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Day 11 - Vladivostok
The last uncomfortable night on the train. You know, you really do yearn for a bed and some proper sheets after a week without them. And the "sofa" is quite uncomfortable after all this time. The sheets and blanket get all disorganised and confused and your feet get wrapped up like being mummified - and then you get thrown off the couch as the train swings about whilst crossing the points. The Russians use the "buckeye" systems of interlinking their coaches, based on the US system and this system means that any abrubtness in the locomotive gets transmitted by down the train, bit like a Newton's Cradle and much the same principle. The European system is much better and comfortable. Perhaps we know trains better?
Anyway, we pack up our bags and things, load the dirty washing into the holdall, put on our coats and we're ready for the entrance into Vladivostok. The rain is pouring down and the cabin is misty with condensation. Not much time to say goodbye to Mariana and Tatiyana as we run into the platform at Kilometer post 9288. The taxi driver picks us up and drives us through the grey mist to the Hotel Gavan where a hot shower and shave awaited us!
Shower, shave and a reall nice breakfast taken and much enjoyed we're off to look at the grim delights of Vladivostok, not that it looks like it has much to offer, but The Russian Pacific Fleet looks interesting.....
Our tour around Vladivostok was a real eye opener. The city is so busy. Traffic and pollution everywhere, quite choking. We caught a dirty number 59 bus into the train station in the rain and made our way back to the platform and the end of the line marker - 9288. We didn't have time to get this important photograph - and evidence that we had done the trip - on the way down as the taxi driver made us rush somewhat.
We returned back to the station and looked at the wet souls waiting around the station - military waiting to board the trains for their next assignment or going home; taxi drivers waiting for a fare; street sellers waiting for the elusive passer-by; station officials going about their business. We espied a monumnet to Lenin over the road and risked life and lims crossing the main road to get to see it. We took some photos and decided that as it was still pouring, we would better find a cafe and have a cup of tea.
After this, we walked across the main square to find the Submarine museum and see some more monuments. All the time, the insessant traffic rumbled on, choking the air.
The Submarine Museum was easy enough to find as it was this big grey thing by the harbour - an old converted boat of the Soviet Navy. Walking past four Krivak class Frigates trying to look uninterested was difficult - some Cold War habits linger on - especially as they are smartly painted and are looking to ready themselves for sea. There is a lot of activity on board, but not much in the way of engine activity, so maybe they aren't planning a trip just yet.
The Submarine Museum was very good. It's located in a converted diesel-electric boat, as submarines are called. The aft half, where the engines once were, housed the museum itself, whilst the forward section retained it's control room and torpedo tubes. In the museum part, there were trinckets and and souvenirs that had been collected by the service since the war including uniforms of high-ranking officers and trophies of various sizes. Interestingly, there was a chart of the patrol route of a ballistic missile submarine which of course was off the western seaboard od the United States. What price would have been paid for such information by the secret services during the Cold War? Imagines of Harry Palmer in Berlin flashed through my mind more than once along with spies being interrogated by the opposition. How exciting was this place?
When leaving the museum, we were accosted by a badge seller and I bought some of Vladivostok for the junior members of the family and swapped my English Ale Charles Wells Bombadier badge given to me by the landlord of The Duke of Cambridge in Short Heath for a Red Star with lenin on it. The guy seemed quite pleased with this trade.
Next we found the Pacific Fleet Museum which although closed (it was a Monday), gave us the opportunity to have a look around some antique artillery in the garden. We found some peices from the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 complete with shell holes. Also, there were some WWII 122mm and 75mm field pieces. I wonder what action they saw?
The traffic was fairly mad and Pete wanted to do his vernicular railway and so we found a route evading tye worst of it and ascended the hill, which afforded us a great view of the city, harbour and surroundings. Having done this and avoiding the youths drinking heavy duty lager in the park nearby, we decided that afternoon tea was called for, so we sought a cafe in a local department store. The weather had improved somewhat in the last hour and was quite warm, adding to our thirst.
After tea, we strolled to the beach and whilst enjoying a refreshing cold drink, we found a spot whereby we could study the locals more closely as they relaxed after the days work.
These Russians are definetly of the middle-class school of posing. Lenin must be turning in his grave. In essence, yiur average Russian of 2007 dresses in designer-labelled clothes, dripping in gold jewelry, always talking on their mobile phone in one hand and a bottle of alcohol in the other whilst walking or "promenading" in front of the opposite sex. Not much different from Walsall on a Saturday afternoon then.
Mobile Phones: I've learnt on this trip that whatever language or culture you are in, mobile phone behaviour is the same: loud speaking, staring gormlessly into a tiny screen and showing the latest version to all and sundry. How desperate have we become?
Time to go back to the sanctuary of the Gavan Hotel via the overcrowded Number 62 bus, which took a bit of finding as this part of Russia doesn't have bus stops, it has "faith stops"; you believe that the bus will stop here, but there no actual signs or poles with numbers on them. Another import from sunny Walsall.
Despite its pricey looking appearance, the Gavan was excellent value for money; the food was first rate and the service was great - even with a smile! Having eaten very well and downed a few beers in the lounge, we crept to our beds - England a day closer.