewing public several meters away. The area is kept under surveillance with armed guards, while the door is shut and can only be opened through a keypad and a hand-imprint scanner. Needless to say, you will never see the inside of that vault or its contents.

RAF Menwith Hill

This British military base located near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, is the largest electronic monitoring station in the world. It was originally intended to monitor communications going in or coming out of the now defunct Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries. Today, with the Cold War over, its facilities are being put to other uses. Although its mission is to provide intelligence support for the U.S., the U.K. and “allied interests,” a very broad mandate, and as such is super secret, there is evidence that it has been involved in drone attacks, industrial espionage, wide-scale espionage on the general worldwide population through ECHELON, and, most recently, intercepting the then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s encrypted telephone calls during the 2009 G-20 London Summit. A real doozy you’ll never visit.

Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center

The 1974 fatal plane accident of TWA flight 514 that left all 92 passengers and crew dead was a tragic event, but it exposed the existence of Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, which was hitherto unknown to the public. The operations center, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, is a major relocation site for the highest level of civilian and military officials in case of national disaster, playing a major role in U.S. continuity of government. In other words, it’s where the least deserving to survive will go for shelter in case of a catastrophe, nuclear or what have you. And you, the taxpayer, the most deserving, will never tour its facilities.

Ise Grand Shrine

The holiest of shrines for followers of the Shinto religion is the Ise Grand Shrine, located in Ise, Japan, in Mie prefecture. It is dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu-ōmikami, the sun goddess and ancestor of the emperors of Japan. The 4th-century BCE temple is actually a complex of 123 shrines nestled among natural formations, such as rocks, waterfalls, caves, forests and mountains typical of this naturalistic religion. The temple is torn down and rebuilt every 20 years symbolizing Shintoism’s belief in death and rebirth. The farthest anyone can go in is up to the gates where they can pray and admire the splendor of the temples, but after washing their hands and mouth from the ritual pool. Only a priest or priestess member of the imperial family can go inside, leaving the rest of humanity outside at the gate genuflecting.

Room 39

Even North Korea’s top government officials know they can’t make a living in the public sector. However, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has an ultra-secret scheme to help him plan for retirement though; it’s called Room 39. The elusive “room,” however, is not Kim’s brainchild. It was established in the late 1970s by his father, the equally megalomaniacal Kim Jong-il as a means to securing a hefty personal income. It has been described as the lynchpin of the North’s so-called “court economy” centered on providing a slush fund for the dynastic Kim family. This shadowy “organization” reportedly reaps profits by using 10 to 20 bank accounts in China and Switzerland for counterfeiting, money laundering, drug smuggling and arms trade. Room 39 has 120 foreign trade companies under its jurisdiction and is under the direct control of Kim Jong-un. North Korea is not a top tourist destination, but even if you did manage to get there, this is one spot way out of your tour.

Area 51

The first thing a visitor would see when approaching Area 51, the U.S. Government’s top secret military base for developing and testing experimental aircraft and weapons, is a sign that reads: “Restricted area. No trespassing beyond this point. Photography is prohibited.” And in smaller print it says that “deadly force can be used” if you enter Area 51. After that, you know your vacation has been ruined. The base is famed for supposed UFO occurrences and conspiracy theories, which is bizarre since it’s supposedly a top-secret facility, so much so that the government even denies its existence. Luckily, tourists who attempt to visit the base and are greeted by whizzing bullets can always turn back and head to Las Vegas 83 miles away.

White’s Gentlemen’s Club

Number 37 St. James Street in London has seen lots of history go down. In fact, White’s Gentlemen’s Club, the venerable establishment situated at that address, was probably a participant in many historical events, albeit discreetly. The oldest and most exclusive gentlemen’s club in London has a rich history, sometimes clouded in controversy, sometimes racy and raffish, but no doubt always interesting. What began as teahouse serving the newly discovered chocolate in 1693, became the private and exclusive playground for the British aristocracy and political class, where bets were made and deals were cut. Among its old members are the Duke of Wellington, the Regency dandy Beau Brummell, George IV, William IV, Edward VII and Winston Churchill’s son, Randolph. Prince Charles is a member and held his Bollinger champagne-fuelled stag night at the club before his wedding to Lady Diana Spencer. Women, however, are still excluded from the club, and probably most mortals.

