Embraers, trains and Soviet forced labor camps: HEL-SVX-HEL
A friend of mine was studying in Finland for January and February 2012. She lives in Yekaterinburg, Russia and after her return home to Yekaterinburg, I decided to visit her. A suitable time for both of us was quickly found in May, from 18th until 21st. I had a long weekend break which meant I could already fly on thursday evening and return early on monday morning.
I booked a nonstop return Finnair flight on Embraer 190, one of my favourite aircraft. Return ticket cost affordable 315 euro when booked in mid-March. That was also quickly booked.
As I had already been to Yekaterinburg earlier and we both love traveling, we decided to visit a new destination for both of us. At first we thought about Chelyabinsk but later we agreed on Perm as that would allow us to visit a camp for Soviet political prisoners, Gulag. This camp was called Perm 36 and it is situated about 100 km from Perm.
After getting my visa a couple of days before my trip, it was time for me to travel! Welcome along!
Thursday 17 May 2012
Departure time for my flight was at 23:55, so only 5 minutes before midnight. That would allow me to sleep long, pack during the day, take a nap and then head for the airport. Once packing, I remembered that I had forgotten to buy some medication I need. And as thursday was a public holiday in Finland, I decided to head for a pharmacy downtown as they would always be open for business.
After buying my medication, I walked to Elielinaukio square as I decided to take it easy and travel to the airport on a Finnair City Bus instead of my usual choice, cheaper and less comfortable Helsinki Regional Traffic buses.
Waiting for a bus in downtown Helsinki (easy to notice that it's a public holiday)
I was at the airport already at 21:30, so I had plenty of time to make my flight. I had already checked in online on wednesday afternoon at work. So, all I had to do was to head for the empty bag drop area.
But where to start?
I was practically the only person at security and was quickly through. So, it was time for shopping: some Fazer chocolate as a gift from Finland! Nothing more this time – but of course you have to see if there would be something else that is interesting.
Shopping tour, part 1:
Shopping tour, part 2:
Then it was time to go through passport control – no queue here either. A smooth start for a trip.
Chongqing – wait for me! I will be visiting you in December!
Maybe I should try other AY
destinatons in China as well?
My gate but not time just yet!
Then it was time to drink some coffee and wait for my flight to depart. And in no time the boarding started.
Helsinki (HEL) – Yekaterinburg (SVX)
Seat 06F (window)
Scheduled time 23:55-05:55
Boarding was quick. I was within the first passengers to board and took my seat.
Legroom was ok
It had started to rain outside – so no pictures
Departure was on time. And I have to admit that I was so tired that I was waiting for the service to start so that I could then have some sleep. Flight time would be three hours and as Yekaterinburg is east from Helsinki, time there would be three hours more than in Helsinki. So, departure would be at midnight but arrival at 6 in the morning. So every minute of sleep would be highly appreciated.
Inflight magazine Blue Wings
Friday 18 May 2012
Pasta salad and Coke Light (Diet Coke as Americans call it)
Pasta was surprisingly delicious! And then it was time for a well deserved nap of more than an hour.
I woke up all too soon and it was already light outside! And we had started our descent!
After snapping the previous photo, an older female FA
came to me and told that it was prohibited to take photos. It might cause problems for our radio transmissions, she said... Well, who was I to argue with her, I put my camera away. But come on, next time come up with better explanations!
Landing was a couple of minutes early. This was my second time at Yekaterinburg airport and the previous time was in March 2011 when it was still snow outside and dark so I was glad to see the airport in daylight for once.
Once we had landed, I decided to grab my camera to shoot a couple of photos.
I was one of the first passengers to enter passport control. So, it didn't take that long. But I guess it took about 10 minutes before bags were on a belt to be picked up. Luckily my bag was the first to appear!
Then through customs where no-one was interested in me and I could walk straight outside. I headed for a taxi that was waiting outside. As I don't speak any Russian, except for a couple of phrases and f-words, I had printed the address on a cyrillic alphabet. Taxi driver said ”da”, wrote 600 rubles on my paper. It was my turn to say ”da” and we started our about 20 km journey to the center. It was 6:20 in the morning, so the airport had been a quick experience!
