From Vladivostok with Love – Part 4

All the Russian fans told me I should look out for the band because they would surely be staying in the same hotel as I did. So in the morning I did keep a look out at breakfast but nobody was there. I later found out that the poor guys must have left much much earlier than when I sat at breakfast at 9:30. They were going to Novosibirsk next and when I got to the airport myself the next day I saw that the flight to Novosibirsk left at 8:50. Uh… that means being at the airport before 7:30 surely. I suppose they left the hotel at 6:30 or something like that! So much for tour live. Since the Amon Amarth fan lady, just let me call her AA, promised to pick me up at 14:00, I wandered around some more, found a nice spot for a Vladivostok skyline picture and also found two more shopping centers, slowly finding out what looks like a shopping center and what not.

I confirmed already the day before that the Chinese and Koreans are coming for shopping. The rubel is apparently quite low these days, prices in Vladivostok are lower than in Korea for sure and apparently it’s even becoming attractive for Chinese mass tourism. AA also told me that the Koreans and Chinese don’t need Russian visas for Vladivostok and she does not need one either if she wanted to go there. It’s some special agreement for the Russian Far East as well as some areas in China close to the border. If they want to go to Moscow they need visas, but not for the Far East. Interesting, I didn’t know that.
I bought some souvenirs and then waited for AA at the hotel.
She was very punctual and then we drove off towards Russky island over the impressive two bridges.

At some point the asphalt road ends on Russky island and the adventure begins. We were not the only ones on the dirt path, it felt like a caravan at times. AA said this is nothing yet, in the summer there is traffic jam at these dirt paths!


There are several “parking” areas and we stopped at one with a beach and where a hiking trail starts to a scenic spot.


I was totally amazed by the amount of people there. Well, it was Sunday, but nevertheless. Much of the area is wooded, but was extremely dry and also dusty, it has been a super dry winter with not much snow even. There was actually a small bush fire a hundred meters away at one point. AA said the best time is in summer of course, when people go swimming at these beaches but also September and October, when the leaves change color.


We had a great walk and the last cliff looked really beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed this unexpected adventure, that I never would have been able to do without a local and AA drove me all the way back to the hotel again. Very cool addition to an already great trip.
To say goodbye to the place, I went down to the shore once more and was in for another treat. There were several elderly men who were actually, one after the other, taking a swim in the ice cold ocean!!! Kyaaaaaaa. I was walking around in arctic gear, these guys, jump into the ocean! Air temperature was around zero Celsius and water temperature… well look at the floating ice! OMG!!!

It was my second time to Russia and both times I made nothing but good experiences. I thought also in St. Petersburg and Moscow that people were friendly, but I must give it to Vladivostok that people there were even more friendly than in the big cities. There was not one moment where I would have felt unsafe, despite the adventures in finding the concert venue. Okay, there was a shady “taxi driver” hanging around the hotel who kept on asking me if I need a ride every time I left the hotel. But even he never got rude or too close. There was less police and military around than in Moscow and St. Petersburg. There is of course also less to see than in those two big cities, since after all Vladivostok is a mere 160 years old.
I wonder since when there are direct flights from Tokyo and how long they will keep those up. On the way to Vladivostok there were maybe 60 people on board, on the way back 40 people.
I can totally see myself going to Vladivostok again though if some band of interest decides to come all the way there for a gig. And even if there is no direct flight anymore, there will surely be some from Seoul 😉

From Vladivostok with Love – Part 3

On the Amorphis website it read that the Vladivostok venue was called San Remo, apparently a hotel. On the ticket I somehow bought online the venue read Submarine Club. Hm. I asked at my hotel lobby, and the guy did not speak English too well. For standard questions he could somehow answer in English, but not such non-standard stuff like whether the Submarine Club is maybe inside San Remo. He pointed vaguely into the right direction and I thought oh, heck, I’m gonna find it somehow and went looking. It said 19:00 on the paper. I was not sure whether that meant concert start or start of letting you into the hall and the hotel guy couldn’t tell me either because of lack of English. So I went looking for the venue at 17:30 and good that I did so. At a sign which read San Remo, I actually ran into the two guitarists of the band and quickly addressed them and told them I’d see them later, they greeted nicely back, then walked down the road. Good, so it had to be around here somewhere if the band members are close!
I ventured into a spooky alley and ended at a nightclub, all right, but it had another name, and the door was closed, nobody there. Some shifty looking dude wearing an indistinct hoody came out of a side door and I showed him my print out and asked where the venue is. No English really, he said, niet niet, and pointed up and right. Hm.


