Russia: 15,000 km by hitchhiking. Part I

December 1, 2016

Russia is very different from all the countries I have visited. This is not a tightly connected network of cities, but some kind of model of space, where different races live, there are inhabited city-planets, small colonies, residential stations, and most importantly, huge distances between all of this.

In short, the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy:


In the very first city, my model of Russia “the farther from Moscow, the worse” fell asleep.

The main terminal of the airport.

Vladivostok unexpectedly turned out to be a very lively, beautiful and modern city.

Lots of historical buildings. In this regard, Russia is a unique country that built baroque cities in the heart of Asia.

Usually, to see European cities, residents of East Asian countries need about 8 hours to fly to Europe. I can imagine what an amazing anomaly it looks for them to instead fly to Vladivostok in 30 minutes and see the same European architecture and lifestyle.

Work and travel.

The sports embankment, which was actively forcing under the USSR as a symbol of the city, but never became one. Overall a pleasant place to walk though.

There is a lot of street art on the streets. Moreover, the local treat him perfectly, considering part of modern culture, no one considers wall paintings an indicator of degradation, like some clever people in Europe.

Cozy courtyards in the center are undergoing metamorphosis, transforming from a quiet place to relax into points of attraction for young people eager to work. There are now studios, offices, shops.

Old industrial buildings have taken on a new lease of life as galleries, workshops, loft bars and cafes.

In terms of scale, of course, it is still far from real art clusters, but everything is heading towards this.

Only as soon as possible, otherwise the generation of “old masters” really urgently needs replacement.

Monument to the hitchhiker.

The city is strongly stretched in length due to the shape of the Muravyov-Amursky peninsula, on which it is located. During rush hour buses and minibuses cannot cope, and normally slower electric trains come to the rescue.

The appearance in Vladivostok of a large university greatly reduced the outflow of the young population, plus attracted many foreigners (the Chinese in the first place, of course).

Despite the fact that the entire campus is located on Russky Island, and not in the city itself, about 40,000 student creatures eager to move could not but affect the level of traffic congestion.

View of the Golden Horn Bay at night.

Center for Contemporary Art.

We decided to equip a couple of halls with projectors and show vidos. The first was an analysis of how the behavior of characters in games differs from the real, how it affects the worldview of gamers, and also what is more effective soldiers to train kill first purely in simulators, where there is no sense of guilt, so that then everything in life it was routine and did not generate unnecessary emotional returns.

In the second hall, they proved by examples that we should not rely on well-known historical evidence as an absolute truth, because history is rewritten by the victors. The method was chosen very interesting: the screen was divided into two parts, on which there was its own version of what came from each of the parties, based on these very historical evidence. Most often these are paintings and artifacts of that time. About many things, such as the real picture of the colonization of America, we have exclusively testimonies of the white population, and then the second half of the screen (corresponding to the natives and black slaves) was dark, which made it creepy.

Not without strange graphics. “Dynamics of the Dance”.

And “Zarya” also has a cool library.

Embassy of North Korea. There are not so many of them, so I could not miss the chance. It’s interesting. In general, cool guys invite you to come to them “on an excursion”, tell that they have interesting things, that they are very friendly in fact and that they demonize them for no good reason at all. Twice a week a plane flies from Vladivostok to Pyongyang, there is even a supervarik – a train goes there a couple of times a month!

Towards evening, the water level in the bay rose and to the Tokarevsky lighthouse, where I was going to meet the sunset, I had to walk on the water.

The evening delighted us with a long moonlit path and a gorgeous view of the recently completed majestic Russian bridge. True, it is too far here and therefore the scale is not very clear, but in fact it is simply huge: the height of the structure is 320 m (like a 100-storey skyscraper), and the length is more than 3 km.

The next city-planet was 750 km away, so we had to go out to catch passing ships early in the morning. In Russia, all federal highways have their own names, the Vladivostok-Khabarovsk road is called “Ussuri”, after the name of the big river nearby. The first 200 km I drove, changing 3 cars, then a man picked me up on a huge American truck Freightliner, and … we never made it to Khabarovsk, because it was night. So I discovered a big plus of American trucks – huge comfortable sleeping bags inside, each of which can fit three people, and there are also two shelves of them. In the morning we had breakfast and drove the remaining 120 km.


You have a sad outskirts here. Okay, let’s go to the center, maybe it’s better there.

At the station, I left my backpack in the storage room and went to study the location. On the way, I noticed that most of the trains at the station are freight, not passenger, which, as it were, hints that the main thing in this city.

From the station to the river, there is a 3 km long square, which is cut off many times by the streets that cross it. And at the end of each “segment” there is a fence, which must be bypassed from the side at the traffic light, one after the other. The cycle path is also drawn for show: both pedestrians and cyclists themselves do not care about it.

