Krushchev’s San Francisco

Krushchev’s San Francisco

Published: November 2, 2011 (Issue # 1681)


Workers building a bridge across Zolotoi Rog Bay that will shorten the distance from downtown Vladivostok to Cape Churkin.

VLADIVOSTOK — Just months after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev jokingly promised to show “Kuzka’s mother” to the Americans in Moscow, he made his first official visit to the United States — and ended up taking a trip that proved crucial for Vladivostok.

Impressed by the views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge, Khrushchev called for the residents of Vladivostok, which he visited on his way back home in 1959, to turn the city into “our San Francisco.”

This speech, delivered at a local shipbuilding plant, was followed by a massive construction effort aimed at transforming the city into a “Big Vladivostok,” which Khrushchev hoped would rival the American prototype.

Khrushchev never attributed his threat to show “Kuzka’s mother” — an idiomatic expression meaning “to teach someone a lesson” — to the changes the city faced 50 years ago. But he probably would do so today as Vladivostok faces a new wave of construction ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, which it will host in 2012.

On a recent visit, the city looked like an enormous construction site, with cranes rising above dug-up streets, as workers upgrade transportation infrastructure and build a new campus for Far East Federal University on Russky Island, which will host the summit. Local and federal authorities believe that any inconvenience caused by the construction works is worth it because the role of host city for the summit could result in a huge breakthrough in the development of Vladivostok and the surrounding Primorye region. Among the major benefits are two huge bridges that Vladivostok will get by 2012 and that will ease movement around the city.

One of the bridges will stretch across the Eastern Bosporus Strait to connect the continental part of the city to Russky Island about 800 meters to the south. It will be the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world, with a main span length of 1,104 meters.

The other bridge will connect the city center to Cape Churkin lying across Zolotoi Rog, or Golden Horn, one of the city’s biggest bays.

Vladivostok residents have been waiting for these bridges for decades, and the new infrastructure will facilitate access to the city’s remote territories, part of which are located on islands in the Sea of Japan, where a ferry is the only way to reach them.

Vladivostok — Russia’s biggest port on the Pacific Ocean — is located on the northwestern coast of the Sea of Japan and borders the Eastern Bosporus Strait and part of the Amur Bay. The city was founded in 1860 as a military post on Zolotoi Rog Bay and two years later got the status of a free trade port.

The city’s name apparently originates from the Russian expression “vladei vostokom,” which means “rule the east.”

Indeed, the city’s location makes Vladivostok a strategic transportation hub in the Far East for international cargo shipments. The port handles cargoes primarily from South Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Asian companies also like Vladivostok’s location. A subsidiary of Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation, Summit Motors Vladivostok, is the local dealer of Toyota vehicles, while South Korea’s Hyundai Corporation, which has a local office, built a business center in the city jointly with the local authorities, the international terminal at the airport, and the Far East’s largest tanker, Primorye, which carries oil from the island of Sakhalin to the countries of the Asian-Pacific region.

Among the big domestic companies operating in Vladivostok are carmaker Sollers, which assembles South Korea’s SsangYong SUVs at its local facility, and Gazprom, which recently completed a pipeline delivering gas from the island of Sakhalin to Vladivostok that could one day also supply Japan, China and South Korea.

Local residents are excited about the city’s location. Making a shopping getaway to China for the weekend is as common as visiting a shopping center in the Moscow region city of Khimki is for Muscovites. “We usually go shopping in Suifenhe, where you can find everything from cheap mass-produced consumer goods to high-quality clothes, stuff for cars and home appliances,” said Anna, a 20-year-old student. A weekend bus tour to China with its numerous “cheap restaurants and cafes serving incredibly delicious food” is a good way to relax after the work week, she said.

Another passion for the locals is cars. Most Vladivostok residents — from the 18-year-old student to the retiree — own vehicles, largely right-hand drives imported from Japan.

“We have no metro and there are places where you can’t get by bus, so a car is a necessity for families,” said Anna.

