On the road (in Russia) again

The Church of St Prince Igor of Chernigov.
Gisborne travellers Sue and Phil Newdick setting off on their next adventure.
Vladivostok
Vladivostok
Vladivostok
Vladivostok
Wilhelm, the Russian sailor, was a wonderful ambassador.
A sculpture of Red Army soldier in the central square holding flying banner in the right hand and combat trumpet, which announced the victorious revolution of 1917.
Amusement park from the waterfront promenade.
Zolotoy Bridge Vladivostok and monument to merchant fleet seafarers who perished in WW2.
The monument to the ‘Heroes of the Russian-Japanese War from grateful descendants’. 
Statue of the Soviet sailor who came back from an overseas tour.
Vladivostok

A LAST minute “visa declined” reply from the Chinese Embassy forced Gisborne travellers Sue and Phil Newdick to radically rethink their travel plans.

We had planned to take the train from Beijing through Manchuria but when our Chinese visas were declined, we decided that starting the Trans-Siberian adventure from Vladivostok was our best option, so plan B became a reality.

We left Gisborne a week later than originally planned after a scramble to reorganise our bookings. We needed to be able to arrive in Russia as close to July 4 as possible to make full use of our 30-day visas.

The flight to Vladivostok from Gisborne with stops, stretched out to 40 odd hours, but travel is about journeys not destinations and sometimes there are compromises to be made.

Another small disadvantage was our time of arrival at 12.35 am. We had anticipated this and asked our hotel to arrange a taxi to meet us (the trip into town was a mere 50 kilometres). All went well — even the fact that we had no local currency to pay the driver was no hassle. We had been unable to find any roubles, not even at the currency exchanges in Hong Kong, so our ever-so-co-operative driver took us to a nearby 24 hour ATM which was able to produce enough of the rare commodity to pay him the very modest fare he requested and a bit extra for his wonderful service.

The name Vladivostok loosely translates as “ruler of the East”. The city is located in the southern extremity of Muravyov-Amursky Peninsula, which is about 30 kilometers long and 12 kilometers wide.

The romance of Vladivostok is in perception — it is the Eastern gateway to Russia. Historically like most of the country east of Moscow, it has been somewhere to send dissidents and rebels. It’s certainly not touristy.

We found the opposite to the common idea that the Russians are unfriendly. We traded smiles with what we saw as friendly faces and while there were a few who would not respond, there were no more than we have met elsewhere in the world.

The streets are clean and tidy and although not as flat as Google would have us believe, quite walkable. There are places where the road maintenance is way overdue and buildings that are way past their use-by date, just like the rest of the world.

Not top of list

Maybe as a destination Vladivostok is not top of the list, but as a part of our journey it was just wonderful. There is not a lot of English spoken there but we have found that language is not as important as a willingness to communicate and the desire to help when necessary is all that is required.

We managed to buy a Russian Sim card for our very “smart phone”. It’s only limit is time — it has a 31-day life, unlimited phone calls, some data and internet and can only be used in Russia. For the princely sum of 500 roubles (about NZ $6), we then had access to all the functions we didn’t think we needed.

The weather in Vladivostok is influenced by the fact that it is on a peninsula. As such it is subject to morning cloud that is really only a sea mist. Our days started cool but by late morning the sun had burnt away most of the cloud and we had warm, fine, sunny weather.

Simple little things made our stay memorable — not the least, Wilhelm, the smartly-dressed young sailor who, when asked if we could take his photo, agreed and fell into conversation with us in quite passable English. We reckon his mum, dad and grandparents would be real proud of this young Russian ambassador.

We left Vladivostok rested and well- provisioned for the first leg of our train trip. The new wheels on our cases made the 1km walk to the station a breeze. Our e-tickets meant we did not even have to go through the actual station or the formalities of security so right on “Moscow” time, we boarded our 1st class carriage bound for Chita, 3095km down the line.

All of Russia’s railway times are based on Moscow time — a bit confusing for first time travellers, but quite practical as the railway passes through five time zones. Moscow time is seven hours behind Vladivostok time and three hours ahead of St Petersburg, so standardising the time actually lessens the confusion. It must work because the Trans-Siberian travels 9300 kilometres just to Moscow and seems to keep very good time.

