After arriving in Vladivostok by coach from Hunchun, China, it felt like we’d entered a different world. China was only a few kilometers away, and yet Vladivostok felt culturally and ethnically closer to Europe than anything. The name ‘Vladivostok’ is derived from the Russian words of ‘to hold’ and ‘east’, perhaps symbolising the city’s strategic military significance – it was never taken by the Japanese during their empire. We were to stay in this city for a few days before flying to the awe-inspiring peninsula of Kamchatka.
The most exciting part about Vladivostok was a tour that we took to a derelict part of Vladivostok’s fortification system. We walked, with our guide, through long grass, and then underground, deep into this masterpiece of engineering. Our guide began to explain the history of the fort. We must have appeared tired, because, out of nowhere, he pulled out a handgun and shot it down one of the tunnels. Well that woke us up! He subsequently told us to shoot the gun ourselves, telling us to “imagine we were aiming at Japanese troops”. Well that was an experience…
The real highlight of our trip to Russia; however, was visiting Kamchatka. We spent roughly a week in the land of bears, wilderness and volcanoes, seeing some wild bears ourselves. The landscape was stunning! We spent this time hiking, on a boat trip, on a helicopter excursion (to “The Valley Of Geysers”, a must see in Kamchatka), fishing, and visiting a traditional village of the Koryak people. The only thing we didn’t enjoy was the museum in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky – what a bore!