Some families have several cars, she added.

Heavy traffic together with narrow streets results in huge jams, which locals say last nearly around the clock.

But no matter what problems the city has, it became dear to many Russians in the late 1990s when Ilya Lagutenko, frontman of the popular rock band Mumy Troll, devoted a song to the city where he had spent his childhood and youth.

Lagutenko, who visits the city twice a year to perform concerts, explained the name of the song “Vladivostok 2000” in a book published last year.

“We’ve been told since childhood that the year 2000 would come and Vladivostok would become ‘our San Francisco,’ like Khrushchev said,” he wrote.

The city is developing at a slower pace than hoped, but residents have retained their sense of humor and are confident about tomorrow, he said.

“Every Vladivostok resident is a real sailor in his soul, who believes that one day he will come back to the land where his friends and loved ones are waiting for him,” he said.

What to see if you have two hours

Numerous observation points provide a breathtaking view of the city and the surrounding islands. To get the best impression, ride on a funicular from the station near the Pushkin Theater to an upper observation point near a Far East Federal University campus. This observation point — popular among visiting foreigners — offers a stunning view of Zolotoi Rog Bay, where workers in orange helmets are bustling on a bridge construction site and look like hardworking ants from here.

The bay is especially beautiful on sunny days, when flecks of sunlight play on the water, justifying the bay’s name.

The funicular itself is worth seeing. Launched in 1962, the 183-meter rail link — a brainchild of Khrushchev and inspired by San Francisco’s cable-car system — is the only funicular system in the Far East. It runs along a slope of the Orlinoye Gnezdo, or Eagle’s Nest, Mountain, which rises to 200 meters above sea level and is the highest point in the old part of Vladivostok. The funicular trip from the lowest to the highest point takes about two minutes and costs 6 rubles.

After admiring the view, go down the hill to look at ships tied up at Korabelnaya Nabarezhnaya, which stretches along Zolotoi Rog Bay. While walking along the embankment, stop by the submarine museum (66 Svetlanskaya Ulitsa; +7-4232-216-492,, which is organized inside a real S-56 submarine that first set sail in 1939 and participated in World War II. Visitors can see three sections of the submarine preserved in their original state.

Drop into one of the cozy cafes on Vladivostok’s main street, Svetlanskaya — the local equivalent of Moscow’s Tverskaya, with the city’s main department store and name-brand fashion stores lining both sides — which runs parallel to the embankment. Don’t miss a chance to make a wish under the Nikolayevskiye Triumphal Gates, following the local tradition. The gates were built in 1891 ahead of a visit by a young Nicholas II.

What to do if you have two days

In the winter, follow young Vladivostok residents to the Arsenyev ski resort (, a small one-industry town 255 kilometers northeast of Vladivostok.

The resort is located on 870-meter-high Obzornaya Mountain and has three ski slopes and one for sleds. One ski lift ride costs 100 rubles for adults and 50 rubles for children. Skis are available for rent at 300 rubles per hour, and an instructor is also available for 400 rubles per hour.

Accommodation is possible in a local hotel located just 10 minutes by taxi from the ski base. One possible option is Tayozhnaya (1 Gostiny Proyezd, +7-4236-143-261,, where prices start at 1,100 rubles per night for an economy single.

In the summer, take a ferry boat to nearby islands to admire breathtaking landscapes. Explore the majestic rocks of Popova Island or swim in the blue waters of the Sea of Japan on Russia’s southmost island of Furugelma, with its white sandy beaches. (Tours to the islands are organized by a number of local travel agencies. One of the most affordable options is ForiTur Primorye, which focuses on ecological tourism. 123B Okeansky Prospekt, Office 401, +7-4232-504-153,

Cultural tips

The city boasts a number of interesting museums that locals say are worth visiting.

