Monday, September 10, 2012

Vladivostok–Of Forts and Furry Animals


Friday 24th August

Sadly, our time in Vladivostok was only short.  We would be catching the first train of our journey at 10.30pm so that left only one more day of exploring.  Luckily hotel check outs are usually at noon in Russia, so we had time to go out in the morning before packing up and leaving the hotel.  With that in mind, after breakfast we headed to the I M Arsenyev Regional History Museum, a grand building on the crossroads of the main streets of Vladivostok.

You have to pay for museum entry in Russia but generally it isn’t much – I think this was about 100Rubles, or NZ$4.  The museum is staffed by sweet little old ladies who speak no English but who will carry on explaining things to you in Russian even if you have no clue what they are saying.  They mill around in each exhibit hall directing you along the route.

The first hall was full of stuffed animals, all native wildlife from the region.  There were some slightly baffling displays and some rather strange looking creatures but it was interesting and amusing to look at – it perhaps wasn’t meant to be amusing though?


I'm late! And I seem to have lost my pocket watch!


Some kind of rare vampire deer, found only in Russia...


Somewhat bemused looking wolf.


Clearly a community meeting of the forest natives.


An Amur tiger and a bear having a friendly hug.

This museum is huge and I don’t think we actually found all of it.  It seems to wind up and down through stairwells and halls.  There were several other interesting exhibits, including one room full of hand weapons from all over the world, and some bizarre rooms, such as one filled with various kitschy needlework displays and dolls.  There seemed to be some exhibits detailing the early settlers into the area, but it was all in Russian captioning so the details were lost on us.


I thought this model was lovely, perhaps it was a model of one of the settler ships?


Time for a cup of tea! Just the right amount!


A room full of heads!

Although not strictly a museum display, we were in awe of this amazing stain glass window which was huge although that is difficult to tell from the photo:



The glass was actually stacked horizontally, so it was 3D!

After the museum we headed back to the hotel to check out and take our bags down to the railway station. There are left luggage services at all the stations so you can leave your heavy bags and still spend time sightseeing during the day, which is very useful when your train is not until late. 

Our next stop was the Vladivostok fortress museum.Vladivostok was a strategic military town and has a lot of forts, and the one closest to town has now been turned into a museum.  Rich was in heaven, the grounds were full of tanks and guns that you could play with!


Rich in front of an anti submarine gun!


These ones look like they are aimed at the city!


Some kind of artillery weapon…


Rich playing with a 20mm anti-aircraft gun.


An ‘armoured personal carrier’ – looks like a tank to me…

The weather brightened up considerably in the afternoon and it seemed most of the city’s residents were at the local beaches and promenades.  We had a wander around the area, where yet more building work is taking place.



I really liked the old-fashioned lampposts.


A musical fountain which changed the spray pattern along with the music that blared out around the square.

I had heard about a funicular tram we could take up to a good lookout over the whole city so we walked to the other side of town to find it. Unfortunately it was closed! Oh well, we had already got this far so we thought we might as well walk up the rest of the way…


Heading towards the tram, we walked under the new bridge!


The tram at the top, closed for repairs.  This was only the start of the hill climb…


The view was worth it!


We also saw two separate wedding parties here, getting their photos done.  This would become a regular occurrence for us during this journey, I’m beginning to think the wedding industry in Russia must be huge!


Padlocks symbolising a couple’s union were also very common on bridges and popular local spots everywhere we went.

After our long walk up the hill we headed back down for some dinner and to wait for the train.  We had plenty of food provisions for our three night journey to Irkutsk and were very ready for a bit of a reprieve from all the walking we had done!  Time to say ‘dasvedanya’ to Vladivostok and head off on the Rossiya train across the continent!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Vladivostok–An introduction to Russia’s Far East


Thursday 23rd August

Vladivostok is so far east of Moscow that it is only one hour behind New Zealand time zone-wise.  This meant that our 5hr flight leaving Hong Kong at 4pm actually got us into Russia just before midnight.  For some bizarre reason everyone clapped when the plane landed in Vladivostok – not quite sure if this is normal or if there was something going on we didn’t know about, because we couldn’t understand the Russian announcements…

The terminal in Vladivostok was tiny and crowded and the baggage reclaim was disorganised chaos - I have a feeling we arrived into the old terminal not the new one built for the APEC summit next month.  We got through immigration without a problem, although the officer had a bit of a chuckle over Rich’s full name. I think he has more names than most Russians, and that is saying something!  Our hotel arranged transfer from the airport, which was great as it is further away from town than Dunedin’s airport is, and no public transport runs at midnight.  The hotel itself is in the middle of an upgrade, the foyer looks very grand but we were not in a refurbished room.  It was clean enough though, and we had no problems with our stay, our room was half the price of the refurbished ones.

