We leave the Vlad Motor Inn, on the northern outskirts of Vladivostok, ready for a long day (with only a 30 day Russian visa, we need to motor to cross Russia, Mongolia, re-enter Russia and exit before the end of the 30 days) and excited to be starting this leg of our trip. The weather is not the best (just very wet fog again) but we are grateful it isn’t raining.
I have pinned a gostinitsa on our MapsMe – will they have a room for us we wonder?
All I could find in the news about Luchegorsk that evening were articles on the town having being besieged by an invasion of 36 hungry bears back in Sept 2015! I am glad we weren’t there then.
We made good progress on day 1, having covered 470kms so we plan on covering only 270kms today and have the whole afternoon to visit Khabarovsk.
Look!!!!! Blue skies!!!
I thought I’d make the most of the wifi here to share these photos with you now (no time for much commentary this time) as we don’t know what it will be like further along the Trans-Siberian Highway.
Anyway, all is well with us both, the road has been great, people friendly as always, the food pretty good too and I even had a cup of my favourite coffee from Ethiopia in Khabarovsk!! Life is good. And once again, thank you to our faithful followers for your messages and comments – it is great to feel connected to you all. Don’t expect to hear from us for a few days now. Til next time…
Two hours out of Vladivostok, the sea is as still as a mill pond. We are outside on the top deck, wondering if we can see land yet. The fog is thick, a lone seagull is following us: land cannot be far, yet I see nothing. We have slowed down. It is beautifully eerie. The stillness belies the excitement I am starting to feel. We are told docking will be delayed due to Russian war ships ahead. Then we stop and I can now just barely discern the grey outline of islands. The excitement is suddenly palpable: a young girl skips towards her mother as soon as she too spots one island, a young man re-enacts the famous Titanic pose while his friend takes a photo of him, Russians returning home start moving their bags to the exit.
Half an hour from docking, we see the culprit of our delay going the other way – maybe he was docked in our spot.
Vladivostok port is huge, so many freight carriers, cranes, tugs, the activity is on either side of the port is fantastic – to think that we are at the southern tip of Russia, so far from the capital! The famous bridge is barely visible, then we see the famous Vladivostok sign above the ferry terminal. What can I say? My excitement cannot be contained. Everybody is taking photos, selfies, photos for each other.
One of the ferry staff had told us, the group of 12 motorcyclists from Korea plus the 3 Japanese motorcyclists who joined the ship in Japan, to wait in a particular area. Pretty impressive how he tracked us all down! It turns out that all motorcyclists and car drivers, ie all the passengers who just brought hand luggage on board, are to disembark first.
Immigration and customs security is painless and as we enter a ‘holding hall’, we are greeted by a cheerful and welcoming Svletlanya, our agent Yuri’s partner. There are 5 of us on her list as all the Koreans are being handled by another agent, 3 Japanese and us. One is missing and we wait over an hour for him. It turns out that he is travelling with a car and a motorcycle (?!) and wanted to leave a minimum in his vehicle… At least we had time to sign the dozen pages of customs forms each which Svletlanya had prepared for us by the time he arrives with the largest suitcase I have ever seen and boxes on a makeshift trolley!!
Yuri, from Links Ltd, picks the 5 of us up in his van and takes to our respective hotels. It is an interesting introduction to Vladivostok, driving past an unfinished Hyatt hotel, unoccupied for the past 5 years for some reason, up steep narrow muddy paths to a hostel to drop one of our Japanese (he changed hotels the next morning!) and manoeuvering in rush hour traffic remind us of the Russian road ‘rules’. Then once we have all checked in, Yuri takes us to a bank to get Rubles, and a telecom company for Sim cards. We bump into our Korean friends there!! It feels like we have met up with long lost friends. It is amazing how the travelling community bonds so quickly! Yuri recommends a place nearby for dinner, Republic, a chain of restaurants in Vladivostok, and the 6 of us trundle off there and we invite 3 Koreans to join us. No more Kimchi!!! I will not miss it… I don’t think…
The next morning was an incredibly efficient customs process: Yuri and Svetlanya had everything in hand between them, like a well oiled machine. She was already at the customs office when Yuri brought us over just after 9am, having started the process for us before we arrived and Yuri then drove and took us here and there, to various offices, getting more forms signed. By noon, we were all done and ready to leave the port on our bikes. As always we will write up the border process on our blog, but for now, I would like to say that we highly recommend Yuri. All my communication with Yuri over the past few months and once we arrived has been fantastic. Anyone needing to ship to or from Vladivostok should contact Yuri Melnikov, Links, Ltd, email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, web site: http://www.links-ltd.com. And he goes out of his way to help in any way. When we left him, he was going to take one guy to a hardware store, another to buy a motorcycle jacket and the other somewhere else.
