In April 2019, while living in a hostel in the center of Moscow, I met a girl from Vladivostok with whom I began a strong friendship. So strong it was that I then promised I would visit her one day. The idea actually almost disappeared from my mind but with the arrival of COVID and as I was stuck in Russia without the right to leave the country for a vacation trip, I committed myself to travel inside the country. Within such a goal, I finally found a serious reason to want to see Vladivostok.
Upon the goal of exploring Russian territory, in July 2020, I visited three towns in the east side of Russia, one of which was Vladivostok. I embarked on a train in Irkutsk and after nearly four days, I finally entered the far eastern big city of Russia. Vladivostok indeed means far east, and it represents the last phase of expansion within Russian history.
The first impression I had right after exiting the railway station was the sloping topography of the city and the strong sea breeze. Not far from there I found a hostel where to stay, right in the center of the town. It was named Luna Hostel, which I like very much to remember thanks to the amazing people I met there, including the staff. The spot was just across the street from a square that led to a famous pier. There were several restaurants here, a little amusement park, a small garden, many food stands and quite a crowd for most part of the day. Going past all this, if one wished, one could still walk about a mile of coast line and see different buildings along the way or watch the ships far off to the sea.
The area of the city is split and scattered with part of it located inland and the rest in the island in front called Русский (Russky - Russian). In order to connect its parts, two giant bridges were built. Even though I am used to seeing incredibly huge monuments and buildings in Moscow, those bridges made me feel as if I were in an alien world. They were absolutely immense and they could easily make someone unsettled at the thought of how someone could build anything like that.
Because of its proximity to China and Korea, it is a matter of no time till you see traces of Asian culture. The food stands in most part offer dishes such as lapsha and ramen. The big majority of the vehicles on the street are right handed - that is, the steering wheel is on the right side. Many products also, in the shops, are imported from China, Korea or Japan. If not for the pandemic, the city would be full of asian tourists.
Following the standard of all other cities in Russia, Vladivostok has several points dedicated to reminding people of Russia’s military glory. Examples are the submarine that was placed just by the street for exhibition, the fortresses in remote areas used for resistance against the Japanese back in the war time or the many military ships, from different ages, anchored in the ports of the city.
I spent most of my time in Vladivostok visiting places inside the urban area of the city, which was full of interesting things to see. But the truth is, the thing I was really craving for was to go see the sea and swim. After arriving at the hostel I mentioned before and dropping bags in my room, I went out to look for a good place where I could eat or at least find a market. By doing so, I learned that the beach was just a few minutes away by foot. In the days that followed, I visited that area every day and on some of them I would even lie on a beach chair, put my earphones on and just relax for hours. Though it was good to me, that beach wasn't clean enough for a swim. Many people ventured in those waters but I didn’t think it would be a good idea to do the same.
To my fortune, Vladivostok has a vast coast. If you don’t like to swim near downtown, then you can take a bus and reach other beaches. And that was what I did.
In the early morning, I hopped on a bus headed to Russky Island. It took about forty minutes till I reached a stop by the university campus where I met my friend and another girl. As I said, you can take a bus. But to save time, we ordered a taxi. As we drove past the campus, we began seeing uninhabited areas, with thick vegetation and signs indicating ways to beaches. At last, we pulled on one of them. We hopped off the car and took the trail. The trail led us through the messy jungle, all the way to a bay. Henceforth, we walked on sand and later on a pretty rough rocky path that gradually became worse the further we went.
A characteristic which might be worth adding is how the vegetation here differs in comparison with the rest of Russia. As it may be known to many, the forests in Russia are usually composed of pine trees and other tree species of the like. I would say, it is like a more neat kind of forest. In Russia, these forests are called Тайга (taiga). Vladivostok, however, has, in its surroundings, a more messy kind of jungle, without pine trees. This detail gave me a certain impression, as if I were home, because tropical forests look much more like what I saw there than like taiga.
One thing I had been told about Vladivostok before arriving there was the many бухты (bukhty, bays in Russian) in its territory. Not only I had seen photos of beautiful shores, islands and cliffs but even of a glass bay. Бухта Стеклянная (Bukhta Steklyannaya), translated from Russian as Glass Bay, is the name given to a beach where the sand has been covered by glass particles that were brought by the ocean waves. I didn’t get to see this specific bay but I eventually found such glass particles while I was exploring another beach.
Back on the tour with my local friends, we had then already started making our way on the rocky path. The adventure demanded a serious struggle. We found ourselves stepping on loose stones with great care in order not to fall. We had sometimes to climb over big rocks with each other’s support and besides all that, fascinated by the cliffs, we would stand at the edge of some of them and then realize how dangerous that place could be. At the end of that risky way, we at last reached the limit of those cliffs and decided to simply appreciate the view of Japan’s sea almost circling us. By then, knowing I wouldn’t go anywhere with a water cleaner than that, I sought a solution to kill my thirst for swimming. Near the place where the rocks end, going the way back up a bit, there was a small cliff. It was a totally vertical wall from the top to the sea level and adjacent to it a staircase that descended all the way to the sea. Stretching from this staircase, there were four platforms for jumping. The lowest one was 4 meters high, the one above was 6 meters high, and then one 9 meters high and at last the top one, 11 meters high (this being the height of the cliff itself). Some young people were standing at the edge of the plateau, looking down and watching their friends jumping from the platforms. I really wanted to jump from there too so I went down to the water level. I stood on a rock surface and, with a dose of courage, I leaped forward to let myself sink in the water. After making sure that it was not too cold I then climbed back on the rock and went up to the 4mts platform. After getting out of the water a second time, I got back to the top of the cliff. My friends and I had already agreed to leave when my friend commented that the young people wanted to see me jump from the top platform - I am mostly concerned to avoid risks in any adventure, but that cliff looked like too much adrenaline for me to refuse. I had a few reasons why I would like to jump from a cliff 11mts high, on the other side of the world. Those young folks just reminded me of that. I walked till I was 2 meters away from the platform. I took a few seconds for reflection and ran. I just understood how crazy that was while I was in the air.
I hit the water so hard and in such a weird position that my brain sort of turned off for an instant. It felt like I was being born again, so I shouted out loud in despair when I got my head back to the surface of the water. Fortunately, despite the risks, I survived without any harm and this story has actually become one of the best memories for me from exploring this country.
After that day, I spent three more days in Vladivostok, during which I visited another beach in the company of other tourists who were staying at the same hostel. I went yet once more to the island to visit the university campus where my friend studied and, on the last day, I went to see the famous lighthouse of Vladivostok from where one can see a great sunset.
With so much to see in this country, it is quite improbable that I will choose to visit Vladivostok any time soon. Nonetheless, from all the cities I have seen so far, the only one that gave me the best feeling of being home was Vladivostok. It made me feel at home because of its proximity to the ocean, which makes the time by the beach a ritual for its people.
Bridges of Vladivostok