Vladivostok—the other side of Russia

The main thing that Russians know about Vladivostok is that it is far away. Incredibly far away: 10,000 kilometers by car, 7 hours by airplane, or 7 days by train. At the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway, they encounter a train station that was built at the beginning of the 20th century and almost identical to one of the train stations in Moscow. Vladivostok, spectacularly sprawled out over hills and secluded bays, is the other side of Russia—Russia’s gateway to the Pacific Ocean.
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In the past, the masters of the Ussuri land were the nomadic Manchu people, whose descendants went on to form the Qing dynasty that ruled China during the 17th-19th centuries. This was the periphery of the Qing dynasty’s territory, and, in the 1850s, China conceded its rights to the lands beyond the Amur and Ussuri Rivers to Russia. Governor Nikolay Muravyov, while inspecting the new lands, found a certain bay on the shore of the Sea of Japan to be so cozy that he exclaimed «we shall own the East from here!» The Chinese called this bay Haishenwai («Trepang Bay»), whereas the Russians named it the Golden Horn. The nearby strait became the Eastern Bosporus, and they started to build a
city on the shores.

At first, Vladivostok remained a small paramilitary port. People arrived here from Russia via Odessa (at that time, Odessa was part of the Russian Empire), a fact that is brought to mind today by the abundance of Ukrainian surnames. The construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway spurred an economic boom and five-fold population growth over several years. This boom period is recalled in the magnificent colonial 19-20th century architecture on the city’s
central streets—Svetlanskaya Street, Aleutskaya Street, and Okeansky Prospekt. The most luxurious homes are associated with the names of German merchants, from whom Yul Brynner—who went on to become a Hollywood star—descended. The Americans and Poles did not fall too far behind the Germans, and therefore you notice the steeples of Lutheran and Catholic churches in the city’s landscape.
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Small and medium-sized businesses of Urajio (the Japanese name for Vladivostok) were controlled by Japanese living in closed quarters called monnai. Unskilled labor and petty trade were left to the Chinese, who lived in the opium-smelling Millionka, from which originated the bandits who went on to rule China’s destiny during the chaotic 1920s and 1930s. Stalin expelled the Chinese from Vladivostok, but the dark courtyards of Millionka, with little iron bridges on various levels, still create an impression today.
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All of this was guarded by the world’s most powerful fortress, with dozens of forts and batteries on the islands and hills, built after Russia lost the Russo-Japanese War. Today, most of its buildings are abandoned, and only a few of them have become museums. There were no major battles in the history of Vladivostok, but the city is permeated with a naval spirit. Right on the embankment itself you can see the formidable ships of the Russian Pacific Fleet.
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The giant cable-stayed bridges built for the 2012 APEC summit have become a new symbol of Vladivostok. The golden bridge across the Golden Horn hangs over the center of the city, and the largest bridge of its class in the world—Russky Most (Russian Bridge)—leads to Russky Island. For the past one hundred years, the island was a military base, but now it is known as the location of Far Eastern University’s campus.
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Further along, there is a whole archipelago of inhabited and uninhabited islands with pristine beaches and dense forests.

The exotic nature of the Ussuri land comes within a hair’s breadth of Vladivostok. The Ussuri land’s most important explorer was scientist and writer Vladimir Arsenyev, author of the novel Dersu Uzala, which Akira Kurosowa later adapted into a film. Vladivostok’s city museum, one of the largest and most modern in Russia, bears Arsenyev’s name.
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Siberia meets Indo-China in the Ussuri taiga, where birches are entwined by liana vines, and tigers, leopards, and Himalayan black bears can be found. You can see these Ussuri creatures at the Safari Park in Shkotovo, and if you want to get acquainted with the Sea of Japan’s fauna, it’s worth making a trip to Primorsky Oceanarium on Russky Island—and to the city’s numerous restaurants. Chinese cuisine is no less popular among Vladivostok’s residents and many people go to China and South Korea for shopping. Moreover, the local motorists prefer used cars from Japan with their steering wheels on the right side. Located at the same latitude as the Caucasus and the same longitude as Kolyma, «Vladik» looks towards the rising sun of Asia.
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Related trips
Transsib Moscow - Vladivostok
Transsib Moscow - Vladivostok
  • 16 days
  • 2500 €
  • all the year

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