Moscow Metro-2

Unsurprisingly, the Soviets also planned ahead for a possible nuclear catastrophe. Metro-2 in Moscow, Russia, is a secret, or not so secret, metro system that parallels the public Moscow Metro, but is larger, exceeding that of the normal metro system, and lying deep underground at 50 to 200 meters deep with only 4 lines. Built during the halcyon Stalin days, it was codenamed D-6 by the KGB. There has been much speculation in the last 2 decades as to the existence of Metro-2, but reports from Russian journalists, high government officials, and metro authorities have essentially lain all doubt to rest, not to mention that the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) or the Moscow Metro administration neither confirm nor deny its existence. The secret metro lines connect key government buildings such as the Kremlin with the FSB headquarters, the government airport at Vnukovo-2, an underground town at Ramenki, and other locations of national importance, and house ample living space for politicians and their families. Now all you have to do is find the entrance to the tunnels on your next trip to Moscow.

Club 33

Club 33 is the American version of White’s in London with less history, zero class and in a cheesier setting. It is an exclusive club, but admits women. It is geared more to the corporate environment, which is evident from the exorbitant fees: $40,000 for corporate members, $27,000 for individual memberships, not including $11,000 in annual dues; but they do come with a parking spot. Contrary to popular belief, Disneyland does have a full liquor license which is used when the place closes down to the general public to accommodate private parties. But if you want the VIP treatment and the partying that goes along with it, then you’d have to head to “33 Royal Street” in the heart of the New Orleans Square section of Disneyland. Just remember, apart from the membership fees, there is a 14-year waiting list, so even if you are a fat cat, chances are you’ll be licking your paws at the door.

The Vatican Secret Archives

The Vatican’s Secret Archives are inaccessible; the actual place, that is, but if you’re an accredited researcher, you can view any document you like. The Archives preserve documents that go as far back as the 8th century and its shelves stretch a mind-boggling 85 kilometers (53 miles) holding treasures such as Henry VIII of England’s petitions for divorce from Catherine of Aragon; documents relating to the trial of Galileo in 1633 on charges of heresy; letters from Michelangelo regarding late payments for his work; a 1521 bull of excommunication of Martin Luther and a letter from Mary, Queen of Scots, written while awaiting her execution. After two thousand years of history, you would have such things. The only documents you can’t access are those that are not yet 75 years old (in order to protect diplomatic and governmental information). Indexes are available for people who want to see if a document exists in the archives, but your presence is neither required nor wanted.

Mezhgorye (Mount Yamantaw)

Like its American cousins, totally out of anybody’s itinerary. Founded in 1979, Mezhgorye is a closed military town in Russia that houses staff working on the highly secret Mount Yamantaw, believed to be a nuclear bunker or facility. Mount Yamantaw itself is impressive, standing at 1,640 metres (5,381 ft), the highest mountain in the southern Urals. American spy satellites have picked up images of large excavation projects as recently as the late 1990s, during the time of Boris Yeltsin’s pro-Western government, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Two garrisons, Beloretsk-15 and Beloretsk-16, were built on top of the facility. Replying to American questions on the activity spotted on the mountain, the Russians have given a whole slew of answers including that it is a mining site, a repository for Russian treasures, a food storage area, and a bunker for leaders in case of nuclear war. And like the American nuclear facilities, you won’t be able to visit it.

Ilha da Queimada Grande (Snake Island)

The sole inhabitants of this 430,000-square-metre (43-hectare) island off the coast of the state of São Paulo, Brazil are, at the last count, 5,000 Golden Lancehead Viper (Bothrops insularis); at once, one of the most venomous snakes in the world and a species in danger of extinction since it has no other habitat. The Brazilian navy keeps intruders away from this pristine island, especially as the only human ever to inhabit the place, the lighthouse keeper, reportedly fled the island with his family as they were being attacked by the ophidians. Only a handful of researchers get permission to visit the island.