Vladivostok – Leaving Korea was harder than I thought it would be. I had too much going on in the end and didn’t feel like I had enough time to do everything I wanted to do. It was very sad to say good-bye to my bosses and to leave my apartment and my friends and it was even hard to leave the little city that I never really liked. I went to Seoul with Jina and had lunch together and said our good-byes – again very sad.
On the bus to Donghae, the darkness was broken by an almost full moon, the TV and neon green, red and purple Christmas lights. I was sort of frustrated by my decision to travel by the slowest modes of transportation our current century has to offer. If I were flying, I would be in the air by then, I would be far away from Korea. But I was still in Korea, I still had to fumble my way around in a new city and wait and wait to leave. I had a lot of time to think and to look back. I just wanted to go forward.
Donghae was a very pretty city. It’s sort of what I had imagined Gunsan would be before I came to Korea. The port and the sea are in front of the city and there are mountains in the back. In the morning, I had the time to explore but I was carrying my pack so after getting a cup of coffee, I hopped in a taxi and headed to the DBS Cruise Ferry terminal.
Most of the passengers on the ferry were Koreans and Russians, but they seemed to be mostly Koreans who worked in Russia and Russians who worked in Korea. My bed for the night was a large floor with mats and pillows – not too different from sleeping in a Korean bath-house. I always sleep real well like that. The food was decent – 10,000won for an all-you-can eat buffet – and the bar was reasonable too – 5,000won for a big draft beer – the bartender was from Gunsan. It felt good to be moving, even if very slowly.
After a day of sailing across some pretty windy seas, our first sight of Russia was some pretty majestic looking islands. After another hour, the more expected landscape of decaying heavy industries took over. Rusty ships, massive scrap yards, factories. The ship was greeted by a line of men and in classic Russian military gear – the furry hats, big coats and angry-looking dogs.
Vladivostok has a reputation for being ugly and dull – many Russians on the boat who are from here told me as much. It’s not easy to argue against the reputation but coming from Korea, I can’t help but be a little taken by this city. The roads are terrible, the sidewalks are worse, there’s a lot of trash floating about and there is a strong scent of diesel in the air, but there are also some charming old buildings and hills with spectacular views of the harbor. It feels like the last outpost of a great civilization, for better and for worse.
I’m seeing what I can of this city but I’m mostly killing time till my train leaves this evening. I board the 007 H Сибирь – the “Siberia”. I’m going to be riding in a third-class sleeper – the cheapest class on the cheapest train from here to there. It’s three days from Vladivostok to Irkutsk – hopefully it’s not terribly uncomfortable.