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Full Circle

Day 23: Vladivostok to Toyama

Michael Palin - Full CircleGrinding out to Vladivostok airport in a bruised and ancient Lada. Every gear change is followed by a second or two of torsional limbo. Forward momentum cannot be taken for granted.

Most passengers arrive at the airport by bus, but there are plenty of new Russians - gum-chewing, bangle-dangling George Michael lookalikes, with hostile smiles, hitting the car park at speed, music pounding from their Japanese four-wheel drives, long-legged women at the ready.

It's a far cry from the cakes and flowers of our arrival at Petropavlovsk. Even Igor has become subdued as we have moved south. Maybe he feels his hustling bonhomie is out of place in the comparative sophistication of Vladivostok. Whatever it is, I liked the old raspberry-toting Igor better.

We take off past another sign of rapidly-changing Russia - the profusion of new aircraft liveries bearing the names of private companies that have sprung from the wreckage of Aeroflot's monopoly - Domodedobo, Orient and the unfortunately-named Kras Air.

An hour and thirty-five minutes later our Tupolev 134 is making its final descent into Toyama airport on the north coast of Japan's largest island - Honshu. The landscape is a patchwork of efficiency. Every single square inch below me seems to be accounted for, either by neatly tilled fields, carefully placed houses or state of the art factories set amid precisely marked roads. Basil leans across to me: 'Welcome to Toyland.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 23
  • Country/sea: Eastern Russia
  • Place: Vladivostok
  • Book page no: 46

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