Would you like to go off the beaten track as you chart your destination for the next vacation? Why not go Far East? A week's stay in Russia's port city Vladivostok will be refreshing for your mind, heart, soul and even taste buds.
Vladivostok, which is the capital of Primorsky Krai (territory) of Russia, is nestled on the hills overlooking the Golden Horn Bay of the Sea of Japan which is also known as the East Sea.
The beautiful city with European looks is located in northeastern Asia, towards the tip of southeastern Russia on the far edge of Muravyov-Amursky Peninsula.
What to see
The city offers immense scope for tourists on various counts. Views both on and off the land, in the hills and around the harbour are sure to captivate you. Moreover, there is enough for the foodie, the drinker, the shopaholic, the history buff, the culturally inclined and even the lovers of military history.
As soon as you are in, you will be drawn to the beauty of the buildings with varied architectural styles – a result of the cultural cross-exchange owing to proximity to China, North Korea and Japan.
In the heart of the city is the cute structure of the Vladivostok Train Station, the terminus of the longest railway line in the world, Trans-Siberian. (Get down to Platform number 1 and 2 to pap the last milestone of the 9,288 km-long Trans-Siberian railway route.)
Another standout structure nearby is the splendid art deco mansion of Vladivostok-born Hollywood actor Yul Brynner (1920-85). His granite statue is a striking feature beside the Aleutskaya Street.
Close by a visual feast awaits you as you go down the Svetlanskaya Street. Splendid buildings housing retail stores, banks, theatres, shipping firms, hotels, cultural centres line up this pretty street. The Arseniev State Museum of Far East History is one such here.
The two cable bridges – Zolotoy Bridge across the Golden Horn Bay, and the Russky Bridge linking the mainland with Russky Island – are the city's pride. The latter is among the longest cable-stayed bridges in the world.
The spacious central square beside the Svetlanskaya Street is the right spot to unwind after a walkathon. The imposing monuments to national heroes – Monument to the Fighters for Soviet Power – are gazing at you as you stroll around the fountains and near the new Orthodox Church with the golden domes. A few metres away is the late 19th century triumphal gate in honour of crown prince Nikolas Aleksandrovich Romanov, who, as fate would have it, happened to be the last Tsar (emperor) of Russia.
An elegant sculpture of American lady and long-time city resident Eleanor Lord Pray, who is admired by the locals, stands a little aside from the Svetlanskaya Street.
Being the base of the Russian Pacific Fleet, navy personnel are a regular sight on the city roads. The submarine museum, near the Navy Fleet headquarters, is a major draw for overseas tourists and Russian nationals alike. This monument is to the deadly sub, S-56, which was in action in World War II.
Now, try harbour cruise for a different perspective on this maritime city. For a little over 1,000 Roubles you can go on a boat ride in the Golden Horn Bay for an hour. See the city skyline from the waters. The boat will take you close to the landmark bridges spanning the bay. Giant cargo ships go past you as they make their way to the Sea of Japan before its further voyage to the Pacific.
Shoppers may visit the ground floor of the Marine Passenger Terminal, next to the Railway Station, to buy souvenirs, sweets, electronic items. Here you can also purchase or sell forex. Japan is just a ferry ride away from here if you have the travel docs ready.
An interesting activity, especially for children, is the funicular railway. The ride up or downhill lasts just a couple of minutes! The broad view of the city from the top of the hill is breath-taking. A similar view is on offer from the Eagle's Nest Hill.
For more splendid views of the bay and the city you may also visit the Tokarevsky lighthouse though you may have to take a brief taxi ride for 10 km to the tip of the peninsula. A few more lighthouses dot the city coast .
Travelling around the city won't bother you at all as they are within easy reach. A major advantage for tourist is that all must-see or popular sites, including historic landmarks, and even restaurants and drinking holes are at a walking distance from the railway station or spread out along major avenues.
Avenues for hiking, cycling and swimming exist in the hilly terrain and waterscape if you are keen on burning your fat.
If done with your city tour, you may consider a few rewarding excursions in the few days before your return flight. Book a trip to the Russky Island (37 km), Ussuriisk Nature Reserve (110 km), Primorye Entertainment Zone (60 km) and Safari Park (60 km). The latter offers a lesson in protecting wounded and sick animals and birds in natural settings, though in a limited area, rather than restraining them in distressing urban facilities.
An oceanarium is on the Russky Island which can be seen at close quarters from the Tokarevsky lighthouse.
A week-long Vladivostok tour is unlikely to dent your finances as the prices of food, services, accommodation, goodies etc are quite reasonable. Rip-offs are to be least expected as long as your deals are fair. Hostels are good alternatives for solo travellers on a limited budget.
Food and drink
You won't be disappointed on this aspect too as there are numerous cafes, restaurants, bars and wayside eateries across the city. The fare include traditional Russian, Chinese and Korean as well as the cosmopolitan.
Significantly, don't be wary about the quality of food and drink. Invariably, they are likely to be okay, but be alert to allergies to seafood.
Look for stolovaya – canteen/dining hall found in all Russian towns and cities – if you find the restaurant fare prohibitive.
Being a port city there is no dearth of fish and fish products. On your return may look for packs of local delicacies like caviar, Kamchatka crab, smoked salmon and halibut, scallop, sea cucumber and other seafood on stalls at the airport.
Even sweets like the popular Primorsky candy and soufflé Ptichye Moloko (Bird’s Milk) have sea salt and agar-agar, a gelatin extracted from seaweed, respectively, as ingredients.
Of course, none needs to be reminded to buy a few bottles of vodka. Check the nearest supermarket or standalone liquor store. The popular Russian vodka brands include Stolichnaya, Russian Standard, Beluga, Hammer + Sickle.
Weather, best time
The weather in Vladivostok is unlikely to unsettle you, except in winter, though be ready to brave strong rains, fog and occasional gales. Expect snow and even snowstorms in late and early parts of the year. As in most parts of Russia, June to September is the best time to visit.
Now, look for the best flights and get your Russian tourist visa.