Mon 8 Jul – day 58 Having arrived in Vladivostok, I was now 9289km from Moscow by rail and at the end of my Trans-Siberian adventure. As I stepped down from a Russian train for the last time on this trip, my Transfer was waiting and holding up a piece of paper with my name on it. Having introduced myself, he just turned and started to walk towards the exit without a word or offer to help with my bags. This seemed to be the norm for Russian taxi drivers, but they still wanted a tip when they dropped you off at your destination!!
Up a very steep flight of steps to the top of the bridge over the tracks and from here I could see what was by now the almost obligatory preserved steam engine. At the end of the bridge as we exited the station was a ‘Welcome to Vladivostok’ sign and it was then a left turn down the ramp to the car park. As the front of the station was also the bus and trolley bus terminal, this meant that the whole area was crowded with people and jammed with cars and buses. The taxi was at the far end of the car park and having loaded all the bags into the boot I had to check which side I had to get in and discovered that this was yet another Japanese import, so right-hand drive. The mixture of left and right hand drive vehicles made driving hazardous to say the least because the drivers tended to only concentrate on what was happening on their side of the vehicle.
At the end of the square opposite the car park was a statue of Lenin pointing towards the east, so in the direction of the USA.
We set off and he eased his way out of the car park and into the rush hour traffic. As he had to almost immediately turn left after the exit, he made his way across the traffic flow, so there was much tooting of horns as he cut up cars to get through. As soon as the traffic lights changed it was every person for themselves as vehicles headed off at speed; he actually made the turn after the lights had changed and traffic was coming from the other direction, which was towards my side of the car, and then he accelerated up the hill. He had to go around the houses to get to the hotel because of the one-way system. Having got my bags I made my way up the steps, got scrutinised by the security man at the entrance and then made my way up yet more steps to the reception. I had to wait a short as lots of people were checking out, but my check in was quickly done and when I asked about internet access, use the business centre the receptionist said.
Up in the tiny lift to the top floor where I had a single room which overlooked the street rather than facing the Golden Horn. Having dumped my bags, I stripped off, pulled back the covers and then laid down. The Lonely Planet guide was correct, the beds were hard and so it was likely to be two uncomfortable nights. I did drop however as I was exhausted after the lack of sleep on the train.
I had over an hour’s sleep then got up and unpacked; I just dumped everything on the floor and then sorted it out before putting clothes away in the drawers. I still felt tired so I had another snooze.
Eventually I got up and had a shower, lots of hot water so I was feeling refreshed; then put clean clothes on and bagged up all my dirty clothes ready to go to the laundry.
The business centre was two floors down and I went on-line to advise everyone where I was and how the trip was progressing.
Once I had finished sending e-mails I packed my day sac and then headed out; it was just a short walk back to the station and then across the bridge over the railway tracks to the Marine Terminal as I needed to locate the ferry office. It was closed for lunch, so I walked out to the seaward side of the Terminal to have a look around and there was a Japanese cruise ship moored up, with the Filipino crew members coming ashore to see if there were any bargains in the shops.
Two frigates were also moored up by the Marine Terminal and when a flag at the masthead fluttered in the breeze, it became clear that the Chinese navy were on a goodwill visit. I took photos of the ships because that was what everyone else was doing and there was a film crew from Chinese television with a reporter talking to camera, so probably a news report. Further up the Golden Horn and in the naval dockyard itself were three more Chinese ships and then a large Russian cruiser painted in a much darker shade of grey that the Chinese vessels. The Russian ship had four rocket launchers on each side and the missiles must have been massive if the size of the silos were anything to go by.
I walked back over the bridge, turned right alongside the tracks before crossing back over on another bridge as I headed for a large square I could see by the waterfront. According to the guidebooks the city had a massive upgrade prior to the 2012 Asian Pacific Economic Conference with a bridge being built across the Golden Horn and another out to Russky Island.
