Gulags & Abandoned Cities & Diving
Into Seoul and On to Vladivostok
July 6, 2012
We arrived in Seoul the next morning. As our flight from Seoul to Vladivostok is on Vladivostok Air rather than Korean Air, we were unable to get our boarding pass before we left. The plan is to pick it up in Inchon airport (Seoul) at their counter. We have been through this process before and it does work but it still is a bit nerve-wracking. Plus, you have to go through security again even if you are just transferring from one flight to another and we have no boarding passes to get through security but we did have documentation so it worked as it was supposed to work and we got into the airport.
We head out of the plane and follow the signs to transfer as we will not be going out of the airport on this trip. We are met at the gate by some Koreans trying to sell a day tour kind of thing that will take you around Inchon city or into Seoul for the day if you have enough of a layover but we don’t. We have several hours but we are desperately in need of a shower plus we have to get our boarding passes for Vladivostok plus we used to live here so we have done all the things they are offering.
We come into the airport right at the Korean Cultural Experience booth and they are re-enacting a Chosun Dynasty wedding ceremony, I think. Whatever it is, there are plenty of people in traditional Korean hanboks and guards with swords and pikes and drums and they are ready to march down the concourse and give all the tourists a thrill and something to watch as they go from duty free store to duty free store. Gosh I miss Korea. Inchon airport has upgraded since we were last here and has become even more the cosmopolitan shopping mall with high end and designer brands available for everyone to peruse and hopefully buy. I did like some of the cosmetics that I used to get in Korea but when I looked, I couldn’t remember which one I liked exactly could just remember the different brands that were available.
We find out that Vladivostok Air flies out of a gate that is in the other concourse, meaning we have to take a train to get there and once there, we are not allowed to return to the main concourse. Luckily there is a Vladivostok Air business lounge in that concourse and even without our boarding passes; we think we might be able to talk our way into the lounge for a shower. YES! We did. Thank you very much. Had to do it without the boarding passes because of course, when we got to the Vladivostok Air counter, they weren’t going to be open until about 2 hours before the flight and we had about 4 hours to kill. Doesn’t matter, we got into the lounge and got a shower and then got some food and had some time to sit and contemplate international travel or our navels, whichever seemed more important at the time.
After about another hour, we go to the Vladivostok Air counter and get our boarding passes. We do this and head straight back to the lounge with our official invites into the lounge and spend the rest of our time relaxing and reading and waiting for the final flight.
We have discovered that the flight is 2 hours from Seoul to Vladivostok. We are going north and a bit east. And there is a 2 hour time difference between here and Vladivostok. So we are leaving Seoul at 6 p.m. but we are not getting into Vladivostok until 10 P.M. I had made arrangements with Koryo tours for a pick up and transfer to our
hotel. I have been in Vladivostok once before with them but couldn’t remember where the airport was in relation to the hotel. I didn’t think it was that far away (I was wrong) but I also didn’t want to try and hassle with a taxi driver after I had been flying for hours and hours and miles and miles. I just like to get there, get to the hotel, get some sleep, and be ready for the tour to start the next day.
No special cons or pros on the flight from Seoul to Vladivostok on V/A. everything worked out fine but what was uber cool, upon arrival in Vladivostok, we got the special super-duper VIP treatment. We got our own bus from the plane to the terminal (even though the plane is parked close to the terminal, there are not extendable gates as in more modern airports so stairs are rolled to the plane and a bus is provided to drive around in a circle and deposit you in front of the correct door –rather than walking 200 yards from the plane to the door). There were only 7 of us in business class so our bus of 7 people was the first into immigration and by the time the other bus had loaded with economy class passengers, we were stamped and into Russia. Gotta love the rich Russians who insist on this type of treatment in airports.
Of course, by the time the baggage claim doors were opened so that people could retrieve their bags, most of the plane had made it through immigration and there is a mass huddle of humanity shoving through the door to get their luggage. Vladivostok Air has a policy of one bag only for economy class. There were some very odd shaped bags coming out as people put together 3 and 4 bags and wrapped them in the plastic wrap to make them “one bag”. We snag a couple of spots close to the belt and wait for our 4 bags to emerge and they came out fairly quickly. Sometimes, we have found, having “priority” on our bags means they come out dead last rather than in the first wave. We got lucky this time.
We hitch our two suitcases together with the special hook we have to do that. This allows me to wrangle the two suitcases while my hubby struggles with the pull handles on the two dive bags. Slightly uneven in the weight distribution but it gets us through the airports. Then as we walk through the doors to the mass of people waiting for the flight, we see a young man with a sign with our names on it! Huzzah! I love it when a plan comes together…
We think his name was Ivan. He was a young man who was totally into being a tour guide and giving us a good ride into the city very late at night. By now it is around 10:45 p.m. at the end of apx 13 hours of flying, 3 hours getting to the airports and 4 hours waiting in Seoul. We are not the brightest sparks at this point and are just barely on the right side of comatose. But he does grab as many suitcases as he can and leads us out of the airport and apologized profusely as it takes him 10 minutes to find the taxi he had booked for us.
We are safely tucked into the rear seat with our seatbelts fastened and Ivan gives us each a bottle of water and informs us that it will take about 40 minutes to get into the city because the new road has opened. Oh joy. Hadn’t remembered that the city was that far away. However, Vladivostok is on a peninsula of hills so I should have remembered. BUT with the new road, 40 minutes is good. Otherwise might have taken us an hour or 1 ½ hours. We are being entertained though as we ride. Ivan is giving us a history of Vladivostok since day 1 of existence all the way through the forbidden years (when no one was allowed to visit) to the opening up of the city to the current plans for a major Asian conference to be held this September and then he went into his own personal history. Gracious but that man could chatter!!! We learned about apartment prices versus salary prices plus his girlfriend and his plans to find a new apartment soon and get married but it’s so expensive and also learned about nightclubs and entertainment in Vladivostok and so much more. It would have been wonderful if we had been conscious for all of it.
We become more alert as we hit the city outskirts and I start recognizing things from my last visit. There’s the bridge they were building last time I was here. It looks finished but apparently there are problems. We climb up some hills and around the corner to Hotel Vladivostok and I do recognize it but it is under construction and being revamped. Great. Seems like we are always staying in hotels that are re-doing bits and pieces.
Ivan drags a couple of our bags into the hotel and we drag the other two and there is a note from our tour leader of Koyro tours telling us the plan for the morning. We turn in our passports and get our key to our room and Ivan helps us with our bags to the lift and up we go to our room which is less than stellar. The toilet is not totally connected to the floor which means every time I sit down, it shifts to one side of the other. First time, it almost threw me onto the floor but I learned quickly to adjust and we are only here for one night this time. We say goodbye to Ivan who is probably a wonderful, wonderful tour guide. We just couldn’t appreciate him as tired as we were and at that time of night.
As quickly as possible, we drag out what we need to get to sleep tonight, which includes our eye masks, and climb into the very small bed (we have a king sized at home. We will only have a double on the entire trip – next time I must ask for two beds which gives us more room), set the alarm, and we are out like the lights.