So I went up and right and landed on the roof of the San Remo building. It’s built kind of into a hill and you could easily walk onto the roof. some youngsters hung out there, but they didn’t look like heavy metal fans and were too young also. One kid walked into the roof access of whatever was beneath it and I thought, what the heck and followed him.

I ended in the seventh floor lobby of a super old style hotel way beyond its prime. Everything screamed seventies and that in Russian. At the reception I asked the lone lady present if she spoke English. A little. I showed her my paper and she was going, Hu? Never heard of it kind of “Hu”. She went into the office, asked someone, then came back. Go down and left. Hm.
I went down with the elevator to the first floor, nothing but a shady restaurant. Outside of the building to the left, closed doors, no metal fans. Damnit, it must be here somewhere, even the band members were around.


Under normal circumstances I never ever would have gone near such night clubs, shady hotels and run down buildings! Lol. But there I was wandering, feeling like in a Russian spy movie. I decided to walk around the complex and went up the hill again outside of the building. And there! In a corner, next to a bar, “Submarine”! Yeah!

And there were a few heavy metal looking dudes around! I approached them and felt safe, ladies and gentlemen. To “normal people” Russian dudes in leather, with long hair, beards, whatever chains dangling from their clothes look scary. But I felt right at home, lol.
I said “hi” and they immediately noticed I’m not Russian and there were actually three, four guys and girls who spoke English and immediately questions started, where the hell are you from? You came to Vladivostok for metal? Oh man! So cool! One girl had been to Europe several times, going to Amon Amarth gigs, so much appreciating I bothered to fly to Vladivostok. They were all super nice and friendly and we are all one big heavy metal family where it does not matter where you come from.
The girl who had been to Europe and I exchanged social media stuff and then she offered to drive me to Russky island the next day so that I see some more of her home town. What? Seriously? Yes, yes, no problem! Wow!
With the promise to pick me up at 14:00 the next day, we were finally allowed into the venue and since I had been early, I managed to get first row together with the other early birds.
While waiting we talked about metal of course, but also the weather for example. It’s been the warmest winter ever they said, usually in March the west side of the bay is still frozen solid and not only a little bit, zero degrees is so warm! Okay. It’s all a matter of perspective. One of the guys said, he hates winter. Uh! A Russian who hates winter! I asked another guy whether he can recommend a vodka brand to me. I wanted to buy one bottle at the airport duty free before I leave. Hm, he doesn’t drink vodka and has no clue about the stuff! There go your stereotypes! He doesn’t drink even a beer before a gig, he wants to be in full capacity of his senses to enjoy the music. Yep, same here!
One guy works for Mazda, another for Carl Zeiss, the Russky island lady and her husband are both programmers.
The gig was great, the band was in a good mood, the crowd was screaming and going nuts, not too many bands bother to fly all the way to Vladivostok, so the metal community is happy and grateful when they do come. It was a fantastic gig and I made a bunch of great friends 🙂

From Vladivostok with Love – Part 2

My driver from the Vladivostok airport into town drove like a berserker in a fat Mercedes. He spoke not a word of English but I said Germania and then he was raving about German cars, I believe 😉
First impression of the town was gray, cold, pre-fabricated high-rise buildings from the seventies.

My hotel was nice though, nothing special, but all the international standards available that a hotel is supposed to have. The room looked out over the western half of the bay and there was ice floating at the shore.


I ventured down to the shore and checked out the ice. Half the shore was a construction site, but people walked through the fences, taking a stroll, as if that was all very normal. The constructions sites were around two defunct buildings from the sixties maybe and made the impression on me as if they were permanent.
I had chosen my hotel strategically close to the venue of the concert and already found the place on that first stroll, or so I thought at the time, and was quite relaxed about that, eating dinner at the hotel’s restaurant before going to bed.

The first day of exploring: I walked down to the shore again, this time venturing further towards an amusement park by the yacht harbor. All the facilities looked very much seventies or eighties to me. From there I walked through town for about five hours with a short break for a late lunch and checked out most of the sights of the city.

The big cathedral at the central square was unfortunately closed do to repair. I counted 12 military ships in the harbor and their radar etc. masts looked like a collection of alien space ships to me.

Much like in Moscow and St. Petersburg the Second World War is quite present still in every day Russia. War memorials and eternal flames and an old submarine exhibit take you back seventy years. The submarine was interesting though, a museum part and then a “live” part where you have to squeeze through bulk heads.

Then I got a bit lost on the search for the mini funicular promised in a Vladivostok walking map I got at the WW2 submarine. I walked too far as it turned out, but stumbled across more tanks and war stuff in a park. Finally I found the funicular. It’s a two minute ride only up the hill which costs 14 rubles, which is some 30 yen. On top was a closed viewpoint but the sight over the city was okay from the side of the funicular also.

