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Russkiy Bridge, from Pospelova

On my way home I had hoped to stop at a curry house that I had researched ahead of my trip.  I had checked its location earlier in the day, at the top of a mall on Svetlanskaya Street.  The Internet said it was open until 10pm.  I got there shortly after 8pm to find the mall completely closed.  I would have to try and get there earlier the following day.  I returned to the hostel to find I had a couple of new room-mates – they were already lying in their beds apparently asleep so I never got a chance to talk to them (they left early the next morning).  I also noticed the woman in the room had been reading an English language book about English art and culture.  Perhaps she does know a bit of English?

Regardless, for me the hostel was just a place to sleep, recharge my tablet, and get a shower every day.  And somewhere to leave my stuff so I wasn’t carrying it around everywhere.  I wasn’t closed to the idea of making friends but it wasn’t a vital factor in my being there.

On the third day I decided I wanted to go across those bridges I kept seeing, which meant my ultimate destination would be Russkiy Island.  This is the large island to the south of the peninsula where Vladivostok sits, it doesn’t really form part of the city and is mostly forest, and many people questioned whether a large, expensive bridge there was really necessary.  It was built for a regional conference in 2012 hosted by Vladivostok and for which the city developed luxurious facilities on their beautiful island.  The facilities now form the campus of the Far East Federal University (FEFU).

Strictly speaking I didn’t really make the decision until about lunchtime, I started off with just another stroll around the downtown area, following a few streets that I had only partially walked down.  Unusually the morning started out a little wet.  I went to the end of the seafront promenade (or at least the end of the nice, tarmac part of it), had another milkshake, found a sports stadium and doubled back to my favourite restaurant for an early dinner.  By now the weather was sunny and it was probably there that I formulated the plan to go to Russkiy Island and used the restaurant’s free wi-fi to check the best way to get there.  According to The Internet, it was on a 29d bus which left from a bus stop just a short walk from my restaurant.  So I wandered to the bus stop and waited.

It was a hot day but I wasn’t in any hurry, I had a seat to sit on and it was a busy main street outside a shopping centre so there was lots of coming and going, sometimes it is nice to just watch people going about their business.  Lots of buses came and went but none of them were 29d.  I wasn’t just going by the number, I was checking the destinations, and where I could read them, the routes displayed on each bus, but it took about an hour until one came which was clearly marked with Russkiy Island, a number 15.  It actually stopped the next bus stop up the street from mine.  Several other people around me started briskly jogging to the next stop and I decided that was a good sign, and followed suit.

We needn’t have been so brisk, the bus waited several minutes and though I got a seat, it soon filled up so that more people were standing.  I was still hoping it would leave soon, though, before any old people got on for whom I would feel obliged to surrender my seat!  Eventually it rolled off, and filled up even more at the next few stops, and indeed along most of the route.  Russkiy Island was a popular destination today!

It took some time and a rather convoluted route before the bus finally crossed the Golden Bridge.  I didn’t have much of a view out of the window but I tried to capture a picture.  Of course it didn’t cut straight across the south side of the peninsula towards the next bridge, but again seemed to stop at many different places.  Eventually though we came up to the Russkiy Bridge and crossed that too.

I had been told about a big gun, the Voroshilov Artillery Battery which was part of the city defences for many years, and though decommissioned, still pointed at Japan.  The bus stopped on the highway – it didn’t seem like there was a proper bus stop, but there was a brown signpost referring to the historical battery – and a few people got off.  It came too quick for me but I thought it wasn’t a problem, I’ll just look at it on the way back.

The bus continued, past the FEFU campus, possibly the most beautiful university campus in the world, with rows of residential rooms nestled into a bay with a view of the sea.  We also went past another Naval training establishment.  I had not made any clear decision about where to get off and by now I was accepting I would just go to the end of the line, which was some kind of aquarium.

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As we were approaching the final stop, we passed (or rather drove high above) an island with a narrow channel seperating it from a beach, with tents and people on both the island and the facing beach, and lots of sunbathers and swimmers.  I thought it looked great and wanted to get down there if possible.  But first – aquarium.

