A visit to the Russian Island of Sakhalin
I was thinking of that game; Two truths and a Lie, when you have to think of something no one will guess about you. Recently for some travels for work, I experienced a new truth that few people would guess —- A place that few people visit or travel in the world—- Sakhalin, Russia, an island between Siberia and Japan, one which has been fought over and changed hands with Japan a few times in the course of its history. Unlike mainland Russia, a huge emigrant population of Japanese and Koreans stayed on the island and are as much Russian as they are their heritage. Following the collapse of the
Soviet Union the oil and gas exploration revved the economy and along with mining and fishing is a major economic source.
For a short week, I flew from San Francisco to Seoul, Korea, window shopped in the biggest shopping airport in the world and flew on to Sakhalin. With specific instructions on keeping all documents, having the Russian visa ready to show and baggage tags, I entered the airport. Greeted by our host we took a car (no driving allowed for expats) to our hotel near the Olympic Cross Country practice circuit.
The town was a mixture of 1960 era buildings, parks, and stores Russian only signs. The store windows were covered with paper with a picture of a woman in clothes or a shoe. Not knowing what I would find in the stores, I followed the people with shopping bags. Small alcoves were set up with everything from food to shoes (lots of shoes), jewelry, clothes, electronics, and pharmaceuticals. Most of the buildings were old with a few new remodeled stores.
The surprise (or maybe not) was the varied excellent restaurants available to include a farm to table serving fresh pumpkin salad and fish, a Georgian restaurant, Korean BBQ, and more.
So, if you are near Japan and want to go to Russia for two days, check out Sakhalin.