Vladivostok is the only city in Russia where volcanic hills and bays come together to form an intricate patchwork. It is a mix of Europe and Asia; a quintessentially Russian city with a global outlook. Get ready to look beyond the attractions listed in travel guides, and explore all the lesser-known aspects that shape the citys character.
A DISTRICT DELINEATED BY ULITSA POGRANICHNAYA, ULITSA SEMYONOVSKAYA, ULITSA ADMIRALA FOKINA AND ULITSA ALEUTSKAYA
Millionka is Vladivostoks equivalent of Moscows Khitrovka. Situated in the city centre, it is made up of several red brick buildings built in late 19th early 20th century. This area used to be a Chinese slum with numerous opium dens, secret passages and nests of iniquity. It is not surprising then that the NKVD eventually demolished it.
Millionka is part of Vladivostoks historic centre. Just a few steps from the pedestrian area and fountains of Ulitsa Admirala Fokina (the equivalent of Moscows Arbat) will take you to this former Chinatown. Today, instead of slums, visitors are greeted with modern offices, shops, restaurants and hostels. However, Millionka has retained its oldtown atmosphere. Artists from the creative association 33 + 1 have created portraits of the districts former inhabitants on building facades. They include Chinese merchants, Russian sailors and the opium king. Numerous legends exist about hidden treasure and underground labyrinths in the district. So as not to miss anything, its best to take a guided tour from the Arseniev Museum. Another option is the Voice Within an immersive audio-guide walk. It combines a quest and elements of a street performance a perfect way to delve into the past of this once notorious neighbourhood.
The Chinese Market
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The 1990s saw Chinese markets springing up all over Vladivostok. They sold soy sauce, tofu, «real American jeans» and a myriad other items. However, prices gradually rose over the following decade, and consumer footfall went down. Chinese trade in Vladivostok suffered a decline after that.
The most famous of the markets was located at the transport hub of Sportivnaya. The open market stalls were dismantled only very recently to make way for a new shopping centre. Nevertheless, Chinese restaurants or chifans (from the Chinese chi fan «to eat») still work here in closed pavilions. And they are worth a visit. Here, you immediately find yourself in a crowd of Asians trying to get you into their restaurants. They all introduce themselves as Misha or Natasha, and shout, «Come in, friend! Good cheap food!» The waiters are friendly, the food on offer is varied, and the interiors are authentic (to varying degrees). However, one should not expect these restaurants to be spotless. You may well find yourself eating at a table covered with a sticky oilcloth. The menu is written in a form of broken Russian, the kind you see in descriptions of goods on AliExpress. You may see, for example, dish names like «Shrimps baby» or «Ventilators with Meat».
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Construction of Vladivostoks fortifications began in 1860, almost at the same time the military outpost of Vladivostok (which later grew into the city of Vladivostok) was established. The fortifications, made up of over 600 buildings, effectively created an impregnable ring around the city. Indeed, it was the most powerful fortress of its time, although it was never put to the test. The sheer fact of its existence was enough to deter any would-be attackers.
Tourists by and large are drawn to the Voroshilov Battery on Russky Island. Tours held by the Vladivostok Fortress Museum are also popular. In total, over a hundred sites are spread across the hills and the coast. Perhaps the best one for first-time visitors is Fort 7 (named after Tsarevich Alexei), which has been turned into a museum complex. It includes a complex underground system of corridors and rooms stretching almost 1.5 km in length. Its tunnel barracks, which are comparable to a metro station, were designed to house 400 people at a time. Back above ground, visitors can also enjoy a picturesque view of the city, the Amur Bay and the lowwater bridge.
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«Nobody ever loved this unkempt place as I do, I am sure. Everybody laughs at me for it but I cant help it. It is dreadful to think of living somewhere where I cant see one or the other of the bays [the Ussuri and the Amur ed.].» So wrote Eleanor Lord Pray in one of her letters. Pray was an American woman who is sometimes referred to as the first blogger of the Far East. She lived in Vladivostok for over 30 years at the turn of the 20th century. In letters to her relatives, she described life in the city during the Russo-Japanese War, the First World War, the Revolution, and the Stalinist purges. Pray did not leave Vladivostok when her husbands contract expired. Nor did she leave when her husband died. Instead, she went to work as a bookkeeper at Kunst and Albers Department Store to support herself. Pray stayed in Vladivostok after the Red Army came to the city, until she completely lost her livelihood. She stayed because she loved the place, which she called the most fascinating city on Earth beyond Paris.
Eleanor left behind over 2,000 letters totalling 16,000 pages. In 2008, Rubezh Publishing House translated them into Russian and released them as a book, which is available at the publishers shop in Vladivostok. Theres a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Americans epistolary legacy at the Arseniev Museum. There is also a bronze statue of Pray next to the main post office. She is depicted walking down the steps clutching a letter to her chest. If you climb the steps, you can get to Pochtovy Pereulok and see her house, which is one of the oldest in the city.
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This market selling used Japanese cars is visible from afar. Foreign cars are lined up in long rows that run into residential buildings. Most of the cars at the market are three to five years old, and have never been previously driven in Russia. It takes you probably more than one day to get around Green Corner. People travel from nearby towns and neighbouring regions in order to buy a car here. Indeed, according to Autostat Analytical Agency, Vladivostok has the most cars per capita in Russia.
The import of Japanese cars started in the late 1980s, before truly beginning to flourish in the mid-1990s. It was at that time Primorye Territory came to be associated with right-hand-drive vehicles. Vladivostok became a hub for supplying cars to the west of the country. Locals who had lost their jobs in the early 1990s began to trade in foreign cars. Some even made a fortune doing so. Later, imports of cars from Japan declined as a result of the economic crisis, higher customs duties, and the emergence of car showrooms. Green Corner has also somewhat shrunk in size since its heyday, but it is still full. And youll still hear the locals say things like, «The steering wheel is on the right, the heart is on the left». All this makes Green Corner arguably one of the main unofficial symbols of the city.
NOVY DZHIGIT BAY
If the directors of Game of Thrones saw Tobizin Cape, they may well decide to reshoot all the marine scenes. It is located on Russky Island, 30 kilometres from the city centre. At the cape, a stunning, awe-inspiring scene awaits visitors. The horizon disappears from view, waves crash against the cliffs, and the cry of seagulls can be heard from afar. It can be reached by car or taxi. The car park is located 2.5 km from the cape, and the final stretch needs to be done on foot. However, the route, which runs through a forest, provides an excellent opportunity to admire the ferns and curiously shaped trees. Comfortable footwear is advised.