Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is the capital of Kamchatka Province in Russia’s Far East. The city of 200,000 residents is the center of Kamchatka’s lucrative salmon fishery and houses Russia’s largest submarine base. Petropavlovsk (the city of St. Peter and St. Paul) was founded in 1740 by Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer in the service of the Russian Navy. Bering named the settlement after the two ships, the St. Peter and the St. Paul, which he used in his discovery of Alaska and the Bering Strait (1741-1742). During the 18th and 19th centuries, Russian fur traders exploited the sea otter (“Kamchatka beaver”), then so numerous that the first Russian term for the Pacific Ocean was the “Beaver Sea.” Sea otter pelts, the most valuable of all furs, were traded for Chinese tea, silk, and porcelain. Salmon has been Kamchatka’s main export since the early 20th century. The salmon fishery was dominated by Japanese entrepreneurs after the Russo-Japanese War (1905) through the Second World War (1945). Since 1945, Russian fishing interests have controlled the valuable Kamchatka salmon fishery.
As our chartered flight from Anchorage flew over Kamchatka, we observed several of the peninsula’s 30 active volcanoes in a stunning setting. Just before landing, we saw how the port city of Petropavlovsk is nestled among volcanoes and hills along Avacha Bay, a scenic, closed harbor that protects merchant and naval ships. After clearing customs and immigration, we spent a half day touring the capital city. We began at the St. Peter and St. Paul Church, a 20-year-old Russian Orthodox Church replete with golden onion domes and a beautifully adorned floor-to-ceiling iconostasis. Following a tasty lunch of local salmon and imported rice, we continued our city tour. In the former Lenin Square (renamed Theater Square after the fall of the Soviet Union) at the city’s center, we visited the Museum of Local Handicrafts and enjoyed an exhibition of dances by Koryak women and girls. We also observed a nearby chapel that commemorated the deaths of courageous soldiers, when the out-manned Russian army averted an invasion attempt by English and French forces in 1855, during the Crimean War. We ended our tour with a walk through the Petropavlovsk city market, where our guide identified five different varieties of smoked salmon. After a full day of travel and touring, we were delighted to board the Clipper Odyssey and begin our expedition.