Yesterday, after a gestation of just over one month, I slipped, it seemed, out onto the decidely empty station of Vladivostok. End of the line. It was 13:15 local time. Seven hours ahead of Moscow.
With its starting point in Moscow the Trans-Siberian memorial on the platform reads ‘9288 kilometres’. I remember I tossed a coin at Kilometre Zero in Moscow back in mid-late June. But with my train journey having started in Helsinki and with the major Arctic Circle loop, my journey must surely be far greater than 10,000 kilomteres. Not to mention the days on hydrofoils in sub-arctic rivers and crossing azure abyssmal waters of Baikal.
But no rest for planet lars. After a late night out exploring Vladivostok with my new Vladi-friend, today it’s Kamchatka Peninsular.
The three days on the train from Irkutsk were by turns wonderful and interminable. My kupe companions for the greater part of the journey were babushka Ireny and her sweet grand-daughter Katya (11). And above me on the top bunk was tall dark and incredibly lanky Sasha (Aleksandr) who was heading to Khabarovsk to continue his studies.
After first Ireny and Katya said goodbye and then Sasha a few hours later at midnight, I was joined in my cabin by for the last 12 hours of the journey, by first bank director Natalia en route to Vladivostok for business and then the brothers on a weekend of R&R in the same town.
I made other friends tooon the train. Smiling Ludmilla, the waittress in the restaurant carriage, who helped me each night with my orders.
And lovely Anvar from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, who being Muslim was happy to sit and tell me of his country while I drank my beer or vodka alone.
But it was Sasha who became my train buddy as the trip wore on. He enjoyed listening to my iPod. And he always requested I sing La Bamba on the guitar.
By trip’s end, my cabin was representing a party zone of sorts, with other carriage occupants sticking their nose in as my songs carried down the corridor. When Natalia the bank manager came in I wasn’t sure what she was thinking, as there wasn’t much room for her to sit down.
I have to say, that during my entire stay in Russia, I have been helped all the way by friendly, approachable Russians. Yesterday afternoon as I wandered the steep streets of Vladivostok with its Sydney-esque bays and Sanfrancisco-esque (new and nearly completed) suspension bridges (yes two big ones!) and mist, I asked a passerby in the high hill top suburbs (a bit of a run down area) the way to the very top of the peak. He promptly turned around and headed up there with me in tow. In his mid-30s Sasha (yes another wonderful Sasha!) ended up showing my around town til well after 1am! What a guy! A star of Vladi and a man with a gentle heart.
The sunset though from Eagles Nest lookout (a little tricky to find) was spectacular, with 360 degree views of the winding and convolute bays of the Primoyre peninsular (on which Vladivostok – 750,000 population – sprawls) and the multitude of islands, tapering off into the southern and eastern horizons. A mist hung over the Sea of Japan. And I looked to the south thinking of the land down under.
But not before a volcano or thirty-three!
PS: Oh, I forgot to mention that I went to the house here in Vladivostok where famous actor Yul Brenner was born many years ago. Yes, just a little factoid that I didn’t know about.