Vladivostok is Russia's only warm water port on the Pacific. It's military importance kept it isolated from the west during the Soviet period until 1992, when it was opened to the west. It also is famous as the terminus of the Trans-Siberian railway, which for many years was the only link between Moscow and its far eastern territories. Today intrepid travelers can make this journey which takes seven days. Berths are provided, but bathing opportunities are not. For only $500 you can see the entire country, get a bodacious back ache, and smell really bad.
Our tour took us to a nearby theater where a group of kids age 6 - 18, mostly girls, performed both traditional Russian dances and some more modern creations. We were dubious when we read the description of this tour. Lord knows we've attended lots of awful ballet recitals over the years. But this group was polished and professional and had performed in competitions all over the country. Since they are not supported by the state in any way, the frequent lavish costume changes were also impressive.
Then six of us went with our guide to her home for tea and cake. Just as in our previous Russian experiences, the outside of the apartment and the stairs up to it, were dirty and disgusting. A bare bulb hung above us as we geezers walked the three flights to the door. However, once we got inside, it was another story. The apartment was small, but neat and clean and housed our guide's brother, sister-in-law and their child. Our guide comes from a city 200 kilometers away, so she moved to the big city to attend the university. The living room featured a large TV, which was on quite loudly throughout our entire visit. They were happy that recently they had started getting American TV. Blessings abound.
The city was within walking distance of the dock and we rejoiced in the changes we noted since the last time we visited Russia. Modern cars from Japan clogged the streets; the old Russian clunkers were nowhere to be seen. Unfortunately, while the Russians drive on the right as we do, all the Japanese cars were right hand drive, as befits the Japanese driver's requirements. Our guide said that Chinese cars are also available, but no one dares to buy one. Agreed.
Vladivostok is a university town and the streets were clogged with young folks; if we saw gray hair it belonged to one of our fellow passengers. Keith and Ken remarked on the beauty of the young Russian women; I could hardly disagree. They wore skin tight jeans or extremely short skirts and tottered around on high heels that I could only dscribe as hooker shoes. How they managed to navigate the torn up stone streets was a mystery to me. Dr. Scholl's will be doing a great business here in a few years!
Stores were a challenge to find. They were there all right, but we can't decipher much Cyrillic and few buildings had display windows. But once we went inside, we saw food we would consider eating for sale and myriad women's clothing stores. The only concession to the winter weather we spotted was elegant fur hats.
There were plenty of Russian sailors roaming around, which was no surprise since this is a major military port, but we were surprised to see some Yankees as well. Their ships and ours were berthed side by side. It's great to see our former enemies as colleagues. We certainly have accumulated enough new enemies recently...