Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A day in Vladivostok.

Vladivostok is a city I had heard of many times in the past – stories of the Russo-Japanese war; stories of the Trans-Siberian railway. Always very distant. Very exotic. Not sure I ever thought I would be here, and so when I realized it was included in this cruise itinerary I was very excited. Also, as you all know, Vladivostok is totally famous as the birthplace of which movie star…………?

Vladivostok is situated on the shores of Golden Horn Bay on the Pacific Ocean adjacent to North Korea and China and across the sea from Japan – a geopolitical tinder-box. There was much talk of the inroads being made into the region by Chinese illegal immigrants (who now number in the hundreds of thousands) and the distance from Moscow – over 5750 miles. It was originally a fishing village but developed over time as a trading port then a naval base and finally as the HQ of the Russian Pacific Fleet. It was a closed city because of its strategic importance from 1932 to 1992 when it opened to tourists

We arrived this morning at 4am, docking at the Vladivostok (Cyrillic alphabet, folks) Marine Terminal (Morskoy Vokzal – transliterated for you),

and that appears to have given plenty of time for Russian Immigration to stamp all our passports, and for the crew to have them delivered to our cabins by 7.30am so we could be on our beautifully appointed bus by 7.45am.

It was a clear sunny day here as we started our morning tour of some of the important sights.
First stop was the Church of the Ascension – our guide, Nikita – first thought we wouldn’t be able to enter but we could (no photography though).

Like many other religious sites this church was essentially destroyed during the Communist era (in 1935 or so) but has been reconstructed and has an active community. The Altar place was beautiful with multiple gold icons and ornate gold icons were located on the wall all around the church.

Across the street was the scientific museum of the Far Eastern Federation University – which was established in 1899. They had a variety of exhibits but a few that caught our photographers fancy were:-
the stuffed critters that used to roam this part of the world – like these tigers;

also a variety of fetuses – in bottles – see the bear, now see the unborn; see the fish, now the pre-fish (a bit unsettling but very determined); 

then there was an exhibit of how people lived here in the past – from Neolithic times through more modern. The sewing kit, playthings and household goods got most attention it seems.

Niki, see that our Samovar in the basement is kept safe – it certainly was in better condition than theirs!!

They also had an exhibit of regional scenic photographs and older photographic equipment

Czar Nicholas II visited Vladivostok by train so he is much honored and commemorated – here as founder of the University

From this stop we drove to the Eagles Nest Viewpoint – overlooking Golden Horn Bay. A huge bridge is under construction across the bay – supposed to be done by 2012 (though Nikita had his doubts)

A cute tradition – the locks placed on the steel barrier fence by newly married couples – symbolizes everlasting love they said – a cynical few had other ideas about the symbolism.

The statue commemorates the saints who delivered the Cyrillic alphabet to the region
Requisite Souvenir shopping

In the bay we could see our cruise ship as well as Russian Naval vessels including a Hospital Ship and a visiting US Navy Destroyer. The town was overwhelmed with shopping US Navy personnel and cruiseship civilians all competing over the somewhat meager pickings.

We then moved on to the Central Square built in 1960 to commemorate the city’s 100th anniversary. The Central Square has statues commemorating victory in the Civil War post-Bolshevik Revolution.

Across the street is a busy shopping area so we went to the Department store GUM where Navy and civilians could pick over the souvenir selection. 

Apparently Vladivostok has developed a highly regarded chocolate industry – Merle bought up all the bars they had; I smoothed things over by chatting with Chad and his crew buddies.

Our last visit of the tour was to an area commemorating the Russian Pacific fleets contribution to WWII. A submarine of that era has been turned into a museum and you can walk through it;

There is a Church of St Andrew – patron saint of the Russian Navy – you can see the white flag with the blue cross all over the city

Also a triumphal arch celebrating Czar Nicholas II’s visit here. Its not the original arch – that was destroyed by the Communists – but is a faithful replica (they say).

Ladies were selling their craft work from tables along the pathway – the beaders in folk dress caught the eye of you-know-who

Back at the dock we had to see two critically important and renowned sites – first the Trans Siberian Railway Terminus. I was soooo excited. I looove trains. The line was constructed between 1880 and 1900. Its 5778 miles long and this is the Pacific end of the line. The terminal is decorated with green porcelain tiles and is a very evocative building with murals on the ceiling and some walls and a departures board announcing the train to Moscow at 7.20pm tonight. So Cool.

The second critical stop was to see – yes you clever ones - Yul Brynner’s Birthplace. 

Great story. His father, Jules Bryner hailed from Switzerland. At 14 he went to sea to make his fortune. He learned marine trading after he left the ship in Shanghai, then Yokohama and finally here in Vladivostok where he founded FESCO ( Far Eastern Shipping Company which still exists today) and developed mining and timber businesses to fill ships holds with for their return. Jules had two families – one in Yokohama (who are still there) and another here in Vladivostok.
He had a son Boris – who married actresses, studied as a mining engineer, fathered the soon-to-be famous Yul and split the coop.
Yul had hard times with Mum so left for Paris where he was a trapeze artist and gypsy singer. Finally making it to the Big Apple at the outbreak of WW II where he became bald and famous as the King in the King and I.
His son, Rock has written the family saga. Apparently a must-read folks.
Anyway we couldn’t find the house (though as you see its pretty big); went to FESCO offices and a lovely English-speaking lady walked us to the plaque and the front door. “thank you Tatyana Petrova!”
Notably in this city is the amount of busy work going on everywhere. The sidewalks are being ripped up, cable placed, concrete poured and, no worries - you take your chances; walk in the street; no barriers to protect you. 

Car traffic is a nightmare - this intersection was not atypical.

and all the while the elderly stay busy cleaning up the detritus of the day!!

Now back on the ship and getting ready to head out for South Korea. Amazed to see the town has turned out to say farewell – just like the old days of romantic sea cruising

Some of the passengers get patriotic

and the officials finally leave and allow us to do the same

1 comment:

  1. did the officials hold court all day? I love the sound of vladivlasok... it is lyrical.