The Chinese are trying to see China, the border of which is a few kilometers up the Amur.

I wonder for what purpose?

The city has three main historical streets, two of which look completely nondescript, but the third, Muravyov-Amursky, is quite lively, is popular with both locals and tourists (as an old center).

The street is just overflowing with architectural monuments, many boutiques, cafes, restaurants. It feels like they were all gathered in one place on purpose, leaving miles of the scoop around the perimeter.

Pigeons occupied Lenin Square. Locals come to feed them, so the amount of shit per square meter is simply off scale, even disgusting.

And this is how all other streets in the center look on average.

A typical playground.

But the strangest thing is that as soon as you leave the central streets, some kind of trash begins. People in the largest city in the area live in dilapidated wooden houses, or even barracks. And the trouble is that these are not single slums, whole districts look like this and residents are happy with everything.

In the evening, I took a night bus heading towards the ocean to the port of Vanino, from where ferries leave for the largest island in Russia. About & nbsp; how it all looks and how people live there, I wrote & nbsp; a separate & nbsp; report – & nbsp; Sakhalin Island.

I returned back to the mainland Eurasia only after a week and a half.

The picturesqueness of the road connecting the coast of the continent with Khabarovsk defies any description. These are mountain passes, serpentines, rivers and lakes, and it is also 370 km of absolutely deserted taiga from Vanino to the first village on the way.

Further, the relief changes, turning into flat steppes, the view of which is no less impressive. This road runs from Khabarovsk to Chita itself, called “Amur”.

Caught hot and locked in a cage, a bear near a roadside cafe on the federal street. By the way, this is near Birobidzhan, the “capital” of the Jewish Autonomous Region, where the USSR was going to voluntarily force the Jews to build Soviet Israel. It didn’t work out, now there are about 0.6% of the population here, all the rest immigrated to normal Israel.

In fact, a human asphalt road appeared here not so long ago, on the occasion of the opening they made a pretentious stele that now you can drive between the two poles of Russia not only on a KAMAZ.


Large countdown timers make you feel like a participant in a street race. This: 3 … 2 … 1 … Pedal to the floor!

I had to prepare for a trip to Yakutia, and since the prices in shopping centers are simply horse-drawn, I went to the market. There are a lot of Chinese here, and they organize everything like at home, so the market turned out to be quite authentic.

Russians also adjust and get their profit. Everyone is happy.

It’s nice to walk in the city, it is clear that everything was done here for people.

Bicycle rental points.

More wide sidewalks.

“Comrades, remember: Magadan is there!”

A filthy bum looks at the Chinese city of Heihe with longing for the unfulfilled.

A beautiful triumphal arch, for some reason leading directly to the Amur. Tellingly, the width of the river here is less than average. Apparently, the Russian Empire had long-term plans for Manchuria …

Beautiful City Embankment.

The design of the columns is as if they were made before the revolution. But no, it’s all modern.

After the next flood of the river, both Blagoveshchensk and Heihe expanded and strengthened their embankments, so now the distance between cities in different countries is only 300 meters.

And in the morning I set off on a long journey (really long, about 1850 km) to Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic. The route was not easy, but on the first day, after several changes, I caught a truck heading straight to Yakutsk. Yey!

Late in the evening we drove off the road and parked on the bank of an icy mountain river. The food was cooked on a burner, it smelled very tasty, and when the cabin was ventilated a little, suddenly outside the window was heard the approaching characteristic sound of breaking bushes. The urge to brush your teeth and go to the toilet disappeared instantly. In the morning, following the tracks, it was determined that that bear eventually came up and sat literally a few meters from our truck. But in the morning a great view opened up.

All this garbage is there, by the way, for a reason. The Yakuts are pagans (although many are Orthodox), they do not miss the chance to leave something as a gift to the spirit of the road, to tie a ribbon, making a wish. Permafrost begins here: even in the summer heat of + 40 ° C, if you dig half a meter, you will find frozen ground.

A lot of snow, temperatures around -10 ° C, although it was in September.

It often happened that for tens of kilometers in a row there was nothing at all, especially in mountainous areas, so they stopped overnight just in the middle of the taiga. Sometimes other trucks were nailed to us, and then the feeling of total alienation became a little less strong.

Finally we got to the destination. The city is located on the other side of the Lena River; in the warm season, ferries are constantly running here, and in winter cars drive right on the ice.


Because of the permafrost, it is incredibly difficult to lay communications underground (like hammering a rock), so they are carried along the surface.

All buildings in the city are on stilts. Technically, everything around is a swamp, the soil is solid only thanks to the constant cold. If you put a building directly on the ground, then from the heat it will begin to thaw and the building will either sag or begin to break from deformations.