The antique car museum, Avtomotostarina Museum (2A Sakhalinskaya Ulitsa, +7-4232-212-477,, has a unique collection of old cars and motorcycles made in the Soviet Union and abroad in 1920s to 1970s, including the car that Khrushchev used during his visit in 1959.

The Vladivostok Fortress Museum (4A Batareinaya Ulitsa, +7-4232-40-08-96, offers an overview of the city’s fortification history, with exhibits that include weapons and the equipment used to build the fortress of Vladivostok — a complex of 16 forts, some of which are open to tourists — from 1910 to 1917.

What to do with the kids

The Vladivostok circus — which is more than 100 years old and once received a gift of 100 rubles from the visiting Nicholas II — stages regular performances from Fridays to Sundays. In 1973, the circus got its current building with a winter garden on the upper floor (103 Svetlanskaya Ulitsa, +7-4232-268-115, +7-4232-268-133,; prices start at 400 rubles).

Where to eat

Thanks to its seaside location, Vladivostok boasts a wide choice of local fish and seafoods in many restaurants. One good option is Sem Futov (17A Ulitsa Leitenanta Shmidta, +7-423-2988-888,, which is located in one of the the city harbors and provides a picturesque view of the Amur Bay from a terrace that is open from May through October. The restaurant, frequented by visiting foreigners, focuses on European cuisine. A meal for one costs about 2,500 rubles, including alcohol.

For a breathtaking panoramic view of the city go to Orlinoye Gnezdo (1 Aksakovskaya Ulitsa, +7-4232-651-551,, located on top of the mountain with the same name. The restaurant focuses on French cuisine, with fried frog legs served with risotto being the main attraction on the menu. A meal for one costs about 3,000 rubles with alcohol.

For those preferring a luxury design rather than a picturesque view, try Versal (10 Svetlanskaya Ulitsa, +7-4232-264-201, The restaurant, popular among local officials and visiting celebrities like French singer Patricia Kaas, is located in the city center and is part of a hotel with the same name. The venue with large chandeliers and red satin-covered chairs offers European cuisine. The average bill is 2,000 rubles without alcohol per person.

Where to stay

Two hotels located in the city center are popular among visiting government officials and celebrities.

Versal (10 Svetlanskaya Ulitsa, +7-4232-264-201,, which occupies a historic building, has been located on the city’s main street for a century. The hotel opened on the upper floor of a two-story house, right above numerous stores, in 1909 and provided high-end accommodation preferred by visiting foreigners. The hotel was reconstructed in 1992 after a fire destroyed part of the interior, but its original appearance was restored thanks to old photos and sketches. The hotel offers 41 rooms, with prices starting at 5,000 rubles per night for a single.

Opened in 1997, Hyundai Hotel (29 Semyovovskaya Ulitsa, +7-4232-402-233, also boasts a good location — just a few minutes’ walk from the major places of interest. The hotel has 155 rooms, with prices ranging from 7,000 rubles per night for a single to 60,000 rubles per night for a presidential suite.

Conversation starters

You’ll make many friends if you start complaining about the traffic jams. Construction ahead of the summit is another evergreen topic, since locals are very excited about finally getting the long-awaited bridges.

Other helpful hints

Vladivostok is located on the same latitude as Sochi, but the summer temperatures here are lower. Although summer — usually warm and humid — is rather comfortable in Vladivostok, strong rainshowers accompanied by strong wind that blow in from the ocean can be a real problem, paralyzing local sea and air transportation.

Take a lot of warm clothes if you happen to go to Vladivostok in the winter. The weather is usually sunny with rare snowfalls, but high humidity due to its location on the sea combined with strong winds can make the cold unbearable.

Finally, make sure you leave for the local airport far in advance, because a trip by taxi from the city center, which should normally take up to an hour, can last for three to four hours due to traffic jams and repair works on the roads.

How to get there

Vladivostok is the endpoint of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, connecting the Far East with the western part of Russia and the largest Siberian cities in between.