Apart from long distance trains the funicular is the only railway inside of Vladivostok, all public transport happens via buses. Those buses look old and they blast a lot of unfiltered exhaust into the air. I did everything on foot, which is okay though, since the downtown area is not that big after all. Nowadays Vladivostok has about 600,000 inhabitants. Funny thing was that I had difficulties recognizing shopping centers for what they were. Due to the cold they don’t have open inviting big entrances but there is a glass door somewhere, which leads into a foyer and then another glass door, all in the attempt to keep out the weather.
I luckily found one shopping center where I could buy some fast food lunch by pointing at pictures. Public rest rooms are also a rarity and shopping centers are your best bet for that. Then I walked back to the hotel past the Vladivostok railway station.

It is still a dream of mine to ride the trans Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok or the other way round one day. Without getting off in between it takes seven days. Well, let’s see! At least I was now on either end of the tracks 🙂 After a rest in the hotel I readied myself for heavy metal!

From Vladivostok with Love – Part 1

Vladivostok is surely not the most common and easiest to get to holiday destination, which is a shame actually. I thoroughly enjoyed my short journey there.

A few things about Vladivostok before the details of my trip. Vladivostok was a Chinese fishing village called Haishenwai, before the Russians seized it in 1860. China was weakened from the opium wars and didn’t oppose Russia seizing that frigid port to the north. The Russians renamed it Vladivostok and quickly developed the place to make it theirs for everyone around to see and brought people there. Nowadays more or less zero Asians are residents of Vladivostok, if in a way they partially claimed it back, but more about that later.
Even though Vladivostok is on the same latitude as Sapporo or the island of Corsica in the Mediterranean (!), winters are brutal and the ocean around it freezes. Vladivostok lies on a peninsula that sticks out into a large bay. There is ocean on three sides of the town, and, as mentioned much of the quiet bay freezes over in winter.
During Cold War times, Vladivostok was closed to foreigners, since it was and is the one and only big harbor for whatever Russian naval military forces. I wonder what life was like in Vladivostok during these dark times.

The town saw a major development boost when the APEC summit was held there in 2012. They got the two big bridges connecting parts of the city and the city to the island of Russky in the south of Vladivostok. Before the bridges you had to drive around a big part of the inner bay and go by boat to Russky island or rather don’t go there at all. They also built a giant convention center and university on Russky island and a big aquarium.

So, why go to Vladivostok? People who know me know that it’s one of my passions to travel and to combine that if ever possible with going to gigs of heavy metal bands. It came to pass that one of my favorite bands, Amorphis from Finland, was going to Vladivostok. Ha! That sounds like an adventure worth undertaking 😉 Since after all, Vladivostok is just a two hour twenty minute plane ride from Tokyo. To get a Russian visa is the biggest hustle about going to Russia, but also that is manageable, if super inconvenient.

I must admit I was quite excited about the trip, not knowing at all how much remoteness to expect. I was not majorly encouraged by the tiny propeller plane of Aurora airlines, the Far East subsidiary of Aeroflot, at Narita airport either.

Though, thanks to okay weather, the flight was smoother than expected. I think about 80 people fit onto such a plane and there were maybe fifty or sixty heading for Vladivostok. Some Japanese adventurers, but mostly Russians. Arrived in Vladivostok though I was in for a surprise. The airport immigration was swamped with plane loads full of Chinese and Koreans. Uh? What to they want in Vladivostok? My first hunch was shopping and my hunch got verified later. I shall come back to that.
They let me into the country thanks to my visa no questions asked. I waited forever at the baggage claim until I came upon the idea to walk around because some suitcases fell of the band once in a while and yes, mine must have fallen too and I found it at the farthest, darkest corner of the baggage retrieval.


I had ordered a taxi via my hotel and they were supposed to pick me up with a sign stating the hotel name, but there were only tons of Korean signs and none in western writing. I happened to arrive though, luckily, on the international women’s day, which is even a national holiday in Russia, and people were giving all women who arrived tulips at the arrivals area. I went to the side and stood there waiting and got out my phone to call the hotel, as one of the young women who gave out flowers asked me if she could help in very good English. I explained and she whipped out her phone, called the hotel and ran through half the airport for me searching for my driver, apologizing that he must be stupid and that I have to wait. Wow, so friendly! She did ask though, what are you doing in Vladivostok, with the undertone of ‘why the hell have you come here’? Lol. I explained to her about the gig and she said she’ll check out the band! Lol. Then she found my driver and off I went towards Vladivostok which is about an hour drive away from the airport.