Harsh Yakut language.

City center.

For some reason, the local Lenin points to China, they say, look, they are sawing the future there.

Point building dominates.

Opera and Ballet Theatre. I was hoping to get to the “Sylphide” in the evening, where my friend performed, but there were no seats at all. 🙁

A modest office of the Alrosa company, the first in the world in terms of the volume of diamond mining.

High prices in the region are offset by good salaries. Many shopping centers, many cafes.

Yakutsk prison, a kind of small old town. In the era of great geographical discoveries, when European colonists discovered America, captured Africa, the Russians were engaged in exploring the harsh North Asia. So, well and where are your British, French, Spanish, Portuguese empires now? And Russia is still somehow surviving.

Awesome roads. This is not a commonplace paving stone.

In souvenir shops there is a huge amount of things made of mammoth tusk, for $ 7000 you can even buy a whole one. It is found here in tons every year, and most of it is somehow exported to China. Unlike ivory, it is snow white, it looks really cool.

The whole skeleton was collected in the ethnographic museum.

A separate room is allocated to traditional paganism in this museum. I was expecting something primitive, but I must admit, everything is really very interesting. A kind of synthesis of Scandinavian mythology and Japanese Shintoism.

At temperatures below -25 ° C, the engines begin to freeze and then the cars will not start at all. Considering that the normal temperature in winter here is about -50 ° C, you have to either make a heated garage, or pay for an expensive heated parking lot, or … not turn off the engine all winter, which many do. Otherwise, nothing.

Soviet city park.

Demotivators on the streets.

Road posts are not dug in here, but they are made like this, on a thin rod. The fact is that in winter they fall asleep, and it is not very high to suddenly catch one in a passenger car.

We are going back “to the mainland”. The weather forecast was disappointing, a storm was promised in the evening, which usually means that the roads will be closed. Towards evening I was picked up by a trucker, and when I told him about the forecast, he decided to blame to the last.

Once we were taken in tow and dragged up the mountain by a funny Yakut on a large grader, it is generally unclear how he got there. And somewhere at three o’clock in the morning, almost, almost escaping from the clutches of a snow storm, we stood on a mountain pass, put on chains on the wheels and in two shovels threw rubble under the wheels to get under way from a slippery place. Those are still adventures, in short.

In the morning we were told that we were the only ones who could pass. During the night, all the roads behind us were filled with nafig, the parking lots were overcrowded, and the road workers were waiting for the blizzard to end, because there was no point in cleaning the track before that. If not for this man, I would have been stuck in Yakutia for a long time.

Interestingly, there is such a phobia as the fear of long distances? And it seems to me that she began to develop.


The city center, a prestigious area like, the people are pretentious that they live here.

And this is what any courtyard looks like here. This one is also well-groomed, because it is open.

Unsere Führer.

What a slogan! Takes for the soul!

“A popular cinema,” the city guide recommended to me.

From the same series, popular with the local city park.

It’s good here, sincerely, it reminded me a ghost town of Pripyat.

The endless steppe begins just outside the city. It captures the spirit.

From Chita to Irkutsk there is a federal highway “Baikal”, which crosses the whole of Buryatia, where I have planned the next stop.

At the entrance to Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia, statues of deer are ubiquitous. It must be admitted that they chose a very elegant symbol of the city.


Honestly, I still do not understand how the Buryats are fundamentally different from the Mongols. The same language, the same culture, the same symbolism.

Buryat urbanists are not asleep!

Triumphal Arch. Yes, by the way, earlier the city was called Verkhneudinsk, there is also Nizhneudinsk further in Siberia.

Buryat Opera and Ballet Theater. They have a gorgeous building, such a monumental and at the same time attractive Stalinist Empire style.

The creation of a sick gigantist, a huge head of Lenin.

Buryats are funny, they come to shopping centers to see everything, and in 95% of cases they leave with nothing.

Selenga river embankment.

Witty advertising.

Well, aren’t they Mongols?

Buryats are obsessed with national decor.

And for game. They love game.


And also the Buryats are Buddhists. Somehow I hadn’t thought about it before, so all these temples and datsans shocked me a little.

Ivolginsky datsan is one of the largest, located just 30 km from Ulan-Ude. Unfortunately, I arrived too late and did not have time to see everything.

On the territory of the datsan there is a department for Buddhism in Russia. So if you are covered and you think that life is decay, then you need to go to Buryatia to solve your problem, these are all their jokes.

Here I decided to make a small deviation from the route and drive home to Genghis Khan. Frankly speaking, I did not expect that modern Mongolia would be so cool that I wouldn’t even want to go back …

But I had to continue.

