Thursday, October 4, 2012

Vladivostok

Tuesday 2 October – At Sea

This morning we woke in pitch darkness.  Our clocks had been set forward two hours so we are now on Auckland time!  Very strange but no doubt it has something to do with Moscow time which is 6 days by train away, and 5,900 Km.

When the sun did rise at 0800 it was very picturesque, especially as we were in sight of Russia.

Our port lecture this morning was on Shanghai, as was the 1300 China presentation.

We arrived off Vladivostok in mid–afternoon and took a long slow journey into port taking the pilot on at 1630.  We were alongside at 1730 and were able to go ashore at 2130 with a 2400 curfew.

The long shore view was very hazy and our photos needed some editing.     
Wednesday 3 October – Vladivostok, Russia

The capital of Primorsky Territory, Vladivostok has served as Russia's bastion in the Far East since Czarist times.  Located on the hills above Golden Horn Bay, the city is the terminus for the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  The homeport of Russia's Pacific Fleet, Vladivostok was closed to the outside world until 1992.

Only 20 years of freedom and this city is still coming of age and showing the signs of oppression.  There is no running water/sewerage in many homes and the residents need to fetch it from the closes tap.  Many houses are rundown.  The story of the Catholic Church (and of course other churches in Russia) and the oppression of its believers tells a sad story.  Nevertheless there are signs of progress.  The APEC Summit this year propelled a lot of change and there are two modern bridges linking the city to nearby islands.

The city itself with its coloured buildings reminded us of that same phenomenon in St Petersburg.  It is a hilly city with a traffic problem.  The traffic crawls around one large roundabout and on the approaches.  No doubt the new bridge creates some of it as there did not seem to be any new roads.  It is an industrial city with a smog problem producing the haze.

Our excursion showed us a lot of the city.  We first visited the only private Orthodox School Campus (called a Gymnasium).  The school offers theology and Slavonic languages as well as a state education. Chinese is the most prominent language taught.  The church and much of the campus was built by students and their parents.  The children sang for us in the church.

We then visited the Holy Mother of God Catholic Church designed in a Neo-Gothic style by the Russian architect Planson.  The church was seized by the Soviet state and converted into Vladivostok's archive.  Returned to the church in 1994 (because the state could not afford $20,000 to connect water to the church (to provide heating), the church has been restored to its original use with modern stained glass windows allowing much light to enter.  Two American priests arrived in 1992 and have been responsible for the restoration and rebuilding of the church congregation to about 450.  There is one member of the original congregation remaining and five were martyred – proceedings are under way to recognise them as the Vladivostok martyrs.  Father Dan spoke to us of the church’s history.  He learned Russian and is now fluent.

We had lunch at “one of the best restaurants in Vladivostok” and then returned to the ship where we took in the local market, and the Railway Station before re-boarding.

There are four universities in the city.  Two of the students were volunteer guides for us.  One had been an assistant guide during APEC and was now our senior guide.  She still has a lot to learn but her English was quite good (her mother is an English teacher).

Our passports needed to be collected before we obtained clearance to leave; 18 passengers needed to be reminded and two delayed our departure by 45 minutes!

There was a folkloric show at 1715 to an overflowing theatre, a magician later, then a trumpet concert by one of the members of the band, and “Yes/No” was a hoot again.

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