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The bus stopped at a car park outside a giant web-like structure which turned out to be the entry/security checkpoint for the aquarium.  Cars needed to be checked through but pedestrians could walk through.  After the checkpoint there was  a sign to another Site of Historical Importance – something called the Gunner’s Building.  I went to have a look, along a long – needlessly long – road.  It was just the ruins of a red brick building with no roof, nothing inside, not really anything worth seeing.  I found some steps back up to the main road which took me a little further, round a corner to the next point of interest, which was a junction.  Straight ahead was the aquarium – now visible as a large, shiny blue and white building.  To my right was a children’s playground and a sign indicating a couple of places of significance.  One was another military emplacement, the other was the top of a hill, with some good views.

I went up the hill past some workmen who were installing a little shop – all there was so far was a concrete base, and two refrigerated drinks cupboards, and someone trying to get the electric connections working.  At the top of the hill, I could look back to both the checkpoint, and down to the island and beach that my bus passed earlier.  I could also look out to sea – in the direction of Japan, though of course it is too far away to be visible – or back towards the peninsula and the beautiful landscapes forming the horizon.

From here I could also see the other military emplacement and decided, based on the Gunner’s House that it wasn’t worth trudging over to have a closer look.

There wasn’t much else up here – a pile of building stones in the middle, which you could stand on to get a little extra elevation.  There was a large puddle with tadpoles swimming around.  I couldn’t see any frogs.  None of the other tourists visiting the aquarium thought it worth coming up here.  I shrugged and went back down.

As I passed the children’s playground, a fleeting dark shadow emerged from thin air and swiftly disappeared into the forest.  Was that a bat?  It was too small with too big wings to be a bird.

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I went to the Aquarium.  There were sharks and jellyfish in the walls.  There was some beautiful landscaping.  There was a ticket office with a huge queue.  There were no signs anywhere outside the ticket office saying how much the tickets would cost.  To find out you had to either wait in the queue, or push your way through into the office.  I suppose I could have asked someone but that brought up its own complications for me, so again having more time on my hands than common sense, I just stood in the queue for an hour.

Eventually my part of the queue got inside the door of the ticket office and I was able to go and see how much it would cost me to get into the aquarium.  The answer was 700 roubles – just for the aquarium, not including the dolphinarium.  In my head I had set about 500 as my acceptable limit, so again, with a shrug, I walked off without buying any tickets, perhaps to the bemusement of the people behind me in the queue.

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I wanted to see more of Russkiy Island, and if possible, get back to the curry house before 7.30pm.  I could have hopped on the bus but I thought first I will see if there was a way down to the beach.  There was, but it was a long, dusty, winding road, with cars going past uncomfortably close to you.  At the bottom there was a gate, and a hut, and a man.  It looked like this was some kind of private campsite.  I wasn’t sure if I would have to pay to get in (because paying to get onto beaches is a thing in Russia), but I just walked on through and no-one started shouting at me, so I figured it was ok.

It was a strange place, there were semi-permanent buildings around a stoney car-park/seaweed silo.  Most tents seemed to be set up around the edges, in the shade of the hills.  The beach was that dark sand that almost qualifies as mud, and there was a beach bar which, by now gasping with thirst and with only very warm water with me, I saw as a place to get a cold drink.

I went to the serving hatch and stood behind a person getting served, I’m sure I looked hot and bothered and in urgent need of a cold drink, nevertheless another woman pushed past me and stood beside the person getting served and when the person getting served got served, immediately started speaking to the server without giving me a chance to get my order in first.

Fair enough, this is Russia, this kind of thing is normal here.  I can wait a couple of minutes.  But they had a conversation, some kind of information exchange, it seemed like they were deliberately taking more time than was strictly necessary.  Probably about 5 or 6 times as long as it would have taken for me to point at a drink, put my cash on the counter and get out of the way.

Eventually the silly old lady got whatever it was she wanted and I was able to get my drink.  I stayed in the shade of the bar building but went to the part that looked out over the sea and the beach, and very slowly sipped at the beautiful, cold water while watching people swimming and splashing and playing and just lying on the beach enjoying the sunshine.

At some point I resigned myself to making the arduous climb back up the hill and found myself another bus.  I only intended going to the Vorishilov stop, and all the buses went in the same direction, so I didn’t think it mattered which bus I got.  The mistake I made was assuming the bus would stop at the same place as the previous bus so I could get out.  It didn’t, it went straight past and over the bridge.  Fine, I thought.  I will get out at the next stop and get the next bus back again.  The next stop seemed to be quite a long way into the peninsula and was next to a fast highway – I had to cross a metal bridge to get to the corresponding bus stop on the other side of the road.