I had agreed with my friend that I would take a taxi to her home and sleep there for a couple of hours when she would be at work. She also wanted me to send her a sms when I left the airport so that she could wake up. I did and she quickly replied: ”F*ck, I am going to bath now. Wait outside on the street.”
As I already told you, I had been here once before and had remembered Yekaterinburg as a bit grey but interesting city. But now everything was different because it was practically already summer here and everywhere I looked I could see something green. Astonishing how different everything looked!
The streets were empty so it didn't take long before I was at my destination in the center. As I stepped out of my taxi, my friend stepped out of the door. I was really glad to meet at her after over 2 months! She also told me that there had been a change of plan: her roommate was still sleeping and we didn't want to wake her up. So, we walked to her friend's apartment less than 1 km away. Her friend had a larger apartment so that I would have a separate room to sleep in.
When we reached her friend's apartment, she was preparing a breakfast for both of us. We had breakfast and had a lot to talk about. After the breakfast, I had a couple of hours sleep, my friend went to her work and her friend also left to take care of some matters in the city. I woke up at 2 PM
, took a shower and at 3 PM
my host arrived. She prepared a lunch for us and then we walked to her work in the center.
I left my host to her work. She worked close to the Square of 1905 – so in the very center of the center of the city.
Yekaterinburg City Duma on the Square of 1905 (City council in English, I presume)
As I had only been offered tea today, I was desperately seeking for coffee. Maybe they serve coffee here?
Sure, decent coffee (and some apple strudel)
They also had free wifi at Mamma's Big House. This was excellent for a person with internet addiction like me! While surfing the web, my friend sent me a sms and asked where I was. We agreed to meet in an hour next to the only skyscraper in the center. Piece of cake, I had seen it before. In fact, it was located next to Park Inn Hotel where I stayed a year ago.
Central Yekaterinburg, walking towards our meeting point
Local airline advertising
Local shopping mall
Ok, now I was almost there – the local skyscraper (with some wooden old buildings in front of it)
I was at our meeting point 5 minutes ahead of schedule and was happy to find my friend already there. We started walking towards the railway station where we would at first buy our tickets for the night train to Perm. Then we would have a couple of hours to wait for the train to depart at 1:30 AM
. But we were in need of a dinner so that sounded like an excellent plan!
Railway station is located about 1 km north of the center, walking towards the station
I really couldn't figure out which store or restaurant this was
Yekaterinburg railway station (along the Trans Siberian Railway)
At the station we first walked a bit further away from the main entrance, and entered the building from a different entrance. According to my friend there was a separate ticket sales area which was always less crowded than the main ticket sales point.
The queues on this area were not so bad
But as we had been waiting for about 10 minutes, the lady behind the counter told us that this area would be shut for the night at 8 PM
, in 5 minutes time. So, we had to move to the other area which was much more crowded.
I guess it took about an hour to buy the tickets. In Russia you need your passport to be able to buy a long distance train ticket as they will print your on the ticket to avoid scams. In this way no-one can buy all the tickets for a certain train and then sell them at a premium later.
After purchasing the tickets, we took a marshrutka (route taxi) to the center and had a dinner.
After dinner we went for a walk in the center and sat for a long time watching the river that runs through the city
Saturday 19 May 2012
After midnight, we decided to walk towards the station. The night was warm and beautiful! On the way to the station we stopped in a grocery store to buy some water.
Train number 91: Severobaikalsk-Moscow – that's our train!
If you wonder why I tell you that the train will depart at 1:30 AM
, but it says 11:30 PM
in the TIDS, well... In Russia all trains run on Moscow time. So, the train will depart 1:30 AM
(Yekaterinburg time zone) but it's officially 11:30 PM
in Moscow and railway time. All clocks at the station are also in Moscow time, all around Russia!
On the platform with a lot of soldiers
Once in the train, everything goes smoothly. We did buy 2nd class tickets, not my desired 3rd class. My friend has a Russian student card so she can travel in 2nd class for the price of 3rd class. So, I had to settle for a 2nd class cabin for 4 people.
There were also 2 other people in the compartment: a young man who was carrying a computer monitor along and an older woman. We all stepped into the train in Yekaterinburg. And we all slept like logs almost the minute the train left Yekaterinburg.