Some days back, I had asked Yuri if he could recommend someone to take us on a tour of some of Vladivostok’s tunnels. Well, there again, he went ahead and organised it for us and our 3 Japanese motorcyclists joined us. I am glad we had time to bed down our new Heidenaus in Korea as the fog is so thick today, it is like rain. The convoy of Yuri, the Korean in his van and the 4 motorcycles wend our way through Vladivostok traffic up to Fort 7, not before turning off the road up a windy muddy track. Our first bit of off road on the Heidenaus – it feels so familiar so quickly.
Russia acquired the area that contains Vladivostok in the 19th century: China and the Mongol empire had controlled the area first, but China, afer a war with Britain felt it no longer had the resources to control the area and overestimated Russia’s military power of the time so agreed to hand the area over through the Treaty of Aigun in 1858 rather than risk another conflict. Vladivostok was initially created as a military outpost. Considering how far it was from Russia’s political political centre, and due its proximity to Japan, Korea and China who all eyed Russian territories, Russia had to fortify the peninsular. The first fortifications were built in the 1870-1890s. A series of 16 forts and several hundreds of smaller structures were built on the Peninsular and Russian Island and comprise 140kms of tunnels. We visited Fort 7, which is now a ‘museum’, open for tours. It was built in 1910, has a network of 1.5kms of tunnels, of 5m thick walls. Interestingly, while Fort housed 400 military personnel, had stores and ammunitation that could keep them underground for 2 years, the forts and tunnels were never required to be used to defend Vladivostok. A sometimes creepy feel, especially as you walk along uneven terrain, down steep long passageways, in total darkness apart from your personal tiny torch, it was nonetheless fascinating to visit.
2 hours later, it is time to bid Yuri farewell and godspeed to our fellow travellers as we head out of Vladivostok and they return to town. A brief but memorable stay in Vladivostok for us.
Communication from now on will be intermittent but we’ll do what we can. Better get some sleep now before our first long day.
We look out of our hotel window eastwards as the morning sun climbs higher over the Sea of Japan, which, in a few short hours, we will set sail upon. Today is the first day of real adventure on this trip according to Anne, I however feel that when we set off from Vladivostok, we will be on our way back. Interesting that we each have different views on how we perceive the road ahead, but both agree that then last two months have been very comfortable, certainly reflected by my expanded waistline.
We had scouted the location of the Passenger Ferry Terminal on arrival yesterday since highway 42 ended at the main port entrance where we ascertained our entrance was around the corner. A five minute ride in non existent Sunday morning traffic had us entering the port and being directed to join a group of four motorbikes parked outside what we learned was the ferry logistics office. Other travellers, who what where: questions in our minds as we park alongside a mixed bunch of bikes, all really loaded, including spare tyres. We quickly learn that three of the four are Korean brothers setting off on a six month journey that will take them across Russia, Mongolia to Europe ending in Spain in December. They all speak good English and over the next half an hour, we are joined by another six motorbikes and scooters all with Korean riders. We have a small army of adventurers with everything from BMW1200GS to 110cc scooters, maybe a motorcycle enthusiast can identify all the models, I could not.
Almost all are carrying replacement more off-road oriented tyres, their current road ones are all partially used. We have no spares but put new, what we think are, long life tyres in Vancouver, Heidenau K60 Scout. It would be interesting to do a comparison on how we all ended up. Ours must last until Turkey some 10,000 miles / 16,000 kilometres distant, which, based on previous experience, should be doable. We shall see.
