Vladivostok did not make the best first impression on me.
After a relatively enjoyable overnight flight from Moscow on Aeroflot, I exited the small airport in Vladivostok and immediately started searching for the bus stop. The instructions I received from my hostel (the only hostel in the city, although it is listed by one name on Hostelworld and another name on Hostelbookers) told me to “take any bus from the airport to either the bus station or the train station.”
Sounds easy enough, right?
Well, it turns out there is only one bus, Bus #107, that goes from the airport into the city. And that bus only runs every 60-90 minutes. My flight landed at 12:45 p.m. A bus left at 1:00 p.m., which meant I just missed it, which left me waiting for the 2:00 p.m. bus. In the meantime, I spent my time fending off eager taxi drivers who wanted to charge me 2000 rubles (over $50) for a ride into the city.
As I told one of the taxi drivers that I was planning to take the bus, he was at least kind enough to point out that the rundown shack behind me was actually the ticket office for the bus. Unfortunately, by the time I got in line, they seemed to be sold out for the 2:00 bus. Or at least that is what I gathered from the fact that in front of me was a lot of yelling and not a lot of ticket buying taking place.
When the bus finally arrived just before 2:00, complete chaos ensued.
Everyone standing on the sidewalk around me made a mad dash to stuff their luggage into the storage areas below the bus – whether they had a ticket for the bus or not. I tried to follow suit, but ended up being the last person to try to shove their bag in and it would not fit. I pleaded with the driver to let me on the bus anyway and he relented, telling me to get on with my luggage (at least that is what I imagined he told me – I couldn’t completely make out what he said but I interpreted his hand wave toward the bus as a signal to get on). I ended up standing in the aisle, bags and all, feeling horribly awkward as I blocked the way for others to get out, but I was relieved to at least be on the bus.
The bus ride ended up being over an hour and a half into the city. Luckily, about halfway there, enough people got off the bus for me to be able to take a seat and get out of everyone’s way.
Little did I know, the fun had just begun.
I told the conductor I needed to get off at the bus station. About an hour into the ride, we stopped in front of what appeared to be a bus station, so I asked if that was where I should get off, but she told me no. Eventually, we pulled up in front of another large station with a dozen buses lined up out front and on what appeared to be a main drag in the city. Traffic was so heavy, the driver just let everyone off in the middle of the street across from the station.
Given the number of buses, I assumed I was indeed at the bus station – especially since the conductor gave me the nod to get off. The hostel directions told me to take Bus #81 from the station to a stop called Yarmarka na Kyrgina. I saw a Bus #81 and asked the driver if he was going to that stop. He just gave me a blank stare as I repeated the request. Finally, he repeated “Kyrgina” and I said “da” – to which he waved me to the other side of the street. He was going the opposite direction.
So I crossed the street (which was an adventure in itself) and looked for a Bus #81 going the right way. Bus after bus passed, but none was #81. Then I pulled out the hostel directions again and it occurred to me that perhaps I was at the train station, not the bus station after all. Those directions said to take any bus five stops to Yarmarka na Kyrgina. At that point, I started asking the driver on each bus that stopped but none seemed to even know of such a stop. Finally, I noticed several buses turning onto a street just before where I was standing, so I decided to head that way. After walking a couple blocks straight uphill and seeing no sign of a bus stop, I was nearly in tears. By this point, it was 4:00 p.m. – over three hours since I exited the plane I Vladivostok.
I was exhausted and sweaty and starving and really had to pee.
Finally, I saw a couple of older women walking toward me and I stopped to ask them where I could find any bus going to Kyrgina Street (my repeated requests to the bus drivers taught me that Kyrgina was really all I needed to say). One of the women kindly pointed down the street a few blocks to a bus shelter and then proceeded to grab me by the arm and lead me there!
Once again, the kindness of strangers saves the day.
The bus came a couple minutes later and I managed to get off at the right stop (in front of a store that turned out to be called Yarmarka na Kyrgina). From there, the hostel directions actually made sense and I found it with little problem – a fourth floor flat in a sterile-looking, Soviet-era apartment building.
A young guy, probably no more than twenty years old, greeted me with a couple words of English but it was clear he didn’t understand a single word I said back to him. He managed to take my money, show me to a metal bunk bed in an otherwise empty room (I was the only person staying there), instruct me how to use the washing machine and make me some much-needed tea.
After a hot shower and load of laundry, I headed back into the congested, chaotic city center.
I wanted to give Vladivostok a second chance to make a first impression.