Greetings from Vladivostok, Russia! Our visit here is the second step in an environmental education exchange with the Vladivostok Botanic Gardens (Vlad BG) that began last September when a small team of educator/botanists came to Seattle to learn all they could about EE. They spent much of their time at the Washington Park Arboretum (WPA) learning about our various programs and taking part in our Saplings Guide fall training. Our small team is comprised of Sally Kentch, of the Mountains to Sound Greenway, me of the UWBG, and Tony Allison who splits his time between both organizations.
After spending almost 36 hours in transit, crossing the international date line and traveling into the future, it was nice to reach terra firma. We were greeted by our hosts, welcomed by some familiar faces, and whisked away to our new home away from home. En route, we quickly learned first hand that Vlad is in the process of preparing for the 2012 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference, and the whole place is under construction, including a 60 miles stretch of highway leading into the city. I had never seen a 6-lane gravel/dirt highway, but there it was. Like Seatac, the airport is located well outside the city, so we had about an hour in the van before reaching our hotel located directly across the road from Vlad BG.
En route, we stopped by the post office to register (Russia likes to keep meticulous tabs on all foreign visitors) and began to acclimate. I was comforted to see so many familiar trees and plants, and very pleased to see so many garden plots lining the red-brick and grey-concrete apartment buildings. The most prevalent crop? You guessed it, POTATOES!
Our accommodations were nothing to write home about, but compared to a bench in the Bejing airport, it might as well have been the Ritz. And at $20/night, we were stretching the generous grant funding from our benefactor to the fullest. We freshened up, caught much needed power naps on perfectly firm beds, and then it was off to a welcome dinner at a nearby restaurant hosted by Vlad BG’s EE staff – a small group of mostly 20-somethings with high-hopes for the future and fountains of passion and determination. They were very excited to meet us and have a chance to practice their English. Sally and I don’t speak a lick of Russian, but fortunately Tony is fluent. We found out just how fluent during a 20 minute toast expressing our appreciation to our young hosts and our commitment to helping them in any way that we could. It turns out that toasting is a big part of Russian culture, and Tony’s was just the beginning. After we’d all had a chance to say piece, and fill our stomachs, we parted ways until tomorrow when we would tag along on and evaluate 3 different tours at Vlad BG. We hit the bed hard that and slept like little Russian babies.