Tour ending in Vladivostok

Tour ending in Vladivostok

July 15, 2012

Our last day of touring with the group and everyone scatters tomorrow.  Today is Vladivostok day   but won’t be a huge tour as most of the group has done some exploring here already but we will hit some of the high points.  We have heard of some underground tours where “diggers” (seems to be the term here for underground urban explorers. Here is a website that explains it better:  www.diggers.ru and their definition… “””Digging – (name of Russian urban exploration) – dangerous alternative hobby, consisting of the infiltration and exploration of underground levels and constructions such as tunnels and drains.”””) take people around in former fortresses and tunnels.  Several of us are interested in doing this but the Vladivostok diggers are apparently working stiffs like the rest of us and can only do this in the evenings or on the weekends and the timing just isn’t going to work.

We start our day with the wonderful buffet breakfast in the hotel (and wonderful is a bit of a stretch but there is usually yoghurt).  We meet Julia in the lobby and walk down to the ferry.  That’s down the hill past the train station where we can see the old steam engine on display on the tracks below us.  I tell my husband that there is a plaque that shows this is the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway but I couldn’t remember exactly where the plaque is located.  We continue to the ferry and Julia meets someone who has our tickets for us.  The ferry is waiting so we get on board and there are very few places to sit.  I find a seat on a large square structure and park it and remain there until it is time to get off of the ferry.  It could be a car ferry but no cars get on board.  My husband wanders around a bit but mostly he sits next to me too.

Usually the ferry makes a stop before our destination of Russki Island but that dock had been washed away so it’s a straight shot for us now.  At Russki Island, there are two taxis waiting for us and we pile into them and are raced around the island to the far side.  This is Voroshilov Battery.  It is one of the military facilities built around Vladivostok during the early 20th century.  The purpose of these batteries was defense against the Chinese and the Japanese.  It is felt that these batteries kept Vladivostok from falling under attack and kept Vladivostok safe.

The battery is surrounded by woods and the trees have grown up some over the viewpoints so now you can’t really see a long way off in the ocean but in its heyday!  We are met by the former and the last base commander.  He now works here as a guide.  We assemble along with some other groups and he leads the way to the big guns sitting on top of the hill.

The guns are not functional any longer but they must have been something as they were huge.  We did find out that the guns were never actually fired in defense or war, just that they were there was enough to keep the marauders from marauding.   The base commander doesn’t speak English so Julia must translate for us.  Sometimes she holds us back to do this so the group is wandering ahead of us as we get the information a tad bit later.

From the guns, we are going into one of the battery stations; the place where the ammunition was kept and shells rolled onto lifts and bays to raise to the gun, be rammed into place and fired.  While the guns where never fired in earnest, they did have practice runs so the men would know how to fire the humungous weapons

I found this on site:  www.russiantour.net

“””«…Over the Voroshilovsky battery there remains a deafening silence. You can hear even the leaves falling… first… second… third… On May, 1931 USSR Revolutionary Council of War makes the decision about measures to improve defense of Vladivostok. According to it from 1932 to 1934 most concrete, rocky and underground works on Russki Island have been done. Onshore heavy artillery batteries were installed in 1932-1945 years in Vladivostok defense area and due to their presence on the coast and islands; the Japanese fleet has not risked attacked Vladivostok, and turned on Pearl Harbor. Details of towers and cannon barrels were transported to the island on barges. On February, 1, 1934 the installation of the first tower took place, and on April, 1, 1934 – the second one was finished. Since 1934 and up to the present days artillery has been protecting approaches to Vladivostok from seaside.

Officially Voroshilovsky battery was closed down as fighting unit of coastal defense of Pacific fleet on July, 30, 1997. Now it is a museum of the Pacific Fleet. There are markers near the road, with their help it is easy to get to the absolutely confidential object, which Voroshilovsky battery was in the past. Under each of the two towers there is the underground under-turret block with accommodation, technical facilities and ammunition depots, with 3 floors, and the descent into the deep – gallery length of 217 m. At the Voroshilov battery year round heat (there is electric heating), and all rooms have electric lighting, a souvenir shop.”””

It was quite an interesting tour.  It is hard to imagine it up and running and especially at the speeds that were required to get the ammunition ready and into the guns to fire.  The whole layout was ingenious and  remarkable in how they moved the powder charges and the shells and how quickly too.  The base commander certainly was proud of the installation and his place in history as one of the commanders.

Too soon we are back into the taxis and race back to the ferry dock.  We can’t miss our ferry or we wait a couple of hours for the next one.  No problem as it is just pulling up to the dock when we arrive.  I find a slightly better seat this time and we start the ride back to Vladivostok.

Pretty much time for some lunch so we follow Julia away from the port and up the main street to a restaurant building.  It appeared that  this building was full of different types of restaurants.  We have a room with a Chinese meal awaiting us with soup and dim sum.  Quite tasty but now my stomach is playing havoc with me as well as the hips and knees.

We have a bit of time after lunch before we start some afternoon touring.  My hubby and I walk up the street and around the block.  We were looking for the pedestrian street but somehow we missed it so we went towards the train station instead but I couldn’t remember where the plaque was and we had forgotten to ask anyone before we came so we didn’t go down any of the long flights of stairs to find it.  A train did arrive while we were standing there and it was quite long.  Pretty sure it was the Trans-Siberian arriving. We walk back to the Everyman Monument to meet the group for our afternoon bit.

