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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Russia - 8 July, 2003

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Vladivostok (Hotel Vladivostok) N4307.091' E13152.665' 0 meters .
Ferry to Russky Island . . . 15 km (by car ferry)
Tour of Russky Island . . . 30 km (by mini-van)
Ferry to Vladivostok . . . 15 km (by car ferry)
Finish Vladivostok (Hotel Vladivostok) N4307.091' E13152.665' 0 meters .

Total (by train):

766 km

Total (other):

79 km

Total:

845 km

 

Weather: Overcast, cool, humid and windy.

 

 

This morning we try to figure out what we want to do today.  We have been in discussions with our travel agent about some tours and we had thought about doing a tour to Russky and Popov Islands, but we are informed about the price and it is just too expensive for two of us.  They would have to book a private boat and with only the two of us, the costs are too high.  The weather today is also not too bad (no rain), so we decide to see if we can go on our own.  Yesterday we had sorted out the ferry schedule, so we get ready and head out shortly after noon.

 

Out understanding is that a ferry leaves every two and a half hours and the next one that we can catch leaves at 2 PM.  We are at the ferry terminal at 1 PM and wait our turn in the queue at the Kassa.  Jacqui has an opportunity to try out her continually improving Russian skills.  Some how she is able to communicate that we want two tickets on the 2 PM ferry to Russky - she issues us the tickets for a total of Roubles 80 (a bit less than $3).  We even find out that it is leaving from pier two and that one of the times the ferry is returning is at 6 PM.

 

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We head back outside and after finding the pier (and getting some comfort from the group of people and cars building up around that pier), sit down at one of the stalls and have a light lunch.  Lars gets a hot dog and a large dumpling and Jacqui gets a kebab.  While we are sitting there, we get harassed by a bunch of Uzbek ladies out and about begging.  Do not know what they are doing all the way up in cold Vladivostok.  At about 10 minutes to two, a small decrepit old car ferry pulls into the pier.  It has certainly seen better days and could use some maintenance and a good paint job.  So long as it gets us there safely.

 

There is a mad rush of people trying to get on the ferry.  They are pushing their way up the short gang plank and through the narrow opening and having their tickets checked.  We soon find out why there is such a rush - there are only a limited number of seats inside the two small cabins on either side of the ferry.  If you do not get a seat, you are stuck out in the open.  Anyway, we did not really want a seat as one of the main reasons we are taking the ferry is to see the harbor from the water.  The deck of the ferry fills up with cars and small trucks.

 

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The ferry slowly makes its way through the harbor down the Zolotoy Rog Inlet out into the bay.  The sea is pretty smooth and we make good progress towards the large island that protects the entrance to the harbor.  You can see why Vladivostok made such a strategic naval port in its days.  It is protected not only from the sea and the weather, but also from potential enemies.  It has excellent natural protection.  As we pass by the harbor stretched along the peninsular that forms the inlet, we see the port at work.  It is less busy than we would have thought.  Not too many navy ships nor commercial ships.  The most important cargo seems to be scrap steel - not sure if it is coming or going.  A couple of floating dry docks with rusty old ships being worked on - given the number of rusty ships in the harbor, they have some work to do.

 

On the deck of the ferry, the people are just hanging out.  Many are drinking the beers they brought with them.  A couple of groups of elderly men are play dominos.  Others are just sheltering from the cold wind that comes off the water.  We seek shelter behind some of the small trucks.  As we approach Russky Island, a narrow man-made channel comes into view.  We slow down and pass through this channel into a bay formed by the elongated horseshoe shaped island.  After a brief stop on the near side of the bay to let off and pick up a few cars, we make our way across the bay to the main pier.  As we get closer to the pier, a couple of young Russian men start to speak to us and ask us where we are from.  After a short conversation, the one of the two that speaks decent English asks us if we would like them to show us around the island.  They seem surprised that we had made no arrangements and just wanted to go for a bit of a wander (they said the island is very big).  We hesitate and delay the decision as we disembark and make our way along the long pier to land.  In the end, we decide to go for it.  We do not want to be too trusting, but we also do not want to be too paranoid.  In the end, it turns out to be a great choice.

 

The guy who speaks English, Nick, stops a 4WD minivan and speaks to the driver.  They seem to come to some arrangement and we all pile into the van and head off.  We drive along the edge of the bay on a bumpy dirt road.  We get a good look at another Russian navy ship as we go by.  We pass a number of run-down old building s that seem to be apartment buildings and staff quarters.  One is an old pub, now just a shell of its former self.  We turn off to the right away from the water and head up into the forest that covers the hills.  After a while, we turn off what seems to pass for the "main" road and head down a side lane.  All of a sudden we come upon a barrier, manned by an elderly guard and four fierce sounding and looking dogs.  After some discussion, the bearded man lets us through and we drive up to a concrete structure buried into the hillside.

 

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We have come to explore the Varoshilov Battery - a decommissioned heavy gun battery that has been turned into a museum.  The battery, named number 981 and comprised of two triple turrets, was completed in 1934 and is located near the southeast part of Novik Bay.  It was closed in 1997.  At first we did not realise it had been turned into a museum - it seemed pretty run down.  Just glad they had lights.  We entered the top floor of the complex, which is itself below ground level, through some huge blast doors.  Inside we went through a number of rooms, with the main part of the complex seeming to be a round, cylindrical room that extended down to the levels below.  On the top floor, there are the sleeping quarters of the crew, wooden slats suspended from the ceiling, circling around the central main room. 

