Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ends of the Earth -- Destination #8: Vladivostok, Russia


If I had the means to visit the ends of the Earth, here are the ten places I would visit.

What ten "ends of the Earth" places would you like to visit? Leave me a comment. 


Destination #8: Vladivostok, Russia

Something attracts me to the idea of visiting places where nobody else goes. I’m sure many Americans go to the places I’m mentioning on my Ends of the Earth Top 10 list, but I don’t personally know anyone that has visited Barrow, Alaska, for instance; and I only know three people that have visited South Africa. These places aren’t impossible to visit, but people generally need a very specific reason – or a very passionate drive – to visit them.

Just to name a specific place, I’ve selected Vladivostok, but more generally, I could simply say “Siberia.” When I read Colin Thubron’s In Siberia, I become fascinated with the idea of visiting what I had always imagined to be a vast snow-covered wasteland. Siberia is not a wasteland, of course. Well, not completely, but it is vast, making up 80% of Russia’s geographical area.

I often wonder what it means to check off visiting a country. A person could, for example, visit St. Petersburg, which I will be doing next year, and claim to have visited Russia. But such a claim is relatively ludicrous. If someone from Russia visited New York or San Francisco, for example, and claimed to have visited the United States, any American would probably laugh. Visiting just one city in a country as huge as Russia or the United States shouldn’t count as “visiting” that country, should it? Travel writers like Thubron and Ian Frazier demonstrate that to visit a place the size of Siberia takes a long-term commitment. A true visit to such a place requires patience, and it requires, at a minimum, a number of weeks. Rome, as they say, wasn’t built in day, and Siberia cannot be experienced in the blink of an eye.

Thubron experienced Siberia, in part, via the Trans-Siberian railway. He did not elect to visit Vladivostok, instead ending his trip in Magadan. Vladivostok interests me because it’s a city of 600,000 people, which is about 200,000 more than Anchorage, Alaska. From 1958-1991, only Soviet citizens were allowed to visit, but since the 1990s, the city is open to visitors, and apparently it has been receiving an influx of Chinese immigrants. It is supposed to be one of Russia’s most diverse cities.

Flying there from Minneapolis might try the patience of the most seasoned traveler. While it might make sense to fly from east to west, priceline and other travel sites indicate that flying west to east is required, with a layover in Moscow. Flights arrive two days after take-off, and the total flight time in the air is approximately 20 hours. Cost of the flight runs around $2,000.

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