There had obviously been a concert of some sort here recently as the large stage was still in place while workers were dismantling a number of smaller structures. The rather large statute commemorating the ‘Victory of Soviet Power’ dominated the square.
I followed the railway tracks as I walked towards the Golden Horn Bridge and saw that not many trains had come this way recently as the rails were rusty rather than having the bright and shiny finish that came from regular use.
A large 3 mast sailing ship which was probably used by the Russian Navy as a cadet training ship was moored up in the naval dockyard and I had to be very careful where I pointed my camera as there were lots of naval police around and Soviet paranoia about secrets had not gone away.
Across the road from the main gates to the dockyard was a large building which was almost certainly the Russia Pacific Fleet HQ.
A ship that had at some time in the past been used as the Admirals yacht was moored up and its sides had streaks of rust down them; around the waterline marine growth had accumulated so the vessel needed dry-docking and given a good cleaning and repainting otherwise it would become just another symbol of a static and decaying navy.
Inland from the Admirals yacht was the monument to Russian submariners and a WW2 submarine that was being refurbished. Interestingly all the cars parked along this road were Japanese imports, so the sailors preferred foreign cars to those made in Russia!! Adjacent to the submarine was the Russian Orthodox Church with its memorial to all Russian sailors.
A new Hyatt hotel was built close to the bridge and quite frankly it was an ugly building that did absolutely nothing to enhance the waterfront.
Despite the low mist which was spoiling the views it was still very warm and humid and so I decided to head back to the hotel, but via the main shopping street as I needed to buy a nail brush as I had left mine in the hotel at Khabarovsk. Having looked in chemist shops, supermarkets, make up shops and even a hardware store I couldn’t find one anywhere. Back brushes, loofers, all manner of nail files, clippers and scissors, but no nail brushes, so I will have to try again in Japan.
I bought a local map to try and find where the DHL office was located but had no luck and as I only had a few things to send home I will do it when I reached Japan.
Back at the Marine Terminal the ferry office was open and I went inside to enquire what time I had to report for check in. As soon as I spoke the lady behind the desk pointed to the other lady, the English speaker, and she told me that it was three hours before departure. I had great difficulty in getting any replies when I tried to contact the company via their website, so ended up booking with aferry.com which I discovered were based near where I live in South Oxfordshire. They provided excellent service and I had no problem in getting a 1st class berth.
The heat and humidity meant that I was soaked once again, so once I had got back to my room and stripped off I had to wring out my polo short as it was dripping with sweat. My legs were itching as the midges had been active.
Having showered I sorted out the postcards that I had bought in the Marine Terminal and as was usual with Russian postcards 1/3 went straight into the bin.
After a snooze I had yet another shower as my room was roasting and having dressed I went down to the “hip” Italian restaurant on the ground floor – the Lonely Planet guidebook description, not mine. I had a Chicken Caesar, meal pizza, followed by apple pie and ice cream with a cappuccino; the two beers I drank were Japanese.
As I was full and feeling rather tired it was time for bed.
Tue 9 Jul – day 59 Despite the bed being rock hard I must have slept well, or was it just exhaustion? Having risen, showered, tided up my room, got the laundry ready, no paperwork here – strange, I put out the clean my room sign and then went downs in the lift for breakfast. The ‘hip’ Italian restaurant was now the breakfast room, full of guests serving themselves from the all-you-can-eat buffet. There was a lot on offer, but I just had some bread and cheese with strong coffee as I was still fairly full after last nights meal.
Back in my room and the sign plus the laundry has gone – good news.
I walked to the nearest bank but went too far and had to retrace my steps. Having got out the daily maximum in roubles against my debit card, I then changed a large amount into yen; I wondered whether I had been short-changed on the exchange rate, but with my very limited Russian it would have been difficult to complain anyway. A quick calculation in my head worked out that it was about right and one problem was that the exchange rate for the yen was often given as so much per 100¥. Hopefully I had enough yen to get me to Hiroshima and last over the weekend, plus I had reduced my holding of roubles.