The group is dwindling as some members of the group have been to these attractions before and wants to go see other things.  Everyone agrees to meet for dinner one last time though and Simon will take us to a local shop to eat.  Julia heads for the submarine with her dwindling row of ducklings.  She is showing us the square where there is a monument to Peter the Great up a side street.  Unfortunately for us, it is scaffolded and under repair.  Next to the submarine is a chapel dedicated to mariners.  I stepped inside for a minute and looked around as the last time I had been here, it had been closed.  My hubby takes some photos and also of the monument to fallen sailors then we duck into the submarine which is a museum in the first half and shows bits of the submarine in the second half.  I am very tempted to buy a hat on my way out which is strewn with naval pins but I pass.  Then a tour member comes out behind me with the hat in hand and I am sorry I didn’t get it.  Wow, so easily swayed one way or another.

This is the end of our tour and we slowly trudge our way back up the hill to our hotel.  Most of the group is leaving in the early morning so the last we will see them will be dinner.  A couple of the Brits who live in Hong Kong are on our Korean air flight with us back to Seoul and we won’t be leaving until about 12:30 from the hotel.  It’s been a remarkably good tour even with my husband decided this type of adventure is not for him.  He did have a good time most of the time.  I had a good time all of the time except when bits and pieces of my body wanted to be in a hot tub anywhere but where I was.

We hang out a bit in our room checking to make sure all our flights are in order and everything is a go to head to Guam for our last week of vacation which will be scuba diving.  Then we meet the group downstairs at 8 p.m. for our last dinner.  Simon leads us down the hill to the waterfront area again and we end up at a Russian café which is basically a walk through the line and point to what you want or pick it up and put it on your tray.  Not really hungry so I don’t get much and share the rest with my hubby.  Somehow I thought the last meal would be a bit fancier in a restaurant but this is ok, really.  It’s quite typical of the way the Russians go out to eat.

There aren’t enough seats at a single table so we are a bit scattered between two and ½ tables.  I am facing a table where two older gentlemen and a woman are eating.  One of the men is dressed in a full military uniform and we found out it was the Navy.  Every time I snuck a glance over towards him, he would look up and wink at me.  Finally I can see that they are about finished with their meal and they are getting ready to leave.  The Navy man looks at me again and I motion with my camera that I would like to take a photo.  Wow.  He is totally up for that, in fact, he jumps up and puts on his hat and starts posing for us.  Several of the tour members have come out without their cameras tonight and are quite sorry because we got a show!

Julia is not with us so we are dependent upon Simon for translation and the man speaks too quickly for Simon to get most of it but he gets some salient points.  The man is a former Navy Captain.  He even hauls out his wallet later to show us his identification.  Not quite sure of all the other things he tried to tell us but he had definite opinions on everything and didn’t care for President Obama when he found out some of us were Americans.  Wow, that’s a first because usually people overseas love Obama.

He wants his photo taken with me which I am not overjoyed about but I do it and then one other member wants a photo with him and then suddenly he has gotten out his stringed instrument, a balalaika, which is triangular and has three strings.  Sort of like an oddly shaped ukulele.    He starts playing for us and we all dutifully listen and when he stops, we applaud.  His wife is sitting resignedly at the table.  She has the look that says, Here he goes again and that says he must do this often.  Why else would he run around in his uniform with this balalaika?

After we applaud, he starts playing again but it is the same song.  This time he sings along with it for more applause.  Once again, the applause stops and he starts playing again.  Now he adds some dance steps that amount to him jumping up and down in place as he is singing and playing.  End of performance, weaker applause, smiles all around, he starts again.  This happened about 8 times.  Then he says that he wants a souvenir from us.  He knows the souvenir word.  We have nothing to give him really because we’ve all come out without backpacks and such.  One of the Aussies pulls out a $20 Australian and hands it to him.  We are all going, OMG, you aren’t going to get it back but he says it’s ok.  The captain examines it very carefully and Simon explains it is from Australia.  The captain smiles and pockets it and launches into another song and dance and it is the same music again.  Our favorite Aussie then pulls out a $20 U.S. and hands it to the captain.  This bill he recognized immediately and stuffed it in his pocket without examination.  Glad our Aussie was rich to give away almost $40 to the captain.

The captain is still going strong so Simon says we should all get up or we’ll be here forever so we do and the captain mimes and asks Simon if I will send the photos we have taken.  Sure, I can do that.  He gets a piece of paper and starts writing down his address so I can mail him the photos.   He is about half way through writing down his address when his wife gets frustrated and takes the paper from him, turns it over, and writes down the address to give to me.  And then we are able to take our leave.

The group goes down the street to a bar and there are hugs and smiles all around and goodbyes.  It has been a remarkable group and rather cohesive too as we were all interested in the subject matter of the tour and the uniqueness of it.  My hubby and I go with Simon to a shop where he buys chocolate for his helpers back at his office.  We just get a few snacks for the plane and then it’s up the hill to the hotel and we finish our last bit of packing and we are zonked.

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This entry was posted in Far East Russia, gulags, History, mining, Russia, travel, Vladivostok and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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