I spent one day in Vladivostok. It is not a very impressive city. The city hugs a pretty large natural harbor. There are pretty majestic islands surrounding the port but the city itself is pretty industrial. I tried doing everything that was listed in my guide-book but none of them really seemed terribly worth the money or even the effort. I ended the day waiting in the waiting room of the Vladivostok train station.
As I was waiting to board the train, my first taste of what I was in store for was when two tough looking Russian cops dragged a drunk man to the train door. I wondered if we were transporting a prisoner on our car, but I’m pretty sure that they were just helping a local drunk catch his train. The provadnitsas – the women in charge of each train car – helped me find my seat and made me make my bed. I was all alone in my little area but in the middle of the night – an older couple and a younger guy had appeared. I quietly read my book – the couple left and were replaced by two Russian solders. There were tons of soldiers on the train. Most of them were pretty mean looking, but I lucked out and was with some pretty nice guys. I speak a little Russian and one of them spoke a little English, so we were able to get on a little. We shared food and beers. That’s the most important thing. I felt safer being in their group a little.
The view at the window alternated from being amazing to amazingly dull. There were a few really beautiful scenes. The train mostly passed through birch forests but near the northern tip of Manchuria, the forest gave way to a vast steppe. Just like how I imagined Genghis Khan’s home to look. The train stopped and we had time to buy provisions at the station, I was roundly mocked by a large group of soldiers when I purchased five 1L bottle of beer. I thought to myself “I’m being mocked by Russian soldiers on the steppe in a beautiful town – this will probably be the only time in my life this happens, just roll with it.” The sight of rolling hills, birch trees and quaint wooden houses became tedious by day three. Then Lake Baikal. So beautiful, so big, so cold.
I couldn’t wait to get off the train. Even having befriended these guys, it was pretty tedious to ride the train for three days. Time sort of took on a strange form and my body got used to inactivity. I slept a lot but was always tired. I had a lot of time to think. When I saw the soldiers reunite with their families – I got home sick for the first time since leaving New York over one year ago. It made me a little frustrated that I would be on the road for so long. It made the idea of all of the days on trains that lies ahead so nauseating.
But relief finally came – we made it to Irkutsk. This is a much nicer city than Vladivostok. It’s a lot prettier, it’s a lot more happening and the weather is nicer.