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Introducing Vladivostok

It has the rep, everyone around the Far East seems to look up to it, and Vladivostok is indeed pretty good to look at for a couple days. Some streets are a bit drab, but the setting is remarkable: a series of peaks and peninsulas curl around Golden Horn Bay (bukhta Zolotoy Rog; named after Istanbul's similar-looking harbour), which is home to huge icebreakers and the Russian Pacific Fleet.

Quite the port-town bustler before communism (back when the Swiss family Brynner brought a bald Yul into the world here in 1920), Vladivostok's cosmopolitan urges have slowly returned after the long Soviet snooze. Vladivostok was firmly off limits to all foreigners (and most Russians) during the life of the USSR. Today you can (fairly freely) hop on ferries to far-off beaches on former navy-only islands, tour century-old forts or a Soviet sub, and weave past battalions of Chinese, Japanese and Korean summer tourists.

On the downside, summer is wet and foggy, and power outages plague winter. One transplant from Moscow exaggerated, 'I've been here four years and still haven't seen the sun.' September and October, locals swear, are best.