This time I was standing by the door as the bus passed the same point where my first bus had stopped, but again it didn’t stop.  It continued to the FEFU stop.  This was frustrating but again I just thought fine, I’ll walk back along the road.  My next problem was that the sign to the battery wasn’t very clear.  It didn’t say which side of the road it would be on, or how to get there.  There was a road going uphill on the side of the road I was on, I figured height might be useful for an artillery placement, so I would try this path.

There were vehicles and people on the road so it clearly went somewhere, but I didn’t know how quickly.  It was uphill, it was through forest, there was only one sign which indicated there was a village called Pospelova about 4 miles away.  The road kept heading up, it kept winding, at one point a marshrutka went past.  Eventually it peaked, and started going downhill again – still no guns.  I just kept walking figuring if I didn’t get where I wanted to go then sooner or later I would get somewhere else and from there I could get back home.

I must have walked that 4 miles because eventually I reached the port of Pospelova.  There was a beach, there was a campsite, there were fishermen, there was a dock for loading and unloading boats, there was a little shop, and a solitary block of apartments.  And plenty of farms and old buildings.

Following the beachside path around, I saw I had come round in a big circle and was now on the north-west corner of the island because there ahead of and above me was the Russkiy Bridge (see header photograph).  How I was going to get back up there I wasn’t quite sure but at least I knew where I was.  There was a road which looked to be heading uphill, so I followed it.

The mystery of the phantom bat was solved at this moment, as I was surveilled by another giant flapping phantom, of black and vivid blue.  These monsters were not bats, nor birds but butterflies!  I had seen large butterflies in Australia but these ones were massive.  It fluttered around me for several minutes, flying away then coming back again.  I tried to capture it on camera but it always seemed to move in that delay between my pressing the button and the shutter clicking.  I got one or two images of it by pure accident.

After playing tag with the butterfly for some 10 minutes, I continued on my journey back up to the road.  Of course, this was the moment I encountered a big signpost welcoming me to the Vorishilov Artillery Battery.  Yes, just along a pathway behind the sign was a row of cannons pointing out to sea.  They didn’t look like they were pointing towards Japan but they were certainly protecting the stretch of sea between Vladivostok and Russkiy Island.

So I found my guns, but I took the longest way round to do so.  Now I needed to get back up to the road – the right side of the road to catch a bus back to downtown.  I knew the journey was about an hour so there was no way I was going to get home in time to reach the curry house today.  There was a route back up to the road but there was a barrier across it and a sign which I think said something about granite.  I presumed it was a warning about the path surface being unsuitable for vehicles, and thus wouldn’t apply to pedestrians, and ignored it.

The path did take me back up to the road.  There was another guy also following the path, so I followed him.  At one point he stopped to let me pass and I had to engage with him and explain I wanted to get to the bus stop back to Vladivostok.  He pointed towards the university and carried on, letting me trail behind him.

A number 15 came!  But it was full.  Surely they wouldn’t stop at a non-official stop for me?  I tried to flag it down anyway.  And it stopped!  There were 4 or 5 people already squeezed between the driver’s cabin and the door and they had to squeeze even tighter to make room for me.  I expressed effusive thanks to the driver and apologised to my fellow passengers for being so hot and sweaty (the second part, I did that in my head).

Three of the passengers were chatting with the driver and had their cameras and phones out taking pictures of the things he was pointing out.  As we crossed the bridge they were filming all the scenery.  It seemed like it might not be such a bad journey after all, they were all very chatty and pleasant.  Then the driver saw three or four other young people fresh from a beach on the peninsula, and stopped the (full) bus again.  I tried not to feel resentful given this was exactly what he had done for me, but it was difficult, as I was pushed back into an uncomfortable position holding onto the driver’s window as my only brace-point!

Fortunately the bus thinned out as people got out over the next few stops.  After we crossed the Golden Bridge I started to recognise the road I was on – wasn’t this the top of the Funicular?  Knowing I had no chance of getting to the curry house, it made more sense to get off here than downtown, as it was much closer to my hostel.  So off I got.  Of course I couldn’t resist another peek at the city from the observation deck, tired though I was after miles of walking.

I later discovered that although I had seen some guns that formed part of the Vorishilov Battery, I had not been anywhere near to the famous Big Guns that point to Japan, and were further to the east of the island than where I had been looking.  It crossed my mind – very briefly – to go back another day, but I think I had seen enough of Russkiy Island.

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