The airbus made a hard landing in Vladivostok, and after the requisite period waiting for luggage and fending off the taxi drivers with particularly pointy teeth. I got a lift into the city (with a 30% discount on the excessive ripoff, meaning I only paid about twice as much as I should have...). After about an hour we arrived at a hotel I thought I could stay at. The woman at the front desk stated with a perfectly straight face that no single rooms were available, but I could take a triple room (for three times the price). I must have looked particularly stupid! After about 10 minutes, however, she 'remembered' that there was a single fare option available, with the possibility of sharing a room.
In the end, I did share a room, but in the morning the fellow (Maxim) insisted I share breakfast with him, which saved me the trouble of shopping for my own! I spent the next two days walking around finding the places I had seen on my previous trip in December 2006 and buying gifts for friends. I usually put of buying heavy stuff until the last stop before home, but there it is time to cut loose!
One particular highlight was the weather, which after 4 weeks of chasing autumn, finally turned to summer again for two days. On the first of September all school children return to school dressed up and with flowers. I visited the museum and was particularly impressed by the exhibition on early sea explorers, including La Perouse. I took advantage of my knee returning to normal to meet with a local couchsurfer Alyona and climb a nearby hill, look at the view, and also to visit the lighthouse at the harbour entrance, accessed by an eroded tidal isthmus. Vladivostok is currently having two new bridges built, partially in preparation for the APEC summit. Even though Moscow is paying for the construction, there are concerns that the city will not be able to afford maintenance!
All too soon it was time to leave. I woke up at 4:15am on the second of September, took a cab to the airport, and took a flight to Beijing. There I was in transit basically all day. I spent some time looking at a 3D TV screen display, which was pretty cool, and compiling statistics of my travel, most of which I have already published here. At length we boarded a flight for Sydney via Shanghai. As we cleared immigration in Shanghai I met Matias Hyde, an Argentinian man who is starting a bike ride from Australia to Spain. His website is www.matiashydetravels.com - it looks a lot nicer than my one!
In Sydney quaranteen asked me to open my bag - there was apparently food buried right at the bottom. When I unpacked it, though, all we could find was a balled up wadd of thermal underwear. Probably not consumable by anyone. Luckily, dad met me at the airport. Now I am safe at home, worried only that my unpacked stuff will cover my bed and prevent me from sleeping!
Photos! Kamchatka photos are now finished (8 shots from the last day added), and photos from Vladivostok and the flight home are up as well. They can be found here: http://picasaweb.google.com.au/CaseyHandmer/Vladivostok?feat=directlink
All the photos can be found here: http://picasaweb.google.com.au/CaseyHandmer
Overall, I think it was a pretty crazy trip, and I've been surprised and thrilled at how well most of it went. The trip lasted for 77 days, and in nearly every one I tried to do something which I thought would probably fail, but I succeeded just often enough to keep on trying.
In 10 days I will move to California to start a PhD at Caltech in theoretical physics (think Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory). I do not anticipate regular updates on the thrilling sequence of events that will be the next five years of my life, but I may occasionally find time for a photo or two of the lovely Pasadena.