Officially the border between Europe and Asia is located about 20 km west of Yekaterinburg. So I was now on my first intercontinental train journey heading back to my beloved Europe after spending almost 24 hours in Asia
We should arrive in Perm at 7:25 in the morning, so we had about 6 hours to spend in the train. I set my alarm at 7 but didn't actually need it as the carriage attendant woke us up at 6:55. After brushing my teeth, I was ready for a new day.
Good morning, Perm! Good morning, Europe!
Yes, this was a train from Severobaikalsk to Moscow.
I really did long for a shower. Many Russian railway stations have some rooms they rent out in the upper floors. So, we decided to ask if they have some in Perm as well and whether it would be possible to take a shower there. And yes, I am welcome to use the shower for 110 rubles + 35 rubles for a towel (size: supermini). But no more than 30 minutes for this price.
My friend decides to sleep for 30 minutes and I take a shower. Well, the water pressure is not the best but a shower is always a shower. So, soon I feel myself refreshed!
Perm 2 railway station (that is actually the name of this station – wonder if they have Perm 1 somewhere?)
Almost clean here
Interesting art – wood! Nobody burned it down yet!
Perm used to be 250 years old in the 1970s (this thing definitely is very Soviet)
After walking maybe 10 minutes towards the center of Perm, we discover our breakfast. Pancakes (stuffed with tomatoes and cheese) and coffee for breakfast – this is Russia after all!
My friend had checked earlier where the bus station was and we started walking towards it with full stomachs. I would estimate that the walk was bit more than 1 km.
Perm city view (yes, they also had nicer buildings)
This house is for sale – a dream for a do-it-yourself man!
Perm had plenty of buses imported from Germany (with German ads still attached)
The bus station was located next to a market. According to my friend most of the people working on this market did not speak Russian but some Central Asian languages.
At the bus station we at first bought our tickets towards the city of Chusovoy and then some water as this was also a hot day. Temperature was over + 25 C and the sun was shining on a clear blue sky! We still had almost an hour to wait as our bus was departing at 11:05 AM
. We spent this time bu sitting on a bench looking at people and buses.
Finally our bus arrived and we took our assigned seats. My friend asked the driver to drop us of at the road junction close to the village of Kuchino about 2 hours away from Perm.
Inside the bus
Legroom was acceptable
Crossing Kama river, a part of even larger river Volga (and a funny name for all Finns – but not as funny as Pano restaurant that Flying Finn found)
The scenery was almost like in Finland
As we had already been traveling for almost 2 hours, we started looking for all possible signs of Kuchino village. Suddenly I noticed the sign and my friend asked the driver to stop at the junction. He would have just driven past it if we had not asked again although he promised to leave us there when we entered the bus.
We stepped out of the bus in the middle of nowhere – and there goes the bus
Hmmm, Perm 95 km. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea after all?
According to guide books we should now walk 2.5 km to the village of Kuchino where the Gulag camp for political prisoners was situated. We were not exactly sure which direction to go, but decided to walk to the most obvious direction with the best road.
The road had nice surface for the first 300 metres – and then gravel
During our walk we saw less than 10 cars. But as it was hot and dry, we were covered in dust as all passing cars left behind a cloud of dust.
After walking for 2 km, we entered the village. My friend asked one of the villagers if we were walking to the right direction. We were told to keep going as we were almost there.
My first sight of the Gulag
Welcome to Perm 36 camp
According to Wikipedia ”Gulag was a government agency that administered the Soviet forced labor camps. While the camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners, large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as NKVD troikas and other instruments of extrajudicial punishment. The Gulag is recognized as a major instrument of political repression in the Soviet Union.”
Perm 36 is the only camp that has been turned into a museum! It was closed as a labor camp in 1987. Entry fee for the museum for 2 persons was 100 rubles.
Inside the camp
Four different fences kept everyone inside – and guards had instructions to shoot first and ask the questions afterwards
On this forced labor camp people were forced to do logging work
No single rooms available
An exhibition was also available, unfortunately only in Russian
Camps were spread out all over the former Soviet Union
Isolation section for the most dangerous, anti-Soviet people
I wonder if visitors were really allowed?
After spending about an hour at the camp, we stepped outside the fence – feeling hungry.
[Edited 2012-05-27 10:46:17]