Yippee. My visa is finally registered (you have to register with a special branch of the police within 3 days of arriving into Russia), and now I am legal. Since my visa officially allows me to go anywhere, I now have free run of the country – at least until the 24th of October.
In practice, of course, money, time and my promises not to fly on internal Russian airlines limit me somewhat. As do my limited desire to spend the entire trip on bumpy busrides to rural nowheres.
I have, much to my delight, discovered that there is an ultimate tournament on in St Petersburg on September 15-16. There is actually one on in Bologna as well at the same time, but the former is easier to reach than the latter.
So, I have about 5 weeks or so to wander about in Siberia and the Russia Far East (the bit more remote even than Siberia), then I head over to Pieter (as the locals call it) for another 5 weeks or so in European Russia.
I am staying in rather a nice hotel here in Vladivostok. It is actually a bit too nice (that is to say too expensive), but it is nice to have a bit of luxury every now and again, particularly since a lot of the rest of Russia is unlikely to be too luxurious.
Even in nice hotels very Russian things still happen. I have been told every single morning that I have to check out (because they have no rooms). But by the time I pack up and get down (Russian hotels have a very civilised 12 noon checkout time), magically some rooms seem to have appeared, and I can stay right where I was.
And there are some great things about nice hotels. It has a spectacular view (even the Russians can’t stuff up views too much), the staff (at least apart from the front desk) show very un-Russian levels of helpfulness, and the people in the business centre (who have been assisting me with my minor visa problems) are unbelievably helpful (as well as speaking English and charging like wounded bulls for their services).
This is going to be my last day in Vladivostok. I have spent a whole lot of time at the beach (beach meaning strip of mostly dirt, but some sand intermixed with concrete and rusting steel) sitting in the sun (which is just as lovely here as it is where you are), or sitting with a (very cheap) beer looking out at the Gulf of Amur.
I was going to be heading to Japan from here for a while. But at $1,000 return the boat ticket price was more than a little bit steep, and it would have taken time out of my travels in Russia that I didn’t really want to give away.
The whole of Vladivostok is pretty decrepit. The outside of my swanky hotel has to be seen to be believed. All along the waterfront there are abandoned jetties, rusting hulks, and unexpected bits of empty concrete covered in broken glass and rubbish.
And this is described by Lonely Planet as one of Russia’s more attractive cities. I am going to Sakhalin where I hope to see what they describe as the ugliest city in Russia. We shall see.
But for all that, Vladivostok has a good feel about it. It is sunny every day, and hot. There is an amusement park (even if the roller coaster looks like it could collapse at any moment), there are a few beluga whales in a pen on the waterfront that you can go see, and there is a bit of a seaside carnival atmostphere, with kiosks selling icecream, beer, and snacks lining the water’s edge.
There are even some nice buildings here (mostly really old and looking like they are about to fall down, but nice none the less), a great museum, and some good places to eat. Beer is cheap too.
If you are expecting the beauty of St Petersburg, or the bustle of Moscow you will be completely disappointed. If you have no expectations (which, from my experience, is the best way to be in Russia), and just take it as it comes, you can have a good time in the Russian Far East.