A Window to The East

For MT
Known to aspiring globetrotters only as the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Vladivostok sits on the distant Sea of Japan, 9,288 kilometers by train, or 6,430 kilometers by air from Moscow. While Vladivostok has a reputation of being mysterious and uncivilized, few have bothered to confirm the many rumors about the city. However, for anyone wishing to experience a part of Russia that is both undeniably familiar and yet quite different from European Russian locales, a visit to the most famous city in the Russian Far East is a must.

Much of what defines Vladivostok's appearance is the result of historical efforts on the part of successive Russian governments to ensure that the city is irrefutably a part of Russia -- something that is understandable, given that Tokyo, Pyongyang, Seoul, Beijing, Ulan Bator and a host of other Asian capitals are all considerably closer than Moscow. From the consciously neoclassical buildings that line the three main streets -- Aleutskaya Ulitsa, Svetlanskaya Ulitsa and Okeansky Prospekt -- to the enormous Monument to Fighters for Soviet Power in the Far East in the central square, an enjoyable day can happily be spent getting a feel for the historical center, looking out for buildings and monuments that point to Western Europe rather than East Asia. Particularly fine examples of this are the railway station, the fascinating art-deco house where actor Yul Brynner was born, and the local GUM department store. GUM, which has a magnificent exterior of bricks imported specially from Hamburg by its German owners, especially recalls Vladivostok's prerevolutionary days as a vibrant international port. As further evidence of the distance between Vladivostok and Moscow, the Revolution didn't reach the city until 1922.


Ed Pulford / For MT
Despite being closer to Tokyo and Beijing than Moscow, the center of Vladivostok maintains a distinctly Russian look.
There is also plentiful evidence of Vladivostok's Cold War days as a strategically important military base. The city was completely closed to foreigners from 1958 to 1992. Docked in Golden Horn Bay are an ever-varying number of battleships of Russia's Pacific Fleet, which make for fascinating viewing either from the ferry port or from the central square itself. Continuing with the military theme, one of the city's more interesting museums is the Fortress Museum, located on the hill above Sportivnaya Harbor. Housed in a building constructed to repel a potential Japanese invasion, the museum boasts an impressive array of weaponry.

Perhaps trumping all its historical and cultural attractions though is Vladivostok's natural setting. The combination of its maritime position and its location on several hills provides incredible views of the sea and the surrounding islands, as well as of the city itself. Perhaps the most easily accessible vantage point from which to take in this landscape is the upper campus of DVGTU, the Far Eastern State Polytechnic University, which can be reached by another of the city's attractions, the funicular railway. The view over Vladivostok is one that few cities in the world can match, especially at sunset, when the harbor -- which is frozen in winter -- is illuminated gold.

Given the current level of development in Vladivostok, it seems that the government is planning for the city to become a Pacific Rim metropolis on the level of Seattle or San Francisco. The city is scheduled to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in 2012, and this event could be the key to unlocking the city's potential as both a very Russian city and an important part of Asia in its own right.

How to Get There



By train: While this is clearly an option in theory, it is only really viable for a traveler with a lot of time on his hands, as the trip takes seven days. The line's flagship train, the Rossia, leaves Moscow's Yaroslavsky Station on the odd-numbered dates of the month (1st, 3rd etc) at 9:35 p.m. and costs $520 one way. Other trains are available on other days at prices averaging $450 for a one-way ticket.
For more information, see www.seat61.com/Trans-Siberian.htm

By air: Direct round-trip flights from Moscow with Aeroflot cost around $800. Recently introduced direct flights with the less comfortable S7 can be as little as $500 for a round-trip ticket.

Where to Stay



The Hotel Hyundai. The largest and arguably most luxurious hotel in town is owned by Koreans. Centrally located, it offers all the facilities expected of a hotel where a standard twin costs $260 per night, including a gym, sauna, swimming pool and a bar with beautiful nighttime city views.
29 Semyonovskaya Ul. +7 (4232) 40-72-05 www.hotelhyundai.ru

Vizit Hotel Vladivostok. This slightly more modest Russian version of the Korean offering is located a little away from the center, close to the city's best swimming spots for summer tourists. Rooms start from $120 a night for two people.
10 Naberezhnaya Ul. +7 (4232) 41-34-53, www.vizit.vl.ru

What to See



Arsenyev Regional Museum. Like many of Vladivostok's museums, it is largely interesting for its focus on regional history and wildlife, and worth visiting, if only to see the enormous stuffed tiger apparently having a dance with an equally huge stuffed bear.
20 Svetlanskaya Ul. +7 (4232) 41-39-77

Vladivostok Fortress Museum. Featuring good views of the bay below, it is equally appealing for lovers of military hardware and those just interested in local history.
4a Batareinaya Ul. +7 (4232) 40-08-96

Primorsky Art Gallery. While nothing if compared to Moscow or St. Petersburg's big galleries, this collection is impressive if only for the selection of Russian and European works it holds so far from Europe. It is currently housed in a different location from its usual home, which seems to be eternally undergoing remont.
12 Partizansky Prospekt

Where to Eat and Drink



Five O'Clock. This British-owned teashop and bakery on the pedestrian Ulitsa Admirala Fokina, is an oasis of genuine European-ness in a desert of coffee shops serving sushi. It's a great stop-off on a walking tour of the city. The quiche and the chocolate brownies are both exceptional.

Republic. An interesting, if traditional, Russian cafeteria, with a modern, tasteful decor, this relatively cheap caf? serves an extensive range of hot food morning, noon, and night. Try three different kinds of their own beer for $4 a pop.
Svetlanskaya Ul.

Pyongyang. Located in a tower block beyond the railway station, this is likely to be the only North Korean restaurant most visitors will ever eat in, and the food is excellent. Unlike most Korean establishments, you do unfortunately have to pay for kimchi and sides. Picture menus in Russian and Korean only. No need to reserve.
68 Verkhneportovaya Ul.