Finding the famous Ice Caves of Kungur was not as easy as we had thought, as until the actual cave there were no signs in English and it came down to our Cyrillic skills to determine where we were supposed to be heading. Eventually we found the little village outside of Kungur, where the Ice Caves were located and went to enquire about ticket prices. Having to be part of a 20 person group the tickets are not always guaranteed however Sean and Simon managed to secure tickets for the three of us later in the afternoon.
To make sure we had somewhere to stay the night we had a look at the hotel next to the Ice Caves and since this was pretty much the only hotel around we decided to take a 3 person room, which was explained to have “no hot water”. Left with little choice we would just have to man up and enjoy a lovely cold shower. When we say cold, we mean ice cold…
We then headed over to our planned tour of the Ice Caves with a jumper in hand as it can apparently get quite chilly. On entering we found out that it can get as cold as -5 degrees, at which point we were seriously concerned as the tour is meant to take 1h 20m. Protecting our extremities we moved on through a very interesting (although Russian spoken) tour and we very happy to exit at the other end to the boiling sun. For the rest of the day, we simply relaxed in our ‘luxurious’ hotel room, enjoyed ice showers and drunk a few ‘beers’.
Trying to leave reasonably early we drove to Perm-36 (an old Gulag camp) about 100km from the caves. Nearing the location we turned on to a side street which was no longer paved and pulled up to what looked like an abandoned building. On entry we bought a few tickets and were given a map of the camp. Following the map we tried to make out what each of the buildings was and translated what we could of the Russian signs in to English. Although it was hard to make out everything we found it was a worthwhile visit as it still provided an idea of the atmosphere in one of the camps, and compared to most sight-seeing was very cheap.
Personally, we found the Gulags much more interesting that Dachau – even though we couldn’t understand anything. It seemed that in the Gulag camp they focused more on the terrible condition and atmosphere, whereas in the concentration camp they mainly provided information on the founding of the camp system more than the atrocities committed.
On the way back from the Gulag camp we passed by the ‘tourist’ Europe-Asia continental boundary, never having found the official one! Jumping from continent to continent we took plenty of photos while being attacked by mosquitoes. From what we understood they have a huge complex with stadiums, bridges and housing planned for the boundary, although it all seems a bit over the top!
That evening the target was to make it as close as possible to the border with Kazakhstan. We managed to drive as far as 60km South of Yekaterinburg, where we found a modern and cheap hotel to sleep in. Profiting from the canteen like food service, we ate and got a good night’s sleep ready for the next days border crossing.
For breakfast we had the exact same meal as for dinner (kebabs for breakfast is absolutely ideal!) It appeared to have never moved and was simply microwaved before being handed over to us. With an unsure future for our stomachs we set off direction the Kazakhstan border. Unlike all previous border crossings we were never searched at the border, and simply had to fill out a small form and get our passports stamped. Unsure if that was really all we had to do we set off into the desert which is called Kazakhstan…..
That’s it for now.
Sean, Simon and Scott