For our last night in Japan, we stayed with Akiyo and her family in Takarazuka, close to Osaka Airport.Â We were treated to “kaiten-zushi” (conveyer beltÂ sushi) for dinner the night before we left, which was probably even more popular with Akiyo’s kids than it was with us.
Our departure from Osaka on Thursday morning was straightforward – David’s Japanese mum & dad (who also stayed in Takarazuka) took us to the airport and our flight left on time.Â We had to catch a domestic flight to Niigata, on the north coast of Japan, to connect with our international flight to Vladivostok.Â Due to bad weather, our flight over the Japanese Alps to Niigata was quite rough, and our plane was struck by lightning. There was quite a bright flash outside and a loud bang.Â This may not be suchÂ an unusual event, but this was the first time we had experienced it.
We had four hours to fill in before our flight to Vladivostok and we became very good at making up imaginary stories about passers by to fill in time.Â We were able to call Cathy and speak to her about her new baby.Â It was an exciting and emotional call.
Our flight on Air Vladivostok was comfortable and uneventful (thankfully).Â We traveled in an old Tupolev 154 which looked like it had been in service since the days of the cold war.Â Nevertheless, the service was friendly and efficient.Â It turned out not to be as scary as our our JAL flight with the lightning strike.Â Being a bit of a plane nerd, David had to have his photo taken alongside the Tu154 before we left.
Getting through Russian immigration and customs wasn’t nearly intimidating as we thought.Â It seemed that there was actually much greater scrutiny getting out of Japan!Â We soon had our bags and found a very attractive young lady named Anna waiting to drive us the 50km into town and our hotel. We later found that there are many other attractive and well dressed women in this town.
We settled in to our hotel room and headed up to the restaurant for dinner at what we thought was 9.30pm only to receive some strange looks from the staff.Â We had confused the time and it was actually 10.30pm.Â It struck us that it was very strange to travel west, but still turn the clock forwards. This was a result of summer time in Russia.
Friday the thirteenth gave us a chance to look around Vladivostok.Â Our first impressions of this town are that it is a hilly grand city with decaying charm and a traffic gridlock problem.Â The city is built on a narrow peninsula located between several harbours, the waterfront of which are lined with ships – some are active navy ships, others are now rusting hulks.Â Many of the buildings are grand, but look like they might have seen better days.Â The streets are potholed, and we found a few instances of unfinished and abandoned repair work.
Lunch was at a cafeteria that we found in the main retail precinct, which was good because we were able to point at the food we wanted to order.Â We rode a funicular up to a lookout over the city, which gave us a good view over the city.Â Apartment blocks sprawl over all the hills, and the harbours are interesting with all the maritime activity.Â
We also saw the station from where our Trans-Siberian train departs tomorrow.Â It was hard to get a clear photo from out front due to all of the traffic in the way.Â There are trucks taking containers from the docks passing by the station, alongside busses, trams and endless second-hand Japanese cars.Â
The Gavan Hotel, where we are staying, is 2km south of the station, in the middle of a complex of apartment blocks.Â We met our other train trip group members and group leader this evening.Â We’re being taken around Vladivostok tomorrow, before leaving on the three day train trip to Irkutsk in the evening.