Hello Vladivostok! My friend met me with a flower, such a treat! After a flight which felt like being on a bus as it made several stops on its way from Irkutsk to Vladivostok, Ulan-Ude being its first one. We flew over China twice: before its second stop in Blagoveshchensk and after. It felt so weird to be travelling alone and not to have any more trains to take. Travelling by plane and covering over a thousand kilometers in a couple of hours seemed almost unnatural!
Walking along the embankment or should I say the shore of the Japanese Sea later that day and listening to a street musician playing a bagpipe I was wondering whether I was in China after all? Or in Thailand? Never seen either of them but it felt like I was truly in Asia.
My eager eye spotted the decadence and rejoiced at seeing these authentic courtyards which used to be quite a dangerous area and now is mostly occupied by various hippy-artsy places:
Since its foundation as a outpost in 1860 Vladivostok (‘own the East’ in Russian) has been a melting pot of nations and interests. This district in particular – still called Millionka (either from the ironical ‘Millionaires’ or Million People) – was the local China town with gangsters and smugglers and spies and whatnot. It became a real city within a city but then the Soviets came and cleared the place out in the 1930s.
Evening view over the city from one of its numerous sopka (volcano, hills). The new districts seem to climb to the top of the hills, the view from there should be amazing, I suppose. Next morning we set off on our way to the Russky Island – across the Zolotoy Bridge – and thus spotted more breathtaking views over the Golden Horn Bay (Zolotoy Rog):
Then we crossed another impressive bridge called Russky bridge and got to the Russky Island which is located … “9,334 kilometres east of Moscow” according to Wikipedia. That was amazing. I thank my friends who took me there regardless of the distance. I guess those Far Eastern girls just don’t mind those kilometers of walking at all.
Apart from being quite a challenge in trying to reach one of its capes, Tobizin Cape, through mud and over the cliffs, this island offered to me an insight into the unbelievably different nature of the Far East. It IS different there on the island, no birch trees by the way, which seemed to accompany us all throughout the trip.
My mind was trying to find a reference, something to compare the sight in front of me with. But it failed! The closest at times was the Mediterranean but the rest, especially with those long capes and gulfs and volcanic rocks and the horizon. I was swept off my feet! The eye would just fail to encompass it all.
Nature is generous on dimensions there. The Japanese Sea and the Ocean:
and then… there was all of a sudden this mist, at first just drawing a curtain over the sun:
People were seemingly unabashed by that change in the weather. They kept jumping off the cliff (I preferred not to look at them but still I could hear them) and swimming. It’s a pity I didn’t as I thought we would find a less rocky beach since there were quite a few of them around… Meanwhile the mist was stubbornly making its way to the city, enveloping everything in its white blanket:
It wasn’t cold at first so we just walked back to catch the bus (which we missed), stopping here and there to admire the Nature:
White poppies and thyme of the Far East:
And that was when people started gradually getting out of the island which inevitably created traffic jams on the only road leading to the only bridge connecting the island with the mainland Vladivostok. We hitchhiked a part of our way on some weird mini-bus full of quasi-military guys (we thought they were either soldiers or some military-style game addicts?) who ate the rest of the very tasty home-made cake 🙂 We thus got to the vast-vast campus of the DVFU or FEFU (Far Eastern Federal University) which looks more like a city and contributes to the population growth on the island:
They built all the monster buildings there on the ex-military school territory for the 2012 APEC Summit (as well as those two impressive bridges) and later they got revamped into the campus for the recently united three local universities. It’s enormous, there’s a bus circulating on its territory which we took for a quick excursion… and in that mist which was chasing us out of the island the campus in the middle of nowhere looked even less credible. One of the university alumni is Russian singer Ilya Lagutenko and he was scheduled to perform later that day in a concert on the main square. We got there on time but the mist was so thick and cold and damp by then that we failed to wait any longer and went home to warm up our bones. And sample some cooked bracken!
