Ernest Hemmingway could not have encouraged us more directly when he observed that “It is good to have an end to journey toward,but it is the journey that matters, in the end”.
So here we are, in Vladivostok, having crossed 8 time zones in 12 days since leaving Moscow, travelled over 10,651 kms, passed through 10 different railway administrations and marveled at world’s deepest freshwater lake – Baikal – which is also known as the “Golden Buckle” of the “Iron Belt of Russia”. This iron belt is the Trans -Siberian Railway, the backbone of the country and considered a window onto the Russian soul.
Vladivostok or “Ruler of the East” is our final destination on this classic journey. Approaching on the blue Trans-Siberian Express we saw the lights of the 4-kilometer bridge over Amur Bay to welcome us (which for some, would stoke up memories of Europe’s own super-long bridge, the Vasco da Gama in Lisbon). Since Khabrovsk,where it joins the Amur, we followed the Ussuri River. It forms part of the border with China and was a major scene of the 1969 conflict over Damanskii/Zhenbao Island. A disabled Soviet tank is still on a trophy-like display at the Chinese Military Museum in Beijing. Our cellphones keep announcing “welcome to CHINA…”. We are not far from North Korea.
This is the last stop on the world’s longest railway line. Our bags were transported to the luxurious modern Hyundai Hotel from where the views of hills and streets are an echo of San Francisco. A last evening event is at a panoramic restaurant, to exchange opinions and ideas with our travel companions. We are warned about the traffic, as a mass import of right-hand-steering Japanese cars adds to the already normal chaos of right side road driving.
On the morning sight-seeing tours we see the spectacular 2 new suspension bridges (similar to Istanbul’s two new additions); the Golden Horn Bay Bridge in the city centre ,and the elegant new link to Russky Island. This last one has pylons which rise 321 mts above the water using cables designed by French company Freyssinet to withstand a wind-force of 250 kilometers per hour. They are higher than the Eiffel Tower.
Surely,we must come back to explore this once closed and secret corner of Russia, now open to the world. But first a break to absorb and digest impressions from what is an unforgettable journey. Truly memories for a lifetime!