Posts Tagged ‘bank’

Wells Fargo really does exist!!

31st October 2010 by Helen

It’s been a fairly uneventful few days.  We’ve learned a bit more about Alaska, where to go, what to see.  The road system is fairly straightforward: three key roads form a triangle joining Anchorage, Fairbanks and Glenallen, with about another five roads linking these to other key places.  There’s only a couple of train lines that run down the west coast and they don’t seem to run out of season (ie, now) and the buses out of town run ‘as and when’.  Our packs are too heavy and cars too few and far between to make hitch-hiking an attractive option (at our age).  So we have concluded driving is the only way to go.

I said I’d give an update when I knew what we were doing.  So here it is.  We have been told that Landy is due to land in Seattle earlier than we expected, late November, which we are pleased about.  In the meantime we have been in discussion with a lady in Florida to drive her car from Anchorage to Florida before taking an internal flight back to Seattle.  Yes, we know that’s not what you expected!!  Neither did we, but we’re looking forward to the new opportunity to see some of the other States we had not otherwise planned to visit.  The family obviously want their car delivered but, within reason, we will have the opportunity to take in some of the sights we had not otherwise expected to see.  And we still need to be back in Seattle in plenty of time to meet Landy off the ship.

In the meantime we have been enjoying a relaxing time at the hostel.  Out of season things are pretty relaxed.  There are four other people living here: apart from the owner who is in residence for the winter there are three men who are all around our age, mostly employed in the fishing industry in some way.

Temperatures outside are mostly below freezing.  We’ve walked around this part of the city a couple of times, finding the shops and getting any supplies we need.  At one point we asked a cyclist and asked directions.  It turned out our destination was probably some distance away.  The man himself was amazed at the fact we were ‘walking’, which he kept repeating while shaking his head.  When I said ‘brilliant’ in thanks at the end of our conversation, he said no-one had ever said brilliant to him before!!  And rode off still shaking his head!  We still get thrown by some of the words and phrases but American English is a lot easier to follow than Russian or Mongolian was.

Loads of shops have had Halloween decorations.  Pumpkins have been on sale everywhere.  The front garden of the small wooden house next to the hostel has been full of pumpkin and other Halloween decorations.  On Sunday (31st), lots of older children, teenagers and young adults were out and about in Halloween costumes during the day.  However, there were no ‘trick or treat’ calls during the evening – don’t think I’d want to out in fancy dress costumes when it’s below freezing outside either.

Wandering around one supermarket we were surprised to see hanging above us a canoe for sale.  As our eyes lowered we were even more bemused to see racks of shooting rifles and then right in front of us glass cabinets full of handguns.  You don’t get those in Tesco’s in England!!  We were less surprised to see the latest issue of ‘Mushing’ on sale, and of course there are plenty of books in the supermarkets reflecting local scenery and stories.  We’ve seen for real the stores that are just ‘names’ in England, such as JCPenny and Sears.  And Wells Fargo really does exist as a bank here – to me it’s always been a bit like Timbucto and Outer Mongolia, a myth shrouded in the mysteries of cartoons and Westerns, fables and time.

A day out in Vlad

21st October 2010 by Helen

We’ve been up to our ears in bureacracy (well, Paul has more than me, but it has a knock on effect and I’ve tried to be kind to his stress hormones and feed him well) sorting out Landy’s shipping and our flights.  After the banking fiasco blog it all plummeted downhill.  However I shall desist from boring you with the technicalities.  Paul is going to be able to write an entire thesis on US vehicle import systems by the end of this, while I have further evidence on the unbending, intractability, incompetent, user unfriendly, inhuman, dogmatic, idiotic, intransigent, uncompromising, banking system, that exists purely for it’s own pleasure and purpose and has no capacity or capability or consideration of the needs of its hapless, so called, customers.

If only they did these guide books in large print .....

If only they did these guide books in large print .....

So, it was with some pleasure we took a day off from all this today (Thursday 21st) and took a walk into the city centre, round the city centre, up the hill, and back to the hostel again.  Seven stops on the bus takes an hour to walk we learned.  And the further away you walk after that the longer it takes to get back!!

