What do Russians think of when they hear the word «Vladivostok»? Most likely, images of the citys most famous land marks will come to mind, such as the bridges spanning the golden horn bay, the lighthouse on Tokarevskaya koshka cape, the sea terminal, and the legendary submarines 56 monument, which has adorned Korabelnaya naberezhnaya for many decades. All these sights are really an important part of the Far Eastern capital. That is a must see for every visitor. However, the soul of Russias capital city in the East, with its humid and salt enriched air, is hidden elsewhere. And you can find it only peeking into an alleyway on the central street, taking a stroll along the citys «unofficial» embankment, or exploring the edge of Russky island by car.
1.One street: a long and distinguished history
Begin your journey into the heart of the maritime city on Pushkinskaya Ulitsa. It used to be on the outskirts of the young Vladivostok, but now it is the citys high street and the pride of its residents, full of nooks and crannies that ooze history and hark back to the citys earliest years.
At the entrance to Pushkinskaya Ulitsa there is a two-story brick building built in 1882, the first of its kind in the city. It was the home of Nikolay Sologub, editor-in-chief of the weekly publication Vladivostok, and now his direct descendants and several other families live in this house. They are all keenly aware of the historical importance of where they live, and they take good care of the building and grounds. As a result of their hard work, lilac bushes and cherry trees now surround the house, and in summer the sweet fragrance of the lilies is simply intoxicating.
Near the turret of the house a bridge pillar now rises over the Golden Horn Bay, that locals simply call «Zolotoy Most» (which translates in English «Golden Bridge»). It appeared here in 20102011 when Vladivostok was preparing to host APEC 2012 summit. Recently, movies have been projected onto this bridge pillar during major events, and a small square, where you can shade from the scorching sun or read a book, was built nearby. Before the construction of the bridge, a monument to Alexander Pushkin was carefully dismantled and put in storage, but the Vladivostok council promised to restore historical justice and return the bust of the poet after whom the street was named to its original location. Unfortunately, they have not yet to come good on that promise, although it was very symbolic: acquaintance with Pushkinskaya Ulitsa and its myriad sights began with a meeting with the poet himself.
Follow the street down and you will reach a large red manor house, which blends harmoniously into the architecture of the historic centre. Behind its luxurious facade there is a local employment centre.
Keep going past the long residential building, which casts a shadow across the old narrow street, and you will arrive at several important sights Pushkin Theatre, the building of the Far Eastern State Technical University (FESTU), which became part of the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) in 2011 and the famous funicular, one of only two in Russia, the other being on the other side of the country in Sochi.
Pushkin Theatre, built in 1908, hosts instrumental concerts and even balls, as a hundred years ago. So look out for ladies wearing elegant ball gowns and gentlemen in traditional tailcoats! Talented writers and poets from across the Primorye Territory annually meet here for the Boldin Autumn and Rumble of the Ocean Surf festivals. The theatre also houses a museum and a library, dedicated to the life of Alexander Pushkin, with a collection of books and exhibits created by collectors and employees of the university.
The red-brick pre-revolutionary building of FESTU stands across the road from the theatre. It is popularly known as the «lion building», as two imposing stone lions stand guard on pedestals at its entrance. However, the building was first named the Oriental Institute, which is how the citys old-timers and history buffs call it to this day.
If historians are to be believed, the lions have been guarding their domain for 122 years. And students will tell you that to make sure you pass your exams at this university, you need to put hand into the mouths of both lions and stroke their tongues. Funnily enough, superstitious tourists from Asia, attracted by the oriental style of the lions, also do this, as they believe that it brings good luck.
A few years ago, all these attractions on Pushkinskaya Ulitsa were part of a mandatory tourist itinerary. However, the world-famous cable-stayed bridges and Russky Island have now drawn tourists to other climes. The biggest winners of this change of focus were the residents who live in the area, as on weekends they can now enjoy a leisurely stroll along the historic street without having to dodge the tourist hordes.
2.The soul of the city lives under the belly of the bridge
While not long ago Russky Island was completely disconnected from the city, both physically and perceptively, it is now close to the hearts of the citys residents. The bridge over the Eastern Bosphorus and the campus of the Far Eastern Federal University are the pride of the city and two of its most popular sights. True engineering marvels, they are a must-see for visitors. However, there are several other memorable sights you should check out which remain firmly off the beaten path.
For example, the embankment under the belly of the bridge. No tourist buses come here, perhaps because the road is not in the best condition, or because it is so popular with the locals, who come here to relax and unwind.