 

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We headed down some narrow, metal steps to the two levels below the top floor.  Here were located the magazines where the powder and shells were stored.  The magazines formed an outer circle around the interior cylinder that ran up through the entire complex.  There were special locks that led from the circular magazines to the center structure, through which the high explosives could be passed and then put on the elevators to take it up to the guns above.  As we were on the bottom floor, a middle aged man in uniform and started speaking in a load voice to our local guides.  We were told it was no problem.  As we climbed back up the metal ladder, we were greeted by a huge group of young school children.  They must be here on a class trip visiting the museum.

 

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We make our way back to the upper level and out onto the top of the fort.  We then make our way over to the gun battery itself.  It is a triple barrel battery with 305mm guns, which we are told was taken from a scrapped Russian battleship, the "Frunze" (formerly known as the "Poltava"), of the "Sevastopol class.  The ship had been destroyed by fire in 1919, so they were re-using the guns.  They were transported to this site over ice by tractor sleds.  They are massive guns and we go and check them out more closely.  While we cannot see the sea from here, we are told that a command-range finder post is located 1.5 kilometers away at Vyatlin Mountain and they provide the targeting information to the battery.  We climb out onto the 305 mm barrels and stand on the very tips.

 

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The museum guard then shows up and is kind enough to open the door to the battery.  we clamber in through the small door and go and check out the three guns.  It is cool.  We are allowed to play with all the controls.  We can raise and lower the barrels.  We open and close the breech.  We just cannot move the elevators to bring any explosives and shells up from the magazines below (too bad!!).  The guns have very patriotic Soviet red paint trim on them.  As we exit we try out shutting the heavy, solid steel blast door.  Glad that we can re-open it and get out of the small, enclosed space.

 

This ends our exploration of this battery and we pile into the minivan to go and check out some other sights.  We drive back up to the main road, turn left and carry on for a while.  We soon come upon an over-grown road that surely has not been used in quite some time.  But we are able to slowly crawl up the bumpy road, with the driver breaking various bushes along the way to make room for the van. At the top we go and check out another abandoned fort.

 

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And this one is certainly abandoned.  It is over grown with bushes and plants.  We first go and check out the view from the top of the fort wall where the guns had been placed.  They are now gone, but the fantastic view down to the bay below is still there.  Despite the low laying clouds, we get a very good view of the coast line and bays.

 

We head back down to the entrance of the fort and slowly make our way into the first room.  It is a mess in here.  This one is certainly not a museum.  We have our small torch that we use to try to shed some light on the interior.  We do not go far - it does not seem safe.  There are a few rooms off the front room and then some corridors that extend far beyond the meager beam of our torch.  We beat a hasty retreat.  When our local guide who has grown up on this island tells us it is not safe, we will follow his advise.

 

As we make our way back to the van, we notice the many beautiful wild flowers that line the path.  There are red, blue, purple and yellow flowers.  A couple of white bells make an interesting contrast.  It is soon time time to head back to the ferry.  Our hosts seem disappointed that we are heading back so soon.  But we had planned on heading back on the 6 PM ferry and we are not quite sure of the schedule.  As we drive back to the ferry, our friend asks us if he can quickly stop by his parents place - we say no problem.  We wait until he comes back and we are surprised - he presents us with gifts.  He gives us two sets of pins from the Soviet times.  One is a series of the old Soviet Pacific Fleet and the other is of Soviet soccer teams.  They are great, but we are embarrassed - we have nothing to give in return.  When we are back in the van, Nick's friend then gets into the act.  He gives us a patch, which we are told is an old Soviet special forces patch.  It has a black bat symbol.  We try to figure out what we can give in return, and then remember that we have some Malaysian money.  Better than nothing and it is nice that we can at least give something.  As we drive back to the ferry, Nick's friend asks for a stop and he gets out.  In a few minutes he returns with a large, pale green butterfly stuck on a nail.  Not sure where he got it.  It is a nice thought, but a bit of a shame.

 

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We now need to make our way to the ferry, but along the way, we have time for one more stop at the naval ship so that we can take a picture.  We approach the pier just as the 6 PM ferry is arriving.  We make our way to the end of the pier and say our goodbyes to our new found friends.  They have been really nice and we are glad that, in the end, we took up their offer to show us some of the sights.  We make our way on to the ferry which is filled with cars, but not as crowded with people.  We wave our goodbyes and the go into the cabin for a short while to warm up.

 

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It is too stuffy in the cabin (in fact, we even start to doze off), and we soon return out onto the deck.  As you can see here, it is amazing how the Russian women will wear their high heels (with fashionable pointy toes) in all conditions.  We have come from an island which has mainly dirt tracks and are on a rickety old ferry.  The ride back seems to be a bit faster and we are soon entering the inlet and approaching the ferry terminal.  One of the Russian naval ships has left, and now only one is left tied up to the pier.  We arrive back at the city just before 7 PM.

 

We make our way back to the hotel to drop off our stuff and relax for a short while before heading out for dinner.  We have a quick, light dinner, after which we do some grocery shopping - some water and fruit.  Then back up to the hotel to relax and work on our journals before showering and bed.

 

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