I arrived in Vladivostok last night: I was expecting to see the Pacific coming in from the left (i.e. the East) of the train, but in fact the first salt water appeared to the West in the form of Amur Bay. All along the Bay there were people on the beach, enjoying the beautiful evening.
I hadn’t appreciated the degree to which Vladivostok sits at the end of an extended “finger” into China – the train basically goes due South for the last few hundred klicks, with the Chinese border only 10km to the West at some points. In the old days this journey would only occur at night to keep prying eyes from sensitive areas – given that they shared the same colour (red) we tend to think China and the USSR were bosom buddies – not a bit of it.
All the guides are full of the idea that Vladivostok is like San Francisco: yeh yeh, I thought. Wow, how I was wrong. In line with the general (and now thoroughly disabused) notion that Russia is gently decaying, I had this image of Vladivostok as yesterday’s naval port, almost waiting to be taken back by the Chinese (they only lost it in the nineteenth century). Well, it’s thriving: I did see the odd rusting naval vessel, but I saw plenty that weren’t, bristling with all sorts of wizardry (you’ll appreciate no photographs were taken: I have no wish to see the inside of a Russian police station).
It really reminds me of San Francisco, without the coffee (sadly). On my (now customary) walkabout, both the architecture and the roads seemingly sprayed up rolling hillsides speak of San Fran, and even the predilection for muscular 4×4 pickups is the same: they have a real fondness for imported Japanese right hand drive cars, which jars a bit.
Even the climate is similar: early 20s, a light Pacific breeze etc. OK, if you venture up from the centre you will come across a soviet apartment block which would never do Stateside, and the heroic monuments both to the “heroes” (i.e. victors) of the Russian civil war (the town was the last finally to submit to Bolshevik rule in 1922) and the drowned merchantmen of the Great Patriotic War would sit ill with the US West Coast cool. A great place to visit.