Hello Baikal.


Irkutsk has one critical flaw: outdoor advertising is aggressively abused here.

So much so that sometimes the city itself is not visible behind it.

In fact, Irkutsk has a great tourist potential. Looking back, I understand that it was one of the most beautiful cities in Siberia.

But, unfortunately, no one needs all this.

After all, it is much easier to pretend that everything is fine and continue to cut further.

Street art.

Away from the main streets, the city through the eyes of the locals.

Angara embankment.

The paver is ideally matched in color to the facade of the Cathedral of the Epiphany.

Wide Angara downstream.

A strange, very strange symbol of the city – babr.

We made a purely tourist quarter. The idea is cool, but again, everything was fucked up with visual noise.

A large shopping center as the apogee of the disintegration of the fair town image.

And somehow they didn’t think about parking, which is why people leave their tin cans anywhere.

The next route is called “Siberia”, it connects Irkutsk with Novosibirsk, and somewhere in the middle of it there is the next city of my route – Krasnoyarsk.

Siberia welcomes you.


There are no beautiful old streets like in Irkutsk, but in general the center is quite well-groomed, so you feel comfortable here.

Hellish installation of street wiring, right like in Japan.

Dilapidated houses are found periodically.

Central Park named after some regular communist.

Vlk uprls.

Someone was just going to throw out the closet, but fate decreed otherwise and it became a bookcrossing counter. Nothing interesting was found inside, so he just left his book there, suddenly someone likes Nabokov.

Work hard.

Communal bridge. In Russia, there are quite a few similar arched bridges, but this one is pleasantly distinguished by the scale of the structure and the delicate balance between functionality and aesthetic appeal.

Yenisei embankment.

Bright night illumination.

The next day we went to the Stolby reserve, the main attraction of the city. The name justifies itself, these rocks are really huge and rise like columns.

It’s fun to climb to the top of these pillars, from where usually offers a very steep view of the entire reserve. In general, an amazing place, you seem to be very far from the city, the air is so fresh, although there is only 15 minutes drive away.

Who comes up with such place names at all? And what should we call the locals, kozulkinsky, or what?


Novosibirsk wall.

Street in the center. The main thing is that people like it.

There are many cars, few pedestrians, for some reason everything around is muddy.

This composition blew my brain. 🙂 What do you know about infill development!

Again Lenin Square, again the Opera and Ballet Theater.

Around everything is somehow monumental and extremely gloomy, presses on the psyche. It is literally unpleasant to be here. Interestingly, Soviet city planners specifically aimed at such an effect, or did it come out naturally?

The dogs of the law should sit in their booths.

The guys are trying to collect up for tickets to leave here for Baikal. I guess I understand them.

Cinema-box. In the best traditions of depressive-suicidal constructivism.

Despite the fact that at the entrance to the art museum I got nasty (“Tell you about the exposition? Here we have this, there this, there this is, don’t miss that hall over there … Where did you come from? From Kiev? Oh, I would have known that you are from Ukraine – you would not have strained so much ”), this slightly corrected the general impressions of the city.

This is how the embankment begins near the River Station. Pedestrian zone, city for people, yeah.

Apparently, there is simply not enough money for alcohol.


The seller at the market clears the snow off the goods.

The city is large enough, more than half a million people.

But in appearance and lifestyle, I would call it the opposite of Novosibirsk.

Art object “Dirty bum sleeping in the entrance.” Yes no, it’s really an installation. : D

The Republic of IZO Gallery, which usually organizes several exhibitions at once, decided this time to make one large one and collect the works of various directions of a whole bunch of young artists.

There was a place for everyone.

Pictures with different “beautiful” places in the city.

And a lot of what else. Overall, cool.

Administration building of the Altai Territory.

Altai State University.

Through the entire central street (of course, named after Lenin, where can we go without him) there is a public garden.

An unexpectedly very beautiful residential complex.

Gallery “Salt”. Literally a month before my arrival, they decided to close, so I had to be content with a steep painted facade.

Museum “Mountain Pharmacy”, a range of pharmaceuticals in the XIX century.

Suddenly I realized that I was in the very heart of the old city.

Under the Soviet Union, for some reason, they decided that this was an excellent place for a tram depot.

Many authentic abandoned houses.

Barnaul is one of the few Russian provincial cities that does not try its best to look like something more and more important than it really is. Instead, they are slowly restoring everything here and making a really cozy provincial town, where you want to visit again if possible.

Of course, not everything is as rosy as we would like.

But, I think, everything is still ahead.

From Barnaul, I took a night bus to Kazakhstan, from where my journey around Middle Asia began. I returned back to Russia only three weeks later, thus going to the second part of my big trans-Siberian trip.