Construction. Congestion. Chaos. Cars.
Those are the four words that will forever come to mind when I think of Vladivostok.
Vladivostok is scheduled to host the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November 2012 and apparently the entire city is under construction in preparation. I hope for its sake that everything is completed on time because right now it is a bit of a mess.
I experienced the chaos and congestion from the moment I arrived. The middle of the main street in town, Aleutskaya Street, was torn up, with traffic moving at a snail’s pace through the heart of the city. The sidewalks were not much better, with of most the walkways currently consisting of dirt or wooden boards as they awaited new bricks to be laid (and many were blocked with large cartons of such bricks). I often wasn’t entirely sure where I should be walking because everything I saw was dirt and crosswalks were nonexistent.
I spent my only full day in Vladivostok just walking around – and up and down its many hills. It doesn’t come close to San Francisco (to which it has been compared), but it sure had its fair share. Given the traffic congestion, I walked into the city center from my hostel – it was a 35 minute walk whereas it took 45 minutes by bus the previous day. As I walked toward the center, I looked to my right out to Golden Horn Bay, but the massive container port on the edge of the bay blocked my view. Vladivostok is a major importer of Japanese cars, something that was clear from my view of the port.
My first stop in the city center was the train station on Aleutskaya Street and the marker for the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Since the only reason I was in Vladivostok was to take the Trans-Siberian, of course I had to swing by and get a picture of that.
From there, I took a right on Svetlanskaya Street, which took me down the city’s other main drag – luckily not quite as full of construction as Aleutskaya. I saw a couple of war memorials, an S-56 submarine and a small, but cute, park, and then headed up to the funicular to get a view of the entire city and bay.
The funicular was ridiculously cheap – only six rubles. At the top, I followed a crowd of students up to a lookout point near a university. While the city has a very industrial look and feel to it, the views were still amazing. The thing that completely captured my attention, though, was an unfinished bridge spanning Golden Horn Bay – the ends dangling in the air over the water, waiting to be connected.
I headed down from the lookout along Sukhanova Street and made my way over to the other side of the peninsula to see Amursky Gulf. Here, I found a brand new park along the waterfront, complete with slides and swings for children and concrete planters still waiting for flowers. But then looking out to the gulf, I saw decaying wooden piers lined with old men in heavy overalls casting their fishing poles out to sea, waiting for a bite.
By mid-afternoon, I was ready to call it a day and head back to the hostel to get ready for the first leg of my Trans-Siberian journey.
I will admit, I probably didn’t give Vladivostok enough of a chance. I didn’t have time to visit the nearby islands and tour the forts. I didn’t even have a chance to take a ferry across the bay (admittedly because I could not figure out how to get to the ferry dock amid all the construction). And if I had even a passing interest in naval or maritime history, I probably would have found a few of the city’s museums to be worth a visit.
But I do think Vladivostok has a bright future. Once the construction finishes and the dust has cleared, it should be a pleasant city in which to spend a couple days. You just might want to wait a couple years before discovering it for yourself.