Day 12: Vladivostok

The Thomas Flyer, the U.S. entry in the 1908 Great Race, arrived in Vladivostok on Monday, May 18, 1908 after a two day trip from Tsuruga, Japan on the steamship Mongolia. George Schuster, his team, and the Flyer departed on a Saturday afternoon just as we did, so I guess travel by ship/ferry hasn’t changed much time-wise in the past century!

The original U.S. team also went through Hachiman as we did, although the original team was nearly delayed when participants in a religious ceremony began attacking the Thomas Flyer! Fortunately, a Japanese priest intervened and the Flyer escaped. Click here to read more about this incident in the May 17, 1908 New York Times article.

Since we didn’t expect to hear from Svetlana about the progress of our cars through customs until this afternoon, we took a walking tour of Vladivostok this morning. According to the May 19, 1908 New York Times article, George Schuster and the Flyer team also had a delay at customs:

“It will scarcely be possible for the Thomas car to start on the road across Siberia before Wednesday [after arriving Monday], as there are various matters to arrange before the car can begin its trip. Customs delays will fill the better part of two days, and the autoists desire to obtain permits to carry firearms and to use the rails of the Trans-Siberian Railroad to cross bridges or when the road is impassable.”

We’re not planning to carry any firearms or use the railroad tracks, so I hope that makes things a little easier! Click here for the May 19, 1908 New York Times article.

For our walking tour, courtesy of the Lonely Planet Russia guidebook, we first made our way towards the train station, which is the terminus for the Trans-Siberian Railway. We were able to descend directly from the street to the main rail platform to view a monument and plaque that commemorate the 9,288 km railway from Moscow:

Terminus point for the Trans-Siberian Railroad in Vladivostok

Terminus point for the Trans-Siberian Railroad in Vladivostok (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After viewing the monument, we walked along the platform to the train station. I opened the door to enter and saw that we had to pass through a security check point. I started to close the door, but a friendly security guard waved us in. We were through security in about a minute, and the guard then gave us directions to the top floor of the station and told us it was very nice. The station was spotless and had beautiful architecture and pastel colors. Here is one picture of the inside:

Inside of the Vladivostok Train Station

Inside of the Vladivostok Train Station (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

They had a very nice café that I could have stayed at all day, but we weren’t hungry and we still had lots of sights to see, so we moved on, strolling up Aleutskaya Street. I’ve been learning the Cyrillic alphabet, and once I figured out how to read the street signs, I managed to navigate to our next stop, the house where actor Yul Brenner was born. It’s now a barber shop:


The house where Yul Brenner was born

The house where Yul Brenner was born (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Next we crossed a main street using a tunnel; these tunnel crossings are all over the place and we love them — in addition to being safe and efficient, they house small shops, similar to the underground concourse in Crystal City, Virginia, for those of you who have been there (I used to live there).  We then entered an old department store, the GUM, that was filled with shops selling souvenirs, shoes, jewelry, telescopes, microscopes, toys, and just about anything else you can think of. I bought some refrigerator magnets and we wandered over to what we thought was the park that would take us to our next destination, an old Soviet submarine.

However, we had turned one park too soon, so after making our way down to the water past some construction, we walked directly along the waterfront until we bumped into the submarine. In addition to the submarine, there is also a wall inscribed with the names of Vladivostok residents who lost their lives in World War II; it reminded me of a smaller version of the U.S. Vietnam Memorial:


S-56 Submarine and Memorial Wall for Vladivostok residents lost in WWII

S-56 Submarine and Memorial Wall for Vladivostok residents lost in WWII (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We paid 100 rubles (about $3) to tour the submarine. Of course, we were all most fascinated by the torpedo launcher:


Torpedo launchers on the S-56 Submarine

Torpedo launchers on the S-56 Submarine (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After the submarine, we checked out the arch depicted below, which is a reconstruction of a monument to Tsar Nicholas II. The original monument was destroyed by the Soviets after the Russian Revolution in 1917.


