Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Trans-Siberian Thoughts

Note: This was written while waiting for the train last Tuesday. I'll leave it up the top for a day or so and then shift it to the actual time of writing.

So it turns out I was right and the staff at the hotel were wrong. The 15:00 departure time on my train ticket is indeed 15:00 Moscow time, not 15:00 Vladivostok time. If it weren't for the fact that this is a difference of 7 hours I wouldn't be much put out.

I'll admit I was initially wrong as well, getting the direction wrong and thinking 15:00 Moscow time was 08:00 Vladivostok time, when it is actually 22:00. Just as well I didn't turn up to catch the train then. That would have been quite a wait.

As it is, by the time I board the train I'll have been lurking around the station for about 11 hours, and will have gone through the batteries on most of my devices, although my ipod should last a while longer. The best run it has had is about 24 hours on the go, while playing videos and shuffling, which put a bit more of a drain on the battery. If there is no power on the train, which I believe is the case, things will go dark relatively soon on the trip.

I should make it into tomorrow with juice in the batteries of things as I figure once I get on the train I'll hit the sack pretty quickly.

Vladivostok has been pretty good. The submarine museum inside an actual submarine (no longer underwater unfortunately) was an experience, although they took ever chance to extract some rubles from you (100 for entry, 50 to take photos, 50 for a brochure, and 50 to get a photo in a navy major's jacket and hat). The guy selling souvenirs at the exit said he collected Australian dollar and fifty cent coins and offered to buy any I might have had on me. Unfortunately, I only have a ten cent piece I don't intend to part with. I have considered drilling a hole in it so I can place it on my chain so I'm less likely to lose it.

There's a fair few monuments around the place here, mainly for sailors and admirals and such, this being very much a port town. There's also the to be expected remnants of the soviet era. Across the road from the train station is a grand statue of Lenin, or as it is written on the statue ΛEHИH. (Knowing the Greek alphabet has made it easier to pick up bits and pieces of the Cyrillic script (Ф = f, Λ = l, etc)). There are also monuments to the workers who rose up during the revolution, a few for WWII, and some other bits and pieces of history.

The weather has been better than I feared, although today I'm not wearing my really thick pants and can feel the difference. I've not seen any snowfall or rain, and the temperatures seem to have been between -5 and 0, or at least during the day when I was outside.

It's cold enough to keep the ice in the bays frozen. On my second day I strolled out onto the ice for a while which seemed to be the winter equivalent of the local park. There were families and couples walking around. The majority of people there though were ice fishers. They each had there own seat of some kind, be it a stool, a box, a tire, or whatever else, a drill, and one or two rods, which are about a foot long. They drill the whole and then lower the line and twitch it until they get a bite. The fish they caught weren't that large (the holes were about 10cm in diameter) and I don't really see how it could be viable as anything other than recreation.

Also in the ice was a cut out section about 10m long up by the shore where you could get into the water. A lot more people than I thought were doing it. Most simply climbed in, got there whole body except for their heads underwater and got right back out straight away, although a few hardier (and older) individuals actually swam the length of it and back.

There was also a lot of ice around the lighthouse I visited, but I did not go walking on the ice there. It was not as solid or as well attached to the shore. This may have something to do with it being a lot closer to the shipping lines than the other spot. The lighthouse is a small structure which apparently cannot be got to at high tide (I don't know if going in winter helped, but it didn't look as though the tide had been in for a while).

The best view I found in the city was at what I believe was the state agricultural college which is up a hill and looks down on the city. I got a few good pictures looking eastish, but not many looking westward as the sun got in the way. The college is actually split in two parts, one at the top of the hill and one at the bttom. The guide book said the two were connected by what is called a funicular and my plan was to find the lower station, take it to the top and enjoy the view. Instead, I found the top, enjoyed the view and then learnt the funicular had been closed, possibly for repairs (there were men working on the track), possibly for good, and walked down the adjacent stairs back to the main street.

My hotel was better than I expected. The room was nicer than I expected, and although it was a shared room, no one else was in there during my stay. The only problem I had was a lack of English on the staffs part (or a lack of Russian on my part) which made for some confusion, although for the most part things worked out. The hotel sorted out registration for me, which is one of the bureaucratic roadblocks the Russians put in the way of travelers. I'll be glad when I hit Turkey and won't have that to do with any more.

The ride to the train station this morning was interesting. The driver was what I guess was the hotel's security guard/odd job guy. He was normally dressed in what looked like a military uniform (matching camoish pants and shirt). During the drive he pointed out a few things and grumbled about the traffic. He managed to get across that he used to be in the navy, served on a submarine, and was possibly based in Sevastopol. When he left me at the station he gave me a very firm handshake and then a bear hug, which I was not expecting.

I much prefer the ride I had with him to the one I had from the airport to my hotel. It didn't get off to a good start when the guy said it was six hundred kilometers to Vladivostok. This made the price seem very reasonable, but somewhat put me off as I was reasonably sure no city has its airport that far away. As it turns out he meant 60km, which is still an exaggeration as it's actually about 40km. I eventually agreed as the buses had stopped about an hour ago and he had the best English of the taxi drivers around.

Actually, he wasn't the driver, he was the salesman as he took me to a car and someone else drove, although the guy came along as well. At first I was a little worried I'd walked into a less than good situation as the roads were dark and there was little traffic. I wasn't entirely sure things were OK until when they stopped outside a hotel and said we were at my hotel when clearly we weren't (they took me to Hotel Vladivostok when my reservation said Jing Long Hotel - Vladivostok) and then how serious they were at trying to work out where they should take me. They did try to get some extra money from me, but given that I was already giving them more than I was paying for my hotel, I was not going to give them any more.

I'm going to look for somewhere to leave my bags and then get something to eat, as I've only had a fruit and nut toblerone so far today, and the hunger is beginning to get to me.

End Post
Writing time: about half an hour
Time since last post: a few days
Current media: whatever was on my ipod at the time

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