No one really knows how this concrete road laid on a stone embankment came to be, but the locals believe that it was built during the construction of the bridge to bring in materials. Once the bridge was officially opened and put into operation, and the heavy construction equipment was moved out, the area transformed into the number one playground of the locals. Everything contributed to this: a lovely view of Vladivostok and of the cable-stayed bridge high above, as well as close proximity to the sea and the forest. Previously people came by car, set up tents, and enjoyed picnics or romantic evenings with a beautiful panorama.
However, concrete blocks were placed at the entrance to the embankment, and cars could no longer pass, making the new «unofficial» embankment pedestrian friendly. Joggers, parents with young children learning to ride bicycles, and scooters took over. In the evening, lovers leisurely stroll down the embankment hand in hand, whilst in the morning the citys senior residents like to start the day with a walk, letting the fresh sea breeze soothe their soul.
3. Experience a sense of freedom near the stone towers
The Bay of Akhlestyshev is another place that no guide will tell you about, but locals will be sure to recommend. It is located not far from the famous Primorskiy Oceanarium, but despite its proximity to the object of presidential attention, it remains wild.
Not so long ago, the city authorities developed part of the bay and turned it into a modern public recreation area.
You can now drive to it on a smooth road, park your car, order food, and sunbathe on a comfortable wooden lounger. But if its pristine nature you are looking for, head out to the other side of Akhlestyshev.
It is not so easy to find, so if you dont know how to get there, make sure to ask a knowledgeable local for directions beforehand.
The shoreline is made up of stratified layers of rocks, lovingly shaped by the Sea of Japan over the centuries. Nature has carved out several spots in the bay where you can access the water, despite the constant crashing of the waves on the rocks. In these spots you simply need to traverse the fine pebbles, and dive into the wonderfully clear water. But watch out, the sea is not warm, even in the height of summer!
There is almost always a strong wind in the bay, sending the seagulls above in all directions and driving the waves against the rocks. There is practically nowhere to hide from the wind, so most visitors to the bay just put up with the elements, no matter how much of a mess it makes of their hair, clothes, or attempt to light a campfire!
A popular pastime here is to build stone towers, big and small, out of flat stones. By the way, despite the proximity to civilization, there is no cellular connection on Akhlestyshev, which means that you will be able to totally disconnect from routine and stress.
4.Mythology and symbol
Any educated person knows that Patroclus is well known for being a hero of Greek mythology. But for Vladivostoks residents it is the whole cosy neighbourhood with its own shoreline, lighthouse and bay, which was named after a vessel on which explorers of the Far East sailed in the 19th century.
The locals simply love this place it is a really modern and well maintained part of town but for some reason they keep it a secret from visitors. With all the amenities to enjoy a leisurely day out by the sea, this may well be the citys best kept secret.
The Patrokl Bay which nowadays is buzzing with life around is located between Basargin Peninsula and Barkhatnaya Ulitsa, leading to the bridge which crosses the Eastern Bosphorus. In the early 2000s, construction began of two rows of townhouses, finished with panoramic windows that provide a magnificent view of the Basargin lighthouse. A beautifully landscaped embankment was also built, accessible to all. Springtime is especially wonderful here the iodine smell of the ocean and flowering acacia trees envelopes you in a fragrance at once distinctive and universally appealing.
The seawater warms up faster in this bay than in other places, so the local beach is very popular. But if you want to do more than just swim, you can rent a paddle board and take a trip along the rocks of Basargin Peninsula, which is guarded by a lighthouse of the same name.
Access is restricted to much of the peninsula and you cannot walk along it. As a result, many locals and visitors opt to swim up to the lighthouse. Watch seagulls tending to their chicks, explore beautiful sea caves hollowed out by the force of the waves, and, of course, take a close-up photo of the lighthouse in all its glory.
And after a brisk walk on the paddle board, relax on a seafront bench, take the weight off your feet, and feast on some juicy Thai fruit sold exclusively in this part of town.
Vladivostok is a city with a truly unique atmosphere and spirit. The soul of Vladik as the locals call it is imbued with notes of sea salt and sesame oil, so dearly loved by their Chinese neighbours, the sounds of Ilya Lagutenkos rock songs, the raindrops of summer typhoons, and the smooth texture of the local rocks. You can hear and read about all this a thousand times, but to understand it, you need to come to the city and experience it for yourself. Make sure to peep under the citys bridges and into its archways and alleyways. Only there you can learn the secrets of this small seafaring city, which, over the centuries, got a proud name of Vladivostok that means to Own the East.