It was then onwards to the Marine Terminal to check that the ferry was there, it was. It must have arrived later than scheduled yesterday evening because the Japanese cruise ship had been occupying the same berth.
I then walked to what was the Russian equivalent of the local county hall, a massive tower block and took a picture of it to send to David. His grandfather had owed a building on this site, but it was confiscated during the Russian Revolution; the family had recently received compensation, but a mere pittance compared to its true worth.
I carried on walking up through the city and the comparison between Vladivostok and San Francisco was very apt, as both cities were built on hills by a bay. However the transport infrastructure in Frisco is much better than here. It was onwards and upwards as I was heading for the lookout point at the top of the funicular railway. The walk took me through what could only be described as a very run down council estate – blocks and blocks of tatty flats.
When I arrived by the TV tower and radio aerials I realised that I was high above where I wanted to be, but there was a good view in all directions as the weather was much improved since yesterday.
Having worked out which way I need to go, I headed off down the hill. This area of the city was pretty grim with the blocks of flats crumbling away; some were in the shadow of the hill so looked very dark and dank as the sunlight would never have fallen on them. The roads were pot-holed and there was an air of dereliction and despair everywhere.
I ended up making my way down a footbath through the undergrowth to reach the main road and then it was another slog up the hill to the viewing point. The traffic was rushing by, either heading for the city centre or over the Golden Horn Bridge.
Opposite the bottom station was the Technical University and as it was graduation day everyone was in the best attire with the ladies wearing light green chiffon dresses with a bright green sash over their right shoulder.
The traffic on the lower road was horrendous and as there was no marked crossing I had to take my life in my hands and made a well-timed dash for it.
I walked back to the hotel the long way around, over the hill to the seaward side of the peninsular and then along the coast road before heading back over the hill to my hotel. I passed a park that had a small church in it; most of the churches had been restored in recent years following their neglect during the Soviet period and this was no exception. Next to the church was another war memorial and then a statute of Admiral Stephan Makarov who had been the fleet commander during the Russo-Japanese war.
There was another new Hyatt hotel here and this looked little better than the one on the Golden Horn Bay. They were probably superb inside, but a design more in keeping with the surroundings would have been so much better.
Back in the hotel I had to wring out my polo shirt again, but as the laundry had been returned I had plenty of clean clothes.
Having showered and changed I went down to dinner and had a much smaller meal than yesterday, but drank an extra beer to rehydrate.
Back in my room I set the alarm on my phone so that I will be up on time.
I drifted off to sleep but really needed a soft bed.
Wed 10 Jul – day 60 Just after midnight local time when I was fast asleep in bed my phone rang and it was an international call from aferry.com advising me that the departure time had been brought forward two hours as the Russian navy were going to close the port for warship movements. I gave the lady my thanks, reset the alarm and then went back to sleep.
That was without doubt the worst night’s sleep that I’ve had on this whole trip. The combination of a rock hard bed, an aching shoulder and the incessant noise from the construction works in the street outside meant that I barely slept for more than an hour at a time.
I felt terrible when the alarm sounded at 06:00hrs, but got up and started to pack having charged all the camera batteries overnight. I showered and dressed then walked to the post office and dispatched the last of the cards from Russia. It was already very hot and humid and the time was not yet 07:30hrs.
Back at the hotel I tried to get some money from the ATM, but it refused as it was less than 24 hours since I max’d the card. I should have enough money to pay the bill for the extras that I have had in the hotel, but can put it on the card if necessary.
I just had some bread and cheese washed down with coffee and orange juice for breakfast and then went to the business centre. There no e-mails to answer so I told my sister and Anne at John Allan travel that I was moving on and would be in touch in due course. I sent an e-mail to Yuriy at Real Russia thanking him for making my trip a success and telling him that I would be in touch once I had returned home.
At the checkout I had enough money to pay the bill so that was me almost done in Russia.