The next day we set out to explore Vladivostok.  The city seems to be in a building frenzy, there are renovations and building works everywhere. The city hosts the APEC summit next month and is working around the clock to prepare. It’s a shame they haven’t focused a bit more on the pavements, I can imagine the hospital is full of broken ankles from falling in the numerous potholes…


The train station became our landmark.

Across from the train station is Lenin square, unsurprisingly featuring a statue of Lenin.  I’m sure this will be the first of many Lenin statues we find across Russia…


He makes a good perch for that seagull…

We walked around the bay until we found Korabelnya embankment, where a S-56 submarine sits in front of a WW2 memorial.


Hard to miss this submarine!


The WW2 memorial – an eternal flame flickers on the steps in front.


Thousands of names – I’m guessing the names of all those from the area who lost their lives in the war.  There are more names on the smaller brick wall too.

We headed inside the submarine, trying to avoid several Korean tour groups that were being shepherded through.  Unfortunately none of the captions were in English, but it was still interesting to look at the array of artefacts and the innards of a submarine.


The submarine museum.


Heading through the bulkhead!


Looking through the periscope.


Arming the missiles!


This monument sits in front of the submarine and is to commemorate the founding of Vladivostok in 1860.

After a bit of hunting we found where to buy tickets for the ferry to Russky Island out in Golden Horn Bay.  The information in all the guidebooks is incorrect, the terminal must have moved recently.  The weather still looked a little grey but we thought a trip out to the island might be a nice way to get a few good views and I wanted to walk to one of the 4 forts on the island.  The ferry was one of those roll-on roll-off types but was a rusty old bucket and only used for foot passengers now. Despite this there weren’t any seats on the deck. 

It seems that in Vladivostok the weather starts off grey but the sun seems to come out in the afternoon and we actually had some lovely sparkling views of the bay.  I also got very sunburnt…


The ferry heading back to Vladivostok, leaving us on the island.

We were supposed to get on a bus at the quay but we couldn’t work out which one to take – both buses had the same sign even though they went in different directions, and the bus driver said something along the lines of ‘don’t go there’ or ‘the bus doesn’t go there’ or perhaps just ‘get off the bus’… it was hard to understand.  In the end we just spent a couple of hours walking around the quay.  We headed uphill and found a strange village consisting of Soviet style apartment blocks.  I think this island was closed to foreigners until fairly recently as it has strategic military importance.


Me on the ‘beach’ on Russky island.


Little wooden houses – dacha or summer cottages.


Walking along another beach.


I had to take to the shade of our umbrella; having a wee nap whilst waiting for the ferry to come back.


View of the bridge over Vladivostok.


There are a lot of ships around the harbour, some commercial and others naval.


The Zolotoy Rog Bridge spanning the bay between the peninsulas.  This bridge has only just been finished.


The other newly built bridge - joining the peninsula to Russky Island - is currently the largest cable-stayed bridge in the world with a 1104m central span.  The other bridge ranks number nine.

After I applied some much needed aloe vera to my burn skin, we headed to the main street of Vladivostok in search of food.  We ended up eating some tasty pizza at Cafe Tema. When the waitress realised we were deciphering the menu with my Russian dictionary she helpfully produced an English menu, although she didn’t speak any English herself – good thing the dishes are numbered!

Close by the cafe was the central square – and another set of statues, this time a Memorial to the Fighters for Soviet Power in the Far East.



These statues commemorate the people who brought the area under Bolshevik control.

It had been a long day, so we soon headed back to the hotel.  We had another exciting day lined up in Vladivostok before heading off on the train to Irkutsk, but that is a whole other post…

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ocean Park


Tuesday 21st August

We had tossed around the idea of gong to Disneyland Hong Kong with our friends, as I wanted to do something with them that they hadn’t yet done either, before I read about Ocean Park.  It’s a similar kind of amusement park but it has plenty of animal exhibits too and so we decided to spend our last full day in Hong Kong at Ocean Park instead.

