World Travelers: Russia

Text: Uwe Krauss • Photography: Uwe Krauss

As soon as I board the RUS ferry headed for Vladivostok, I can't help but notice that times are changing - and it's not just because the clocks are adjusted to Siberian Time. Once the hospitable, carefree environs of Japan are left behind, you immediately get the feeling that you are going to have to fight for your survival, and my first trial begins when I have to secure some space between hundreds of used Japanese cars in order to tie up the bike. The staff assesses me with looks that seem to say, "Let's see if he can manage this himself. Right now, we can't be bothered."

After dinner, I’m exhausted, wanting nothing more than to crawl into my bunk and catch some much-needed rest. But the evening had other plans in store. On the way to my cabin, I run into Oleg, a fellow passenger who sparks up conversation, innocently inquiring about my home and destination. Before I know it, there I am in his quarters, celebrating our new friendship over a half-empty bottle of vodka, despite the near certainty that pain would be blooming behind my eyes in the morning.

Landfall in Vladivostok

My arrival on the Asian mainland is depressing, almost scary. And the festivities of the night before had nothing to do with it. For miles, the ferry slides along a shore lined with decrepit war vessels tied to dilapidated docks. This is Russia’s main port and its principal marine base on the Pacific Ocean – Vladivostok. Finally, we set anchor right in the center of the city. The moment I touch Russian ground is almost solemn, as I think of the 8,000 miles that now stand between my home in Germany and me.

Vladivostok is bigger and more westernized then I had imagined. More than a million people reside here, and there is a bustling atmosphere all over. The shopping centers offer the same wares found in the rest of the world, and real estate prices are the second highest, after Moscow, in the country. Though trade with Japan and China is obviously flourishing, it still surprises me how many Japanese automobiles are zooming about. I only spotted two Russian cars, Ladas, as I made my way around the city.

After acclimating myself to Vladivostok for a couple of days, I’m anxious for another adventure to begin. Little did I know at the onset that it would start with a horrendous mass of traffic like something out of 2 Fast 2 Furious, with my character of course being the most expendable one. “Bigger” and “faster” clearly rules the road here, and I’m too busy navigating the madness for the trip’s first 500 miles to notice anything else until I reach Chabarovsk, the second largest city in the area.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2012 back issue.