Choosing this route would definitely be a memorable experience because it takes a train departing from the railroad’s starting point — Moscow’s Yaroslavsky Station — six days to cover the 9,288-kilometer route. Prices start at 11,000 rubles for a round trip in a third-class sleeper. Getting to Moscow from St. Petersburg is nothing in comparison, with many trains departing daily for the capital. Prices start from 1,000 rubles

A faster option to get to Vladivostok is by plane, albeit also with a layover in Moscow. A one-way trip from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok takes about ten hours in flight time, in addition to a layover in Moscow, with prices for a round trip starting at about 16,000 rubles.

The city’s international airport (, which is home to the biggest airline in the Far East, Vladivostok Avia, is located 44 kilometers north of Vladivostok and has two terminals — for international and domestic flights.

Vladivostok’s time difference with St. Petersburg is seven hours.


Vladivostok, which means ‘rule the East,’ received the status of a free trade port in 1862.

Population: 616,884

Main industries: car and equipment construction, shipbuilding, fishing, food production, timber processing 

Mayor: Igor Pushkaryov

Founded in 1860

Interesting fact:

The name of Vladivostok’s only sister city in Russia — Vladikavkaz — has a similar origin and comes from the Russian phrase “vladei Kavkazom,” which means “rule the Caucasus.”

Helpful contacts:

• Mayor Igor Pushkaryov (20 Okeansky Prospekt, Office 710, +7-4232-614-223, +7-4232-614-221,;

• Vladimir Brezhnev, chairman of the Primorsky region’s Chamber of Commerce (13A Okeansky Prospekt, +7-4232-26-96-30,

Sister cities: Dalian and Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture (China); Manta (Ecuador); Niigata, Hakodate and Akita (Japan); Kota Kinabalu (Malaysia); Wonsan (North Korea); Vladikavkaz (Russia); Busan (South Korea); San Diego, Tacoma and Juneau (the United States).

Major businesses

• Sollers (3 Ulitsa Stanyukovicha, +7-4232-607-265, +7-4232-513-711,, a local facility of the domestic carmaker assembling UAZ and SsanYong SUVs, as well as FIAT passenger and commercial vehicles and Isuzu trucks.

• Coca-Cola (1 2nd Shosseinaya Ulitsa, +7-4232-308-608,, the beverage maker’s local factory, which was opened in 1997 and has about 500 employees. The plant produces Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite, Schweppes, Fruktaim and BonAqua for the Far East.

Q: What role does the Vladivostok plant play in the company’s operations in Russia?

A: Coca-Cola Hellenic’s plant in Vladivostok is very important because it serves the entire Far East population — about 6 million people. Our distribution chain includes all the major cities in the Far East, and we have units and exclusive distributors to supply remote territories.

Q: What makes Vladivostok a special place to work?

A: The logistics operations are difficult due to the landscape, which consists of bays and mountains. But the company can supply products to consumers quickly because major retail outlets in the heavily populated Vladivostok are located close to one another. It’s also worth mentioning that all big production sites are located outside the city.

Q: What would you recommend that other foreign investors consider about Vladivostok?

A: Vladivostok is a good platform to invest in ecological tourism, the restaurant and hotel business, and the aircraft and automobile industries. Speaking of the Primorye region in general, investors could look into the chemicals industry, oil and gas refining, timber processing, the processing of ore and rare-earth metals, agriculture and development of scientific innovations. The region is also seen as a future site for the construction of plants for international car makers.  

Q: What is a must-see site in Vladivostok?

A: The main place of interest is the Vladivostok Fortress and its oldest unit, the Bezymyannaya Battery. The antique car museum, the S-56 submarine and the funicular are also interesting and will impress guests of our Far East capital.

Q: What are the most promising industries for investment in Vladivostok?

