Day 21: Vladivostok, Russia

by - June 30, 2011

End of the line - Vladivostok Station
We were woken up on the train at around 6am and as we pulled into Vladivostok station we were able to see the sun beginning to rise over the Pacific.  We bid farewell to the Vladivostok Youth Football Team and went to find our hotel - the Primyore Hotel, which thankfully was only a two minute walk from the station.  Getting there at 6.30am, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to get into our room, but we dropped our bags off and were able to grab a bit for breakfast.  As we entered the dining room we were met by two completely drunk locals who must have been there all night.  The invited us to sit with them and if there is one thing we have learned on this trip, it is that it is impossible to shake off a drunk and friendly Russian.  We ate the buffet breakfast and were treated to a beer by our new found friends.  It turned out that one of them was a bit of a high flyer in a Moscow based energy company (or so he said), so we didn’t feel too guilty about making the most of their generosity.

After this most bizarre of breakfasts we decided to go out and explore the city a bit.  We knew in advance that 90% of the charm of Vladivostok is its place at the end of the Trans Siberian railway line - it doesn’t have many actual sights in all honesty.  The most impressive sight in the city, if it can be classed as an attraction, is Russia’s Pacific Naval Fleet, which is kept in the bay.  To get a view of this, we climbed up the highest hill in the city - the Eagle’s Nest, to look down.  The harbour is dominated by the huge footprint of a suspension bridge that is under construction.  The city appears to be undergoing a major facelift- there is building work going on everywhere and apparently President Medvedev was here yesterday.  It seemed that we had turned up a few years early - because judging by the scale of construction, the city is going to be quite impressive when everything has been finished.

View from the Eagles Nest (notice the suspension bridge)

Guns overlooking the harbour
On our journey from Irkutsk we had meticulously planned our day in Vladivostok, but on arrival we ended up massively ahead of schedule, to the point that we had to sit on the beach at 9am for an hour to wait for the museums to open.  Our guidebook was pretty out of date in terms of prices (take note, potential Russia visitors - prices have gone up by at least double), so getting into the two museums we wanted to see ended up messing up our budget a little bit.  We started in the Vladivostok Fortress Museum, which was full of all sorts of war memorabilia.  Crucially, there were a lot of English captions and this meant that we were able to take a lot longer walking around and taking it in.  The fortress was a key strategic point, overlooking the Pacific and guarding the fleet and the museum was well worth a visit - in a city where there isn’t much else going on.

Cramped fish (don’t ask me what it is)
Our next stop had been recommended to us by Sergey on the train and was of particular interest to Marine Biologist Alex.  Its position on the Pacific Ocean gives Vladivostok a range of marine biology that is fairly unique to Russia and the Oceanarium has recently received a massive facelift.  Frankly I wasn’t hugely interested in going in, but it was well worth it - even if the conditions in the tanks were probably fairly debatable for some of the larger animals.  We managed to time our entrance pretty badly - coinciding with a school group, so after about half an hour we decided to slowly amble back to our hotel for our much anticipated swim in the pool.  Having checked into our room and had a sweet, sweet shower, we found out (much to our horror) that the pool that had been advertised on the website didn’t actually seem to exist.  This was a massive blow, but I guess the idea of the pool had got us through the more depressing bits of our train journey.  We contented ourselves with the boost that the shower had given us and then sat around in our comfortable hotel room for the early afternoon.

Vladivostok city
We had pretty much seen all that we wanted to see and our only remaining task was to find some souvenirs.  This wasn’t quite as easy as we had hoped, due to the relatively low numbers of tourists who visit the city, and required a fair bit of asking around.  Eventually we found a little shop that sold relatively cheap Russian dolls so we stocked up a bit.  Russian dolls are some of the most expensive items that we had come across, so we settled on the tiniest ones that seemed to be genuinely handmade.  With souvenirs in hand, we went for one last stroll through the city, past the docks and the main square until we got to our hotel where we had our dinner at the attached restaurant.  As a standalone city Vladivostok certainly isn’t worth visiting, but its position at the end of the Trans Siberian Railway and the fact that any self respecting traveller only visits on their way from or to Moscow, makes a visit to the city something of a badge of respect.  At least in my humble opinion.

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