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Full Circle

Day 20: Vladivostok

Vladivostok, Eastern Russia 
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Vladivostok waterfront, and a glimpse of the pacific fleet.
Michael Palin - Full CircleAnother reclines, leg draped, clutching a football (not an easy task) and between them rises an heroic figure in bathing trunks, immortalized in the act of towelling himself dry. Trees form an arch over the path which runs down the steps and out through a pair of big metal gates to a railway track and a beach.

A train rumbles by, headed by two of the old Soviet-style locos, hammer and sickles still intact on their sides, the dull green coaches interspersed with net-curtained windows. To add to the sense of unreality, it's a train from Moscow, 6500 miles and seven days away.

I walk up the line to a small station enclosed by birch and willow trees. It's called Sanitornaya (Sanatorium). I sit myself down on one of the mustard-yellow wooden benches, with a breeze wafting gently off the Pacific, and wait for the 10.30 into Vladivostok.

The local service, the electrichka, follows the line of the bay into the city. Although Vladivostok has its fair share of lineside decay, empty workshops and grey apartment blocks, it has a lot else besides. The ebullient main station is a fusion of the Alps and the Kremlin with stucco-work on the arched windows, cone-shaped bell towers, columns and curlicued balconies, decorated drainpipe heads and painted panels; the whole lot recently restored by an Italian film company. Beside it there is a statue of Lenin. It has him in urgent, proactive pose. His right arm, extended as though putting down a heckler, provides some ten feet of pigeon-perching space from shoulder to forefinger. (I'm indebted to Erik and Allegra Azulay's book on the Russian Far East for informing me that Lenin never visited the city and only ever mentioned it once. 'Vladivostok is far away but it's ours,' were his immortal words.)
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 20
  • Country/sea: Eastern Russia
  • Place: Vladivostok
  • Book page no: 42

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