Starting from where we should have got off the bus if we had caught it, we passed the famous railway station with its historic train and 9,288 km marker at the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway.  It seems strange to find both a ferry terminal and railway station next door to each other. 

Staning outside the house where Yul Brynner was born in 1920

Standing outside the house where Yul Brynner was born in 1920

From there our first find was Yul Brynner’s House.  Childhood memories of what was probably his most famous film, The King & I, made this a must visit spot.  Rather boringly there is nothing more to see than a plaque on the wall of a newly painted yellow building now turned into an office.  But it was the thought that counted.

I bought some vegetables in the street market because I wanted to.  Not an overly wise thing to do as I then had to carry them for several hours!!  Good practice maybe for when we are backpacking next week?  No, just daft really.

Like most if not all Russian cities and towns, there are plenty of monuments celebrating the victories of history.  Here Lenin’s statue is opposite the railway station.  But further on towards the port the men carved in stone are the commanders of the Russian fleets and are especially important here in this historic Naval port.  Even now the monuments are cared for and, it seems, new ones being added.   This is not a country that is willing to forget its history, glories and achievements.  It’s strength lies in its pride, and in a pride that is genuine.

Children young and old are lured into demonstrating the weapon loading technique

Children young and old are lured into demonstrating the weapon loading technique

We walked (and crawled) through the submarine which has been preserved as a museum.  I recalled those old films with commanders urgently shouting “Dive, Dive, Dive” as they snapped shut the periscope.  It looked just the same inside, with wheels, dials, and measuring instruments af all kinds, but seemed smaller than the film sets they used.  I paused and peered  through the periscope at the port scene outside.  Moving through to the dormitory section I tried laying on one of the bunk beds only to find it swung alarmingly on the chains from which they hang.  They are short and I had to tuck my knees up a little to keep my feet on the bed.  Not a comfortable place to sleep I would think, and not conducive to tossing and turning with all that swinging round on those chains.  The mess room was the most spacious, with room to walk between the benches along each side and a small table to sit at for those who perhaps wanted to read or write or maybe play a game of cards.  Then finally, at the very front we reached the weapons section.  Warheads were poised ready to be pushed and locked into the firing chambers.  Children, young and old, posed behind them pretending to be submariners at the very forefront of the war.  And then back out into the wan sunshine, past the souvenir seller pressing us to buy old Russian coins or imitation military hats. 

A little further up the street we paid a quick visit to the Vladivostok GUM store, Russia’s largest department store.  They sell shoes, clothes, jewellry, ornaments, souvenirs, household goods, electrical items, DVD’s and CD’s, pretty much like any department store and much as I’d expected!!  I saw a pottery cat ornament I liked.  Paul gallantly offered to carry it all the way to Seattle so I could have a real souvenir of Russia but his pack is already too heavy and I would rather use the memory of the cat to inspire me to take up pottery instead.

New bridge supports with cranes in background - central Vladivostok

New bridge supports with cranes in background - central Vladivostok

A little further on Paul stopped to take loads of photos of some really tall cranes.  Something to do with feats of engineering.  Apparently they should be about 1200 feet tall if his calculations are correct.  They are just one part of some massive construction projects going on in and around Vladivostok and there right in the centre they are constructing a new suspension bridge.  Then there were some more photos of the new bridge supports too.  Whatever else he has done or does, he is still an engineer at heart and any engineer reading this will no doubt understand the compulsion to take photos of engineering feats.