Rich and I braved the busy rush hour mania of the MTR once again (we didn’t quite feel like fish trying to go the wrong way against the school this time) and met up with our friends before taking the bus out to Ocean Park.


Luckily we had got our tickets in advance so were pretty much able to go straight in at opening time. It was busy even then. The first place we headed to was the aquarium were we saw lots of different fish, a turtle, rays and hammerhead sharks.  I apologise for the quality of some of my photos, it is very difficult to take decent photos of moving fish in the dark!  Here’s a few semi-decent ones…


Ocean Park’s Aquarium next to the fountain pond.




Some type of ray.


Starfish stuck to the glass.


I think this is called a Lionfish. He looks so sad!


A strange creature called a Nautilus.


Underwater wildlife.


More rays.


A hammerhead shark.


I caught a woman banging on the glass and annoying these crabs; I glared at her and she hit her head on the sill. Haha.


We spent quite a while in the aquarium and afterwards headed to the Sichuan Treasures exhibit which turned out to be a couple of Giant Pandas and two Golden Monkeys! Very cute!


Munching on some lunch.


Time for a post lunch stroll.

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A cute little golden monkey.


The other panda kept on eating.


There actually turned out to be two panda exhibits, and the second one had a panda who was sitting very close to the glass so we could get up close. He was busy munching on bamboo so didn’t pay us any attention.


The other panda here looked like he’d had a hard night on the tiles…


And I guess the red panda must have joined him…


Not far away was an otter exhibit.  We couldn’t see them but it wasn’t long until feeding time so we staked out a spot in front of the exhibit to catch a glimpse of these cute wee creatures.  They appeared when the food came but are very quick so it was hard to get decent photos. I managed a few though…

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Then we went to see some kind of water dance show but the scantily dressed teenagers with water guns doing bad hip-hop soon deterred us and we headed up the mountain to the other side of Ocean Park.  In another cable car! This place is huge, it was as if there was a whole other secret park hidden on the other side of the mountain!

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We had lunch at a restaurant at the top and then headed into the Arctic Exhibit.  Things got a lot busier up here and the queue was massive but at least seemed to be moving quickly.  Once again our timing was spot on to catch the walrus being fed and we spent quite a while watching her from above and then from the underwater viewing tunnels. Unfortunately my photos were very blurry but here is an idea:

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As it is a theme park we thought we might try a ride as well, so we went on the Artic Blast. Unfortunately we had to wait in line for an hour, so needless to say we didn’t bother with any other rides. The animals were much more interesting.


As well as an Arctic exhibit, there was also an Antarctic one, full of penguins.  The place was so crowded it was difficult to catch a glimpse of them, but hidden in a side room after this exhibit were some artic foxes which were interesting to see too.


A very blurry penguin swimming in the ice cold exhibit.


A cute wee arctic fox curled up, probably trying to ignore all the flashing cameras…

My camera ran out of batteries at this point but we saw some more animals – there was a Rainforest exhibit were Rich saw his first ever snakes, including a scary anaconda!  We were getting quite tired but decided to head along to the ocean exhibit to see if we could see dolphins, and again were lucky enough to catch the last show of the day.  I stole these photos from Rich:

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All in all, I would recommend Ocean Park for the animal exhibits, but don’t bother with the rides unless you are happy with waiting in queues for hours, or go on a rainy school day (not in the sunny summer holidays!)  We finished off our Hong Kong trip at a really nice restaurant close to our hotel where Rhonwyn again chose some very tasty food for us to try.  She definitely knows how to pick the best food!  Then it was time to say goodbye to our friends, hopefully it won’t be too long before we see them again!

The next morning was spent sorting ourselves out for our trip to Russia that afternoon.  We managed to get back to Hong Kong airport and find our way to the terminal, which involved taking a train and a bus and a fair amount of walking – and that was just at the airport!  We spent our last few HK$ – Rich even got his lunch for slightly cheaper as we didn’t have enough, which was nice of the waitress.  Our flight to Vladivostok was uneventful, but you’ll have to check the next post for our Russian adventures!