The last time we passed through this way was over 3 years ago. The Rossiya was running 90-minutes behind, and our brief stop in the city was chilly and all too foggy. It’s a much clearer day today; temperatures are hovering around the 30C (85F) mark, and this time around we find ourselves on the business end of Khabarovsk station…
Hotel Afalina is a 25-minute cab ride from the airport, and offers a serviceable double room for 3000 RUB (~50$). Check-in is slightly problematic at first, but Sasha comes to the rescue soon enough, with her broken English and motherly warmth. A shower feels great after over 24-hours in transit, and within a couple of hours of touching down, we’re out and about exploring the city.
We ride Tram #5 a few stops till we realize we’re headed in the wrong direction, then quickly retrace our steps back to Amursky Blvd. The green theme, it appears, is a city wide phenomenon. As is good urban planning. Wide tree-lined boulevards, generously appointed sidewalks, and forested paths meshed together seamlessly are practically everywhere, lending an air of tranquility to the city center.
Running parallel to Amursky Blvd, in a similar north-south fashion, is Ul. Muravyova-Amurskogo, the city’s main commercial drag, and an attractive one at that. The city administration having done its best to make it so. It was named after Count Nikolay Muravyov, the gent responsible for setting up a military post here, and giving the town its start in the middle of the 19th-century.
Shops, including a fair number of global brands, hip restaurants, English-themed bars, and al fresco cafes, all housed in very handsome Tsarist-era buildings make up the street scene here. Strolling through in shorts and a tee shirt, we try to imagine what life must be like for a majority of the year, in this, a city that has the unglamorous reputation of being the coldest on our planet with over half a million inhabitants…
The south end of Ul. Muravyova-Amurskogo is framed by Pl Komsomolskaya, a public square that is home to an imposing Civil War Monument, and the attractive onion-domed Grado-Khabarovsk Cathedral of the Assumption. Adjacent to the cathedral is a long ceremonial stairway leading down to the Amur River promenade.
Originating in China and eventually emptying out some 3000-km north, at the Strait of Tartary, the Amur has for long demarcated the international border and defined Sino-Soviet relations. For Khabarovsk especially, the river holds much significance – it was the very reason the city was founded. And fittingly, Khabarovsk celebrates its river front with much pomp. From the lush environs of City Park, locals soak in the river views, as visitors head out on a river cruise. All belying the fact that barely 10-miles upstream lies China’s Heilongjiang Province.
Lured in by the impressive turret-style exterior of a corner building along Ul. Muravyova-Amurskogo, we enter Khlebomyas for a rather belated lunch. Inside, the exposed brick interiors seem all too familiar; the clientele is decidedly hip millennial, and the friendly cashier speaks enough English to see us through the ordering process. And so our first meal in Russia turns out to be Burgers and Fries. Not a bad thing. In fact, they’re delicious!
On its north end, Ul. Muravyova-Amurskogo meets Pl Lenina, a sprawling square with noteworthy buildings all around; well maintained fountains, and painstakingly groomed flower beds. Its a perfect detour on our walk back to the hotel, with a footbridge on its south side providing the best views of this most impressive public space.
Back at the Afalina, we get in some shut eye, a cup of Chai, and then we’re off once again, this time with our bags in tow, headed to the station.
A junction on the Trans Siberian route today, Khabarovsk first appeared on the railway map in 1897, with a connection to Vladivostok. In 1916, a bridge was built over the Amur, thereby completing the Trans Siberian link. The station has grown in importance over the years, and its building renovated at least a couple of times since; the most recent avatar looking most resplendent.
Train 667, the overnight service to Komsomolsk-na-Amure, is the first of five trains we will be journeying on during the course of our travels. With less than 400-km to its credit, it’s also the shortest. Regardless, we’re starting off in style. First class, to be sure 😉
Next on the Magistrale Diaries: The warmth of Komsomolsk
A full set of pics from Day 1 of our trip can be seen here.