We have become so used to seeing western adventure motorcyclists in our travels, online and in electronic media that we forget that others, ie Asian, have that thirst for adventure as we do. We exchange blogs, look at each other’s bike setups. Anne and I are taken with the mesh seat covers which create ventilation passages for air to flow. Our Scotoiler attracts some interest as did our panniers and spot lights.
We all have to undergo the same customs process and this is detailed in our Visas and Borders section. We do get to ride without helmets, at 30 kph, to the customs inspection area. It is always a nice experience to have the wind in your hair, even for a couple of minutes, but I would not risk it on the highway. We spend a couple of pleasant hours, mostly waiting before the Customs inspection is complete and we ride into the bowels of the ship to leave Streak and Storm to their slumbers.
We have to then go in reverse through immigration, security, and customs to collect our hand luggage and then return in the opposite direction. We had a booking made for us, but still had to pay and collect tickets so we joined a somewhat chaotic scrum at the booking/ticketing counter that shared the same space as the access to customs/immigration. Still it all worked out and half an hour or so later we have passenger tickets in our hand as we climb the gangplank onboard the ‘Eastern Dream’. We are told our cabin is open, we do not have to collect our key? Open the door and guess what, we are sharing! Our advertised 2 person cabin now has four floor mats jammed in so closely that the outside mats are bent upwards by the wall. Even in the 90 person room you get a curtained off bunk. Not what we are paying USD$200 pp for! Our Russian roommates kindly leave to allow us to change from our motorcycle gear and then Anne feels a visit to the information office is warranted.
We are told that four to a room is company policy for first class, even though the advertising pictures show two mats per room. We are told to come back at 15:00, but shortly afterwards we are approached by a staff member to be told the other couple has vacated our room, hopefully to one of their own and we have our own place. All I can recommend is that you are probably better off in a cheaper bunk bed than pay this amount for a shared room where the sleeping mats run up the wall to fit. We would do that if we came this way again. We find different maps onboard rating these rooms as first and second class cabins, company greed at work here I think.
In preparation for departure we are treated to a lifejacket demonstration, unlike the airlines I have flown with, they show the light works and test the whistle. I think the airlines could learn something from this. Now where is the cupboard with our lifejackets?
As we get underway I can hear playing Rod Stewarts ‘Sailing’ over the loudspeakers. For mostly Korean, Russian and Japanese passengers someone has a sense of humour, I wonder how many people get it. We sail out of Korea having only spent a few days glimpsing this intriguing country. We have so many questions, what is Korea’s history?, why are roofs and walls painted blue? We both agree that we would like to return, not on motorbikes, and see and learn more, probably as a stopover on the way to Europe one day. As always, we have met kindly and generous people whose paths we will never cross again and their actions cannot be returned by us. It reinforces our view of the positive nature of people around the world, not just when major tragedies strike, but everyday kindness that exists worldwide.
As I am writing this blog, Anne plays a Dido song which has the words , “I will go down with ship” ha… I prefer Rod Stewart “Sailing” any day, it has an upbeat floaty appeal to me. Must stop looking at the lifejacket cupboard.
The sea is calm, a big benefit for fair weather sailors such as ourselves, may it last the full 22 hours of the journey across the Sea of Japan. Hey, is that not the place where what’s his name lands all the missiles he fires? Maybe a moving ship is like being on a motorcycle in a lightening storm, keep moving and you are insulated by the tyres. Must stop looking at the lifejacket cupboard. At least we have four.
I think there must be a good couple of hundred passengers and we have not seen most of the motorcyclists again. We have meal vouchers, the benefit of being first class passengers, interestingly at meal time, the majority of diners are Korean or Japanese, the Russians seem buy the instant noodles and eat them in their rooms or on deck.
We wake to calm, thankfully but misty views as we plough on towards Vladivostok. Breakfast and lunch pass without the low cloud lifting, we must pack to be ready for arrival.