— To be continued

A LAST minute “visa declined” reply from the Chinese Embassy forced Gisborne travellers Sue and Phil Newdick to radically rethink their travel plans.

We had planned to take the train from Beijing through Manchuria but when our Chinese visas were declined, we decided that starting the Trans-Siberian adventure from Vladivostok was our best option, so plan B became a reality.

We left Gisborne a week later than originally planned after a scramble to reorganise our bookings. We needed to be able to arrive in Russia as close to July 4 as possible to make full use of our 30-day visas.

The flight to Vladivostok from Gisborne with stops, stretched out to 40 odd hours, but travel is about journeys not destinations and sometimes there are compromises to be made.

Another small disadvantage was our time of arrival at 12.35 am. We had anticipated this and asked our hotel to arrange a taxi to meet us (the trip into town was a mere 50 kilometres). All went well — even the fact that we had no local currency to pay the driver was no hassle. We had been unable to find any roubles, not even at the currency exchanges in Hong Kong, so our ever-so-co-operative driver took us to a nearby 24 hour ATM which was able to produce enough of the rare commodity to pay him the very modest fare he requested and a bit extra for his wonderful service.

The name Vladivostok loosely translates as “ruler of the East”. The city is located in the southern extremity of Muravyov-Amursky Peninsula, which is about 30 kilometers long and 12 kilometers wide.

The romance of Vladivostok is in perception — it is the Eastern gateway to Russia. Historically like most of the country east of Moscow, it has been somewhere to send dissidents and rebels. It’s certainly not touristy.

We found the opposite to the common idea that the Russians are unfriendly. We traded smiles with what we saw as friendly faces and while there were a few who would not respond, there were no more than we have met elsewhere in the world.

The streets are clean and tidy and although not as flat as Google would have us believe, quite walkable. There are places where the road maintenance is way overdue and buildings that are way past their use-by date, just like the rest of the world.

Not top of list

Maybe as a destination Vladivostok is not top of the list, but as a part of our journey it was just wonderful. There is not a lot of English spoken there but we have found that language is not as important as a willingness to communicate and the desire to help when necessary is all that is required.

We managed to buy a Russian Sim card for our very “smart phone”. It’s only limit is time — it has a 31-day life, unlimited phone calls, some data and internet and can only be used in Russia. For the princely sum of 500 roubles (about NZ $6), we then had access to all the functions we didn’t think we needed.

The weather in Vladivostok is influenced by the fact that it is on a peninsula. As such it is subject to morning cloud that is really only a sea mist. Our days started cool but by late morning the sun had burnt away most of the cloud and we had warm, fine, sunny weather.

Simple little things made our stay memorable — not the least, Wilhelm, the smartly-dressed young sailor who, when asked if we could take his photo, agreed and fell into conversation with us in quite passable English. We reckon his mum, dad and grandparents would be real proud of this young Russian ambassador.

We left Vladivostok rested and well- provisioned for the first leg of our train trip. The new wheels on our cases made the 1km walk to the station a breeze. Our e-tickets meant we did not even have to go through the actual station or the formalities of security so right on “Moscow” time, we boarded our 1st class carriage bound for Chita, 3095km down the line.

All of Russia’s railway times are based on Moscow time — a bit confusing for first time travellers, but quite practical as the railway passes through five time zones. Moscow time is seven hours behind Vladivostok time and three hours ahead of St Petersburg, so standardising the time actually lessens the confusion. It must work because the Trans-Siberian travels 9300 kilometres just to Moscow and seems to keep very good time.

— To be continued

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Cl/lSI Texas - 3 months ago
Wish the USA could connect to the trans-Siberian railway through Alaska Canada then in Washington State eventually south through Texas . . . it would be a breakthrough. I would like to visit, preferably on a train.

John Macassey - 3 months ago
I drove from Warsaw to Moscow to Orel to Kiev to Odessa in 1971. GREAT trip! So want to go back! So enjoyed reading about your journey from Vladivostok. Will follow it intently. Sounds like you are good travellers too. Enjoy.

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