It seems that the earth underneath and around Vladivostok‘s historical wood and stone – the entire maritime region in fact – was acquired in beneficial fallout from the Opium Wars. Although Russia was neither aggressor or victor, Sino-Russian “friction” was long-standing. Also long-standing were the predominantly favourable Anglo-Russian relations since the mid-1500’s (notwithstanding the Anglo-Russian war: 1807-1812).
Russia benefited from the carve-up that followed as territories and borders were re-adjusted and reallocated under the direction of Britain and France (yes it wasn’t just the British who were engaged in Opium War hostilities). China was in no condition to protest at Russia’s desire for permanent access to the Pacific – what could it do? – so the once patch-work of historical Chinese and Korean coastal territory was duly signed away under the 1860 treaty of Beijing. Hostilities would not end there but that’s another story, one that leaves behind defensive coastal fortresses and once naval-only islands for investigation by modern visitors.
Unsurprisingly, the city’s maritime aspect is still in evidence in and around Vladivostok’s Golden Horn bay; arched by the sloping peaks that shelter (part of) the Russian Pacific fleet and mighty ice-breakers found dozing in-port.
There is plenty to see for those who have a strong interest in naval military history as the flotsam and jetsam of its sea-fairing past (and present) makes its presence felt in numerous tourist-friendly ports of call (no pun intended). A clutch at random would be: the C-56 Submarine (yes you can actually wander around a submarine), Sportivnaya Harbor, the Egersheld Cape Lighthouse, the Marine Museum ‘TINRO’, the Naval Memorial and the Museum Vladivostok Fortress which is still littered with military detritus in good preservation.
Other, more civilian points of interest are there but perhaps not as imposingly represented. It may be worth having a wander around the old railway station, the Primorsky State Art Gallery, the Antique Automobile Museum or the Arsenyev Regional History Museum – with it’s display dedicated to “home-boy” Yul Brynner (and of course a great deal more besides). The Pacific Meridian International Film Festival is held in September and is a “big deal”, attracting Western screen-faces too.
For sports fans, SK Olimpiets is the place for basketball, and similarly Dinamo Stadium for premier league soccer. There are also statues, monuments, bridges and a funicular railway sloping 183 metres up Vladivostok’s steep guardian peaks, presenting a spectacular view of the city and bay, but frankly I am starting to scrape-it a little at this point.
I read not-so-good things about Vladivostok too: in the form of its polluted suburbs, compromised by exposure from numerous industrial sites – very environmentally unfriendly. Also pick-pockets (including children) and/or beggars lurking around dingy pedestrian underpasses. Sad more than anything, though I doubt I’d be too sympathetic if my smart-phone got lifted.
Although buses are frequent and ubiquitous throughout most of the areas that you are likely to want to visit, I hear that in a dubious cost-cutting exercise, the vehicles are often unclean and driven way-past their sell-by dates by low-paid labour imported from abroad. Also inter-company competition may even push the driving standard towards reckless. I don’t know about the severity of this phenomenon, but it’s certainly worth a caution.
It’s fair to say that I also hear of attempts to redress the situation with vehicle-tracking (routed to web-site), electronic time-tables and payment facilities (similar to Oyster Cards). Most of these advances though, are predominantly associated with newer, city-owned transport. A mixed bag then, perhaps like the city itself? I’ll have to let you know, if and when I get to see it first-hand.
OK, we are going to back-track to Mongolia and then onwards. More next time.
Next time: Wild Russia
Wildlife in Russia
[Photo by watchsmart]