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Published: August 13th 2013
And now I'm in Russia.
I'd managed to rip half the sole off one of my boots while at Juwangsan National Park in South Korea and so when I got back to Seoul I had gone to the shoe market to find some new ones. Understandably the range in my size was somewhat limited, so now I'm wearing a pair of shiny new $60 Korean shoes with bright green laces as if a couple of baby pit vipers are attacking my feet. It'll be interesting to see how long they last, and indeed how well I can hike in them. I liked my old boots, they were well broken in and looked right. These ones make me look like I mugged some kid from a Korean boy band and stole his shoes.
Anyone familiar with the NZ and Australian Border Control programmes on tv will have seen the regular occurrence of Asians coming into those countries with suitcases packed solid with food. Not a single item of clothing, just food. While I was sitting at the Seoul airport, all around me were Koreans packing suitcases solid with food items. Really weird.
The Russian visa is a fun one.
pretty welcoming I think you will agree....
It took me six weeks just to get all the documents I needed before application. It is also one of those countries which has different visa application rules for different countries. New Zealanders have to supply a full itinerary with all accommodation, domestic travel, etc pre-booked so you can't waver from the schedule, and the application can only be done from within New Zealand. That's why I was in South Korea at such a crappy time of year because I had to do Russia (and the next two countries) at the start of the trip because I can't get the visas for any of the three while on the road. The Russian visa has an extra-special point where the visa is dated specifically for your trip as written in your itinerary (i.e. in my case from 13 to 31 August) rather than for a general 30 days as is the case with most visas.
I had of course done loads
of prep work for the Russian part of this trip. I watched Red Heat like a dozen times, Red Scorpion, Hunt For Red October...pretty much any movie with “Red” in the title. I even watched Red Sonja, not that it helped much. Red Heat taught me how to hold hot rocks in my hand, but I haven’t been into a Russian sauna yet so I haven't had occasion to try that one out yet.
I hadn't managed to get round to changing my left-over Korean won into Russian rubles at the Seoul airport but I figured not a problem, I already had rubles that I'd changed in NZ before leaving, so I'd just change the won at the Vladivostok airport when I got there. It turns out they don't have money changing facilities at Vladivostok airport. A bit silly of me to have expected they would I guess. The lady at the information counter didn't speak much in the way of English but I found out the first bus into town wasn't until 8.15am. It was currently 5am. The other option was a taxi for 1500 rubles (roughly 25 rubles to one NZ dollar). Now taking taxis from airports generally goes against everything I stand for, but I couldn't really be bothered waiting for three hours for the bus and then have the driver refuse me the ride because I only had 1000 ruble notes, so I bit the bullet and got the taxi.
I'm staying at the See You Hostel, apparently the only backpackers in Vladivostok. It is a dump, like some sort of flop-house, and the dorm beds are more expensive than dorm beds are in New Zealand. There is only one toilet and bathroom; not one per dorm room, one for the entire backpckers. The hostel is one apartment section of a row of tenements that look like it was built in the 50s and then abandoned. But all of Vladivostok is like that really. Before I decided to start off my trip in eastern Russia I had always imagined Vladivostok as being a grey miserable city, probably with hungry wolves roaming the streets. And that's just what it is, although I haven't seen any wolves yet.
Pre-trip attempts to find any information about looking for animals around Vladivostok did not yield good results! Lonely Planet was of no use, as usual. Googling really only gave me stuff that "regular" tourists want to know, or reports from wildlife cruise companies (you know, the ones where a two week trip cost what I would spend in a year on land). So I decided to do what I usually do, and just wing it. I'm not sure that's going to work though. I've just spent all day wandering the streets trying to sort stuff out and all I managed to accomplish was getting the hard-copy of my electronic train ticket for later in the week (it only took five minutes.....after an hour and a half standing in a queue). None of the money changers have any interest in changing my Korean won so I'm stuck with it until I get to a country where they will. There doesn't appear to be a tourist information centre in town and I haven't really found anyone who speaks English who is of any help. There are some islands out in the bay which are supposed to provide homes for alcids and largha seals (although I suspect not in summer!) but the place where Lonely Planet said the ticket office for the boats was situated is now the construction site for a big new hotel.
Stay tuned for some miserable updates.
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