That end of the world feeling

At the end of the world is Vladivostok, 5700 miles from Moscow and 11 time zones from London. The journey there took 20 hours door to door, but was pretty uneventful, with most of it being spent on what must be one of the world’s longest domestic flights, eight and a half hours between the Russian capital and Vladivostok. The Transaero flight in a Boeing 777 had better food – simple but tasty – than than on offer from most European and American airlines.

There is now a shiny new Aeroexpress train to take passengers from the airport 50km out of town into the famous station that is the end – or in my case – beginning of the Transsiberian. It opened in July in time for a big asian summit in the town and runs every two hours, costing a mere 200 roubles – £4. In some respects it is quite basic, with coaches whose internal doors do not open automatically – a bit of a hassle for people with luggage – but in other respects it is high tech. There are automatic barriers which are sprung open by reading the bar code on tickets which seem totally unnecessary given the light traffic – Vladivostok seemed to have about 20 flights per day, and few of them were international and the fact that the barriers had a ticket inspector anyway.

This euh, automatic need to have automation is a mistake that is always tempting to make but can end up being very costly. Automatic barriers on a simple airport express are hardly ever likely to save much money or even be necessary, and it was noticeable that all they did was cause a queue at the exit on the new section of Vladivostok station – where incidentally, there is a security check on every entrance with baggage being put through an Xray machine but not personal searches.

The station must boast the oddest platform numbering system in the world – it seems to have platforms 1,4,7 and 15 but none in between, unless they are hidden somewhere else.

Vladivostok is a rather car obsessed town, as cheap imports are available from Japan just over the water and there is a permanent traffic jam in the centre of the city. There seems to be no parking restrictions and any spare space is apparently game – even pedestrian crossings. Pedestrians are often shunted into dingy underpasses in order not to trouble the traffic.

In nearly two days here I have not seen a single bicycle – nor even motorcycle – and the buses are crowded but there are no special lanes or priority for them. The end of the world could do with learning the lessons of the rest of it.



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