When I checked the internet before my last trip there wasn’t much on Khabarovsk so to help the next earnest traveler, I’ve decided to offer a little travelogue of my own.
This is a beautiful city of rolling hills and tree lined avenues with tall, ornate street lamps, each with seven globes. The Cathedrals are so beautiful that even the communists left them alone. The style here is like a rectangle, sitting upright, taller than wide. When you enter and look up it is breathtaking, which was surely the architect’s idea.
The roads are immaculately clean and well paved. This is pretty unusual for a city with such severe weather contrasts. When I commented on this, my hosts immediately began to brag on their local Governor Eishaev, who is something of a legend here. He is immensely popular after almost a lifetime of service, a pretty rare phenomenon for any region of the world.
The unique thing about Khabarovsk is its large population (624,000) in such a remote location. One could really get cabin fever here. You can see China across the Amur River and it is a tempting 30 miles away by road but as a complicated border, most have never visited. In fact, I found that many locals have never visited any other major Russian city either. I was actually closer to Moscow before I left Dulles Airport in Washington, D. C. than I was in Khabarovsk. The nearest city is Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean, 500 miles away but don’t count on an Interstate Highway to get there. When my flight to Krasnoyarsk was cancelled I asked if I could take the train, the famous Trans Siberia railroad. “Sure,” they laughed, “It will take you seven days. And picture a toilet serving 200 people and you will get the idea.”
But to experience Khabarovsk one can see why no one in the city needs to go anywhere else. There are an abundance of diverse restaurants, more than I have experienced in most Russian cities. And this is partly due to the diversity of immigrants who came here.
The German Beer House doesn’t have sauerkraut, for some reason, but it does have everything else. My wiener schnitzel overflowed a large plate. The breadbasket had four different kinds of hot, homemade bread, each rather unique. That alone was worth the price of the meal.
A Ukrainian restaurant, Kabachok, serves a magnificent dinner, with costumed waitresses.
You can get excellent, el dente Italian cooking at Scalini’s.
Understandably, there are good Chinese restaurants, but with “Chinese” Chinese food, not American Chinese. The Theaters was the name of the one I visited. It had some great, unique, fried deserts.
Don’t be fooled by “The Marrakech.” It serves Uzbek food, not Moroccan. I had a hot,, spicy chicken dish.
And naturally, there is Russian food. One of the best restaurants in town is simply called “The Russian Restaurant.” I had a great, excellent bowl of borsch, which is actually Ukrainian.
My own personal favorite was the R Café on Lenin Square. It has a little bit of everything which usually means nothing is really spectacular. But everything I ate there was perfect. I had a dish called Tagliotelli Arrabiata, which turned out to be an “angel hair” Arrabiata. It was a chewy pasta, not overcooked, in a delicious sauce.
The Hotel Parus is clean and magnificent with a great view of the frozen river. Everything in the hotel worked. Everything was finished. The Internet was available. $10 bought 5 hours.
Shopping centers are not so grand but there is a surprising diversity of product from nearby China, Korea and Japan. An electronics store had everything, including the latest games and movies. Blackmarket?
I gave my speech at the Sports Palace, which seats 8,000 and is the largest auditorium in the whole Far East of Russia. Normally, they play hockey here and the city loves its team.
The symbol of Khabarovsk is a bear and a tiger. One of my hosts actually saw one of the famous Amur tigers, (often mistakenly called the Siberian tiger,) out on a road, late at night, crossing the highway right before him. So they still exist.
Khabarovsk was settled long ago by adventurers and serfs from the Czarist era who were promised their freedom and a plot of land if they helped develop the city. Once again, to give you an idea of the immense spaces of Russia and the remoteness of this region, the American colonies were founded before this city. But the spirit of the people who came here can still be felt in the independent and proud nature of its people. They were on their own then and so to survive they had to have initiative and imagination. Understandably, compared to many other regions of Russia, they immediatley thrived after the collapse communism, their independence and self sufficiency showing itself.