Reconstructed Arch for Tsar Nicholas II

Reconstructed Arch for Tsar Nicholas II (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

About 3 o’clock, Svetlana called to say that she thought she would still get the paperwork for our cars today. However, the customs people are all very busy today, so we’re planning to meet Wednesday morning at 9 o’clock to start the process. If all goes well, we’ll bring the cars back to the hotel  tomorrow morning and then head to China on Thursday.

Days 9-11: Ferry to Vladivostok

We’ve completed the ferry trip from Sakaiminota, Japan to Vladivostok, and I think we all now have a better appreciation for some of what the original 1908 racers must have felt during their ocean voyages with their cars from Tsuruga to Vladivostok. The ferry ride was very interesting, but we’re ready to get moving again!

On Saturday, since we couldn’t board the ferry until late afternoon, we spent the morning visiting the Mizuki District in Sakaiminota, which features dozens of anime monster statues and other related artwork. Here’s an example of one of the statues we saw:

Anime monster in Japan

Anime monster in Japan (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

I caught my thumb in the door of the taxi on the drive over, which necessitated the application of this nifty Hello Kitty bandage that acted as a sort of ice pack to keep the swelling down:

Hello Kitty bandage for thumb

Hello Kitty bandage for thumb (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After our last excellent Japanese lunch at a family-owned restaurant near our hotel, we headed to the ferry terminal for the DBS Cruise Ferry that would take us and the cars to Vladivostok via Donghae, Korea. Here’s a picture of the ferry:

Our ferry from Japan to Vladivostok

Our ferry from Japan to Vladivostok (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

And here’s what the cars looked like after they were loaded on the ferry:


Cars loaded on the ferry

Cars loaded on the ferry (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The room we shared on the boat is pictured below; the room holds eight, but only the four of us were in there, giving us a bit of extra room. It was also nice that no one had to crawl into an upper bunk!


Our bunks on the ferry

John with our bunks on the ferry (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The food on the ferry was excellent! We ate both buffet meals in a dining room (mostly Korean food at the bargain prices of $10 for dinner and $7 for lunch). We also had some ala carte meals and beer in a bar on a lower deck:


Bar/café on ferry

Bar/café on ferry (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Most of the people heading from Japan to Korea were very fit Koreans who had been visiting Japan on either a biking trip (complete with bicycles) or on a combined hiking and shopping trip. Hiking and shopping — my two favorite sports combined into one trip; it sounded like heaven to me!

We got off to a bit of a late start on Saturday evening because the ramp for loading the cars wasn’t working right, but we arrived on schedule in Korea Sunday morning, about 9 a.m. We got off the ferry and stretched our legs for a couple of hours before reboarding. The rather sedate, mostly middle-aged fitness freaks from the previous day had been replaced by a younger, more boisterous Russian crowd carrying armloads of bags and boxes from a Korean shopping spree!

Luke made some Russian friends on the ferry; one of them is Ilya Kupryashkin, a university professor in Vladivosktok. He’s on the left in the photo below:

New Russian friends from the ferry

New Russian friends from the ferry (Luke Rizzuto photo)

After another evening on the ferry (with more delicious cuisine and beer), we arrived in Vladivostok about 3pm on Monday. Here’s the ferry terminal at Vladivostok — it’s even more impressive inside:


Ferry terminal in Vladivostok

Ferry terminal in Vladivostok (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

It took us about another hour to get off the ferry, but after that we breezed through immigration, customs, and changing dollars to rubles. Our guide, Svetlana Sen, and the local Mir point of contact, Veronika Bogach, met us after we cleared immigration and customs and, after some additional paperwork for the cars, Svetlana took us to our hotel, which turned out to be only a few hundred meters from the ferry.

And what a beautiful hotel this is! It’s the Hotel Hyundai, considered by many to be the nicest hotel in Vladivostok, and I would agree. Here’s the view of Golden Horn Bay from my room on the 9th floor:

View from the 9th floor of Hotel Hyundai in Vladivostok

View from the 9th floor of Hotel Hyundai in Vladivostok (Eileen Bjorkman photo)


Tonight we had an outstanding meal at Palau Fish, a restaurant recommended by Svetlana that was a very close walk from the hotel.

Tomorrow we’re planning a walking tour of the waterfront and then around 3pm we’ll go with Svetlana to get the cars through customs, although Svetlana will be the one doing all the work!