Next day I went around Vladivostok on my own. I started my journey from walking to the Tokarevskaya Koshka lighthouse, one of the oldest in the country. It’s located on this narrow man-made patch (called koshka) which is washed by the waves from both sides and which disappears with the tide. It felt very… special being there all alone in the early morning, breathing in the ocean and observing the boats passing by. They say that this is the spot to meet the beginning of the day – it seems like the day on this planet starts somewhere over there!
Then I got on the bus (and here I should say that Vladivostok buses are the most outrageously kitsch-decorated buses I’ve ever seen – inside, not outside) and first visited the Vladivostok railway station. I already felt nostalgia when I looked at all the trains and people going places. The building is in neo-Russian style and has these beautiful ceramic tiles:
Walking in the city I – as always – mostly paid attention to the remnants of the bygone era. Loved this tiny Pharmacy on the corner:
This is Vladivostok:
Quite a mixture, isn’t it? The city is also quite rich in various types of street art, particularly paintings on the walls. Well, birds are abundantly present too 🙂
The only museum I visited in the city was the Arsenyev Museum called after Vladimir Arsenyev who spent his life in relentless expeditions all across the Far East and wrote books about the region.
I liked the museum (and the building!) – it was small enough not to get tired and some halls in particular impressed me with their curious ideas of how to display the exhibits. For instance, they had a huge shelve stand with a specific object representing this or that merchant / trade in the city’s history. And this is what you do when you have far too many books:
They do not need any extra filters there with this mirror:
I walked along the most central of the streets of Vladivostok, Svetlanskaya. As you can imagine, I was quite happy to see the street lined with Art-Nouveau buildings as well as decadent Soviet creations. Loved this mirror and the staircase in the local GUM (central department store):
Walking away from the center and then turning right to the embankment, I saw this submarine turned into museum. Remembering that sheer fright I felt inside the submarine in Kaliningrad, I avoided going inside 🙂
Zolotoy (Golden) Bridge looking pretty… silver:
I entered the port area and thoroughly enjoyed those red-brick workshops with layers upon layers of time periods on them:
My friend suggested going up to see the Gothic-style Catholic church which I did – though I spent quite some time trying to get round all those courtyards and winding parking lots (roads?) leading towards the church. The church itself didn’t impress me as much as the view from up there, revealing even more layers of time:
Vertical layers too:
Later that day I thought how weird it was that people living in the easternmost part of my country would go to sleep at the same time as their friends at the other end of it would be at work. And then when you wake up – your friends are still awake on that other side… SEVEN hours, seven time zones!
My last day in Vladivostok was a lazy day with even more mist, stifling dampness and drizzling rain. First I went out of the city to visit the Botanical Gardens. There I walked in the woods and admired more of that nature (see red fish in the bottom left corner of the picture above?) so strikingly different and yet so near. Then I bought some LPs for my Mother at a store called Kontrabanda (Vladivostok was always famous for it being too close to the capitalist world where they have jeans, Beatles, short skirts and long hair) and as a parting gift enjoyed a tea ceremony at home 🙂 Early next morning it was time to say goodbye – both to the city and the journey.
walking along the embankment and people / sunset / sunrise watching
Tokarevskaya Koshka lighthouse (preferable before the tide:)
Millionka district, the local (ex-)China town
Arsenyev Primorye Museum
send old-school postcards with Millionka to your friends on the other side of the world
MISTS (June-July is the season)
Russky Island and other wonderful natural places away from the city
the Ocean, the port and the bridges
Vladivostok in a few words: Hills, ocean and layers of time that are recent enough to be visible and yet old enough to spark an interest. In some ways Vladivostok is pretty close to St Petersburg actually! Equally an ‘artificial’ city built to both defend from and be a window to the world. But just on the other side of the country 🙂 And although the city failed to keep my enthusiasm going for 4 days, I would like to come back.
This post goes to my On Russia and Travel series.