A: The tourism industry, including the hotel, restaurant and entertainment businesses, have good potential for investment. Vladivostok has a unique geographic location; it’s a big port on the Pacific Ocean whose major neighbors are China, Japan and South Korea. The city also has unique and well-preserved historic and architectural landmarks and can boast rich nature. I’m sure that all this creates the perfect conditions to develop domestic and international tourism and is a good basis for attracting foreign private investors. We also welcome investment in health care and education. We’d like to have big foreign medical companies here that operate globally and would like to develop medical equipment that use high technology. The key project that could attract investment in education is the campus of Far East Federal University on Russky Island, where 50,000 domestic and foreign students will study.

Q: What are the city authorities doing to attract foreign investors?

A: We support investment by reducing administrative barriers. For example, we’ve reduced the time of getting construction permits. We’re also in the process of forming legislation on public-private partnerships. We guarantee investors transparent rules for doing business and equal access to transportation and energy resources.

Q: How are preparations for the APEC summit progressing?

A: They are in full swing. The construction of bridges over Zolotoi Rog Bay and to Russky Island is under way. Several university campuses and dormitories have been built on Russky Island; a road to the Knevichi International Airport has been put into service, and a new airport building that will accept all types of jets and have a capacity for 5 million passengers a year will soon be completed. Construction of two five-star hotels is about to finish as well.

Q: How will the city benefit from hosting the summit?

A: Hosting the summit and the current preparations will make people’s lives more comfortable and ensure sustainable social and economic development for Vladivostok, turning it into Russia’s Pacific gateway and a prospective center for cooperation in the Asian-Pacific region.

Q: What would you recommend seeing in Vladivostok?

A: I would advise seeing the Nikolayevskiye Triumphal Gates, the Vladivostok Fortress Museum, Russia’s only antique car museum and the S-56 submarine. I would also invite guests to ride the funicular to enjoy the breathtaking views of our sea city. Taking a photo in front of the bridges under construction is a must. Each of these sites has its own story, which you’ll keep in your heart after leaving Vladivostok.

A 45-year-old Englishman who has been living in Vladivostok for 13 years. He co-owns the Five O’Clock English bakery and catering service, which he opened in 2007 together with his Russian wife, Anna.

Q: Why did you come to Vladivostok?

A: I used to work as a casino manager in Moscow, and my company sent me to Vladivostok to work at one of the casino’s branches. I met my wife here, and it was her idea to start up our own business. The laws changed at the time, making casinos illegal. So two things just came together at the right time, and I stayed.

Q: Is it difficult to run your own business in Vladivostok?

A: We find it quite easy. We just prepare all the documents that need to be prepared. In our market, in catering, it’s been straight-forward.

Q: What challenges do you face?

A: Logistically, things are difficult. The traffic is very heavy. We found that delivery is not always profitable because a driver spends a lot of time in traffic. So we’re limited to a very close area in deliveries. Also receiving products on time and the quality we demand is not always perfect. We need fresh products constantly because we bake.

Q: Why did you choose to open a bakery?

A: We just felt that there was a gap in the market. There were coffee shops here, but nobody really specialized in tea and home baking. So we took advantage of that.

Q: What do you like most about the city?

A: Vladivostok is a very young city because it’s full of students. It keeps me young. I like the people. They are very friendly, very welcoming. Now they make me feel part of the city. And the sea. It’s nice to live by the sea. The Zolotoi Rog Bay potentially could be very nice. At the moment it’s full of rusting ships, but it’s a beautiful place potentially.

Q: Do you think that the city will change for the better due to preparations for the APEC summit?

A: The infrastructure is already improving, roads are being built and upgraded, they’re building a new train line directly from the airport to the city. Hopefully the whole city will benefit.

Q: What is a must-see in Vladivostok?

A: I would recommend seeing Zolotoi Rog Bay. Also the submarine museum, which provides a good opportunity to get inside a submarine. There’s no other place in the world where you can do that. The train station is very nice — it is at the end of the line of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and you can see a lot of foreigners around there. I would also say: If you come to Vladivostok, get off the main street and look at the tiny side streets — you’ll see old architecture, an old Vladivostok.

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