Thursday morning and I awoke ready to do some exploring. I had a banana and juice for breakfast then set off relatively early. Today my general direction would be Up.
Vladivostok is a very hilly city, it has been compared to San Francisco. The result is that there are some points high on the hills where you can get very spectacular views across the bay and even out to sea. From Vladivostok depending on which direction you go, in a straight line you will reach either North Korea, South Korea, or Japan (you have to turn a few corners if you want to reach China). Of course the coastlines are too far away to see anything but you can see other parts of the Primorsky region (of which Vladivostok is the capital) to the north-west. And you can see Russkiy Island, and the new bridge that connects it to the peninsula, to the south.
One of the highest points, certainly the highest point in the downtown area is known as the Eagle’s Nest. This was where I was headed to start with. I left the hostel and walked along the “high” road – the next road up above Svetlanskaya, until I came to the campus of the DVFU, the local university. Connecting the lower campus with the upper campus is a funicular railroad. It only costs 12 roubles and only takes a couple of minutes but it is better than climbing the 398 steps!
Unfortunately at the top there is a bit more climbing and a bit more walking. First you have to cross the main road under the subway, then there is a metal bridge taking you across to the university campus and observation deck. Even after that there are some stone stairs. There are also some strange, old looking stone sculptures, I’m not sure if they are art or ruins or why or how they came to be there.
From the observation deck you can look directly across the Golden Horn Bay and the Golden Bridge that stretches across it. Behind the peninsula on the other side of the bay, you can see Russkiy Island, connected by another bridge. There is a small chapel on the observation deck, and the railings there are a popular place to leave love-locks – padlocks representing the permanence of a couple’s love for each other.
This is a nice view but it isn’t the Eagle’s Nest or the highest point. That involves yet more climbing. I found a road going upwards and followed it but it didn’t look like it went all the way to the top and the path to the top wasn’t well signposted. Fortunately just as I was walking up, a large tour party of Chinese tourists was making its way down some rough steps cut into the side of the hill. If they hadn’t been there I could have easily walked past it or dismissed it as the entrance to someone’s property.
I waited what seemed like an age for all of them to come down – just as I thought the last one had come out, another few appeared, several times! And then I made my way up. There were no signposts but the path only went in one direction, at the top of the steps there was a dirt path heading clearly up towards the top of the hill at a manageable zig-zagging gradient, so I carried on. I was the only one on the path, and when I reached the top, I was the only one there too.
There wasn’t much there, a television mast, a couple of buildings, some signs warning about power cables. A little further down from the highest point there were workmen in helmets doing something, and occasional cars going up and down a road. There were good views in all directions – the observation deck from which I had come was a good place to look south but up here I could look in any direction. I took a few photos and then started heading down the road the cars were taking.
Now I was in a part of the city I didn’t know. It seemed to be a maze of tower blocks, I was just trying to find a way to go down but it wasn’t always possible. I was walking along a road but I was level with the 10th or 15th floors of some of the tower blocks I was passing. Whenever I saw a staircase taking me to a lower level, I went down it, but this was taking me deeper into the maze.
It seemed to take a very long time but eventually I hit what looked like a main road, lined with shops, and with lots of traffic, including buses. I followed this south for a while and came to a park – now I know it is Pokrovsky Park. I was quite tired by now and found a place to sit for a while. On further exploring the park I found a monument to Peter and Fevronia – two saints whose story I had learned about in a City Camp museum trip a couple of weeks earlier. At the far end of the park was a cathedral, and in the grounds there was a monument to Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Imperial Russia. He had visited Vladivostok when he was still the Tsarevich and his visit was very popular and he is fondly remembered in the city – the main promenade on the north side of the Golden Bay is called the Tsarevich Walk. (Historically Vladivostok and the East were the longest holdouts against the Bolsheviks, probably for logistical reasons as much as anything else).
I continued walking, by now looking for somewhere to eat. I found a shopping centre and had a look inside and tried to decide if I was in the mood for blini, or waffles, or any of the other things they were selling. In the end I decided I wasn’t, and instead found a Western fast-food outlet on the other side of the road, where I ordered a Twix ice-cream.
I was pretty much back in the centre of Downtown (the next junction would be with Svetlanskaya and the fountain street), so I went back to the station and had a closer look at it. It was rammed full of Chinese tourists – very pushy tourists. Most of the shops just sold the same kind of souvenir tat. I took a picture of that engine on the platform, and of an interesting sundial.
Based on where I was, I decided it made sense that I should just keep walking south and explore the peninsula. At the far end, on the map, there was an intriguing little thin curl of land stretching into the sea, and I wanted to see what that was. I walked down past the station, and kept going southwards trying to find a green park on my map called Jung Square. I don’t know how but I missed it and found some more shops instead, including a souvenir shop where I bought myself a new fridge magnet and some postcards.
I walked a bit further and what I thought was another park turned out to be another branch of the Naval College. I decided it was time to get the bus, as this peninsula was starting to seem quite long. All the buses that came past were going to the same place, somewhere called “Mayak” so I figured that was the end of the peninsula and where I wanted to be.
The bus went two or three stops and then at a little shopping precinct-type area, everyone on the bus got off. I assumed this must be the end of the line, and hopped off before the conductor told me to scram. I miscalculated. The bus continued driving south, without any passengers, towards its Mayak. The place I had been dropped had a pretty good view of the Russkiy Bridge so I got a picture, and then rather than waste more money getting on a bus for what might have been only 1 stop, I decided to carry on walking.
In the end it was 2 or 3 more stops. There was a square with a couple of sculptures, benches, trees etc (no fountain though), but from there I could see the thin spit of land. It led to 2 little islands, the first one had a towering pylon carrying electricity cables through the air over to Russkiy Island, and the second one had a much smaller lighthouse. This would be my destination.
Mayak, when I eventually got there, turned out to be pretty much a small cafe selling hot food and cold drinks. Buses seemed to come here pretty regularly, they would turn round in a big circle, sit up for a while, so there were always one or two just parked, waiting, and then roll off on their journeys back up the peninsula. The road itself continued further, but this seemed to be the last place where buses could turn, or indeed travel on a relatively flat road. The rest of the peninsular was either going up a steep hill, or down the other side.
I was tired but I made myself continue. There were other small groups of pedestrians, or individuals either heading the same way or coming back, which was encouraging. It took another 20 minutes or so to get to the end, but eventually I reached the southern point of the peninsula, which had a car park, a couple of cafes and some stalls. And a beach! There were people sitting on the beach, people swimming in the sea. I felt a bit sad I had not brought my towel or bathing suit.
At the end of the car park was the start of the causeway to Pylon Island. The first part of the causeway was quite wide, wide enough for cars to traverse, and while I was there three or four did. Pylon Island seems to be a popular spot for picnics, judging from all the litter there, and I later saw another family there jumping into the sea. There was another man packing up something large – maybe a tent, maybe a dinghy or a waterboard.
The second causeway seemed very thin and perilous. Waves lapped both sides and it looked like just a matter of time before the sea swallowed it, but it never quite seemed to do so. I’m sure coming back the path was narrower than when I went out, but that might have been my imagination.
The lighthouse itself is pretty standard, you don’t come to lighthouse island for the lighthouse, you come for the views. Looking back at downtown Vladivostok, or across at Russkiy Island, or either of the massive bridges, looking at the length of the peninsula I had (mostly) just walked down, or just looking south out to sea, wherever I looked there was an awesome view.