Ringing in the changes

Ringing in the changes

That’s all very well, but the new bridge supports now block what we think was a narrow passage leading to where we wanted to go next – the Funicular railway.  Long gone is the childhood excitement of travelling on this strange mini bit of transport, that takes a whole minute to travel from start to finish.  Rather, it was a much easier way of climbing the massive hill it serves to make easier.  And at just 6 Roubles each (13p), it had to be worth the ride.  But first we had to find it.  We noticed people walking up some steps.  We followed them round a yellow and gold bell tower and a yellow and gold chapel, over some rough ground and past a formerly very grand but now rather derelict looking property that in the UK would be some kind of historic town council offices.  The ground underneath our feet was trodden down mud embedded with rocks and stones and I wondered briefly how passable it will be after the rains.  Then, climbing some concrete steps with their angle iron handrail and two lines of concrete reinforcing rods protecting the gap between the steps and the handrail, I was struck by observing the five steps, which, for some reason were a foot wider than the rest and sticking out into thin air.  Even now the utilitarian nature of Soviet influence has not quite been shaken off.  We continued over a wooden platform that had a creaky dip in the middle, and on to the path on the road running parallel to where we had come from. 

view of Funicular Railway

view of Funicular Railway

After a little further walking back and forth we traversed to another parallel street, took photos of the 150 year old Chinese lion statues, as well as photos of the strange Pushkin statue after whom the street is named, and finally found the entrance to the Funicular Railway.  After handing over our 12 Roubles to one of the most sour faced ‘railway guards’ we have ever encountered we were whisked to the top of the hill.   Excitedly we exited at the top, Paul in particular hoping for some nice greenery, only to find ourselves on the edge of a large roundabout and more building projects.  Finding the subway under the road we also found the park, right down in the centre of the roundabout.  It looked as though they had run out of turfs just before they had finished laying the central grassed area, and haven’t yet got around to putting in any seats or planting any flowers – or maybe that’s the plan.  The stairs here are also still waiting for the banisters to be attached to the studs sticking out of the wall.  It’s such a shame as it manages to perpetuate the impression that in Russia they have perfected the art of making something look both half built and derelict at the same time.  Sadly here also was the worst evidence of litter and grafiti we have seen in this country.  In the town centre there is an army of men and women sweeping up litter and keeping the streets clean, and grafiti appears to be only a minor problem.

City view from Eagle Hill

City view from Eagle Hill

Exiting the subway, onwards and yet further upwards, nipping across another flow of traffic, we made it to the bottom of the steps that would take us up Eagle Hill, the highest point in the city, the key vantage point from which to look out over the city and a popular postcard scene.  From there we looked down on the assorted road works, building constructions, port, railway lines and rooftops, shrouded as they were in a thin layer of smog.

We muse over the he architecture of Russia which is a study in contrasts.  The Soviet heritage of everything being designed in concrete, functional, hard and angular, is ofset by the beauty of the churches with their swirling golden roofs and windows.  There are grand old buildings, pre-dating the Soviet erea, many of which appear to be badly decaying yet still in use; small traditional wooden houses with pretty windows, many of which appear to be in a state of disrepair; modern concrete constructions, that have the capacity to look both under construction and semi-derelict at the same time; crumbling tower blocks still occupied; and glossy modern buildings, pristine and full of light. Three eras of history, all jostling side by side.  All interspersed with streets that are sometimes paved, sometimes concrete, sometimes rocky mud.  Steps and stairs might be made of wood, or concrete, occasionally tiles or bricks, decaying or new.  They might have handrails made of old angle iron and concrete reinforcing rods, or wood, or none at all.

Cyril & Methodius atop Eagle Hill in Vladivostok

Cyril & Methodius atop Eagle Hill in Vladivostok

Just a few steps higher and we were able to stand and admire the statue of Cyril and Methodius, along with the strange rather abstract looking monument in their honour that stands immediately behind them.  This was not a desitination Paul had been too keen on, seeing as they are credited with the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet, the curse of any non-Cyrillic reading tourist trying to find their way around town.  Ask Paul and he will tell you it is like trying to piece together the results of a Scrabble board that has been kicked over.

From here it was all downhill, falling in the Royal Burger store on the way for something that looked and tasted just like a McDonalds, before heading off for our now two hour trek back to the hostel.

We are not yet the intrepid backpackers but we have had a day out in town and done 99% of it on foot!

Vladivostok is not unlike any other city in the world, it is just stamped with the unmistakeable identity of its Russian homeland,  a country that is made by it’s people -resilient and welcoming.