While it’s Jens turn to write todays blog, as usual I am pushing in..:). I just wanted to say Congratulations to Jacinda and Clarke. Jacinda is our Prime Minister and she gave birth to a baby girl yesterday. As a very political opinionated animal, I have to say I think she is doing and amazing job as PM of a coalition government. She has given us back our moral compass, rather than a financial one. A few years ago Jen and I were touring in the UK and visiting Gloucester Cathedral, we stopped to chat to two middle aged long distance cyclists. They were from Canada and had cycled New Zealand. The female said, when asked where I was from, that she wished the world was ruled by NZ’ers. With NZ back to being the least corrupt country, I rest my case..:). It’s 6.30am and Jen is grumbling about my over active brain.
It’s early evening now and I’m taking over 😀
Breakfast is always a bit of a surprise at the hotels we have stayed at recently. This morning it was delivered to our room by the lady in charge. 2 bowls of rice pudding with a knob of melting butter on top, a slice of toast each, without butter, and 2 slices of processed cheese, with a chocolate cake/biscuit and a sachet of instant coffee!
We set off quite early for the Perm 36 Gulag museum. About 100kms north east of Perm. Perm is the most “Soviet” city we have come across so far. It has been rainy for the last few days so everything is looking grey and muddy. Once off the main roads the side roads are, in some cases unsurfaced, or fallen into total disrepair. So, as soon as it is wet everything is a morass of mud. The cars are absolutely filthy – as is our Land Rover. The roads from Perm were pretty good and the traffic light, compared to what we have experienced so far. The countryside is very different. Thickly forested, rolling hills. There are a mix of deciduous trees and conifers, so every shade of green imaginable. At this time of year very pretty, but remote and one can imagine how inhospitable it would be in the winter. There were some large lakes surrounded by dachas (holiday homes) and several fishermen on the banks, or out in boats.
Once we arrived at what Google Maps said was our destination, Kuchino, there was nothing but a run down petrol station. There was a small turning opposite so Dennis thought we should try it and almost immediately we saw a sign saying Kuchino. The Gulag was just the other side of the village.
Entrance tickets were quite expensive, by Russian standards. There was just one other family there and we had to have a guide. Ours was a rather large young lady, without a word of English. She took us around all the buildings with a prerecorded commentary telling us what was what. The museum has become rather controversial. Originally run by the human right’s organisation, Memorial. In 2014 Memorial’s directors were replaced by a ministerial appointee and Memorial pulled out. The history of Perm 36 is being rewritten. Instead of the inmates being dissidents (countless, artists, scientists and intellectuals) they are now criminals. Reports on the treatment they received have been sanitised too.
This is an unusual Gulag as it was built partially of stone, specially in the later years. of stone, not timber, so is the only one that remains intact. It was a working prison right up to the 1980’s.
After our visit we stopped for lunch, before setting off south east for Kungur and its ice caves. It was almost 150kms on a rough road. We passed through a couple of very grim towns. Old crumbling Soviet era factories. Some abandoned and some still in production, of sorts. We also passed several sites extracting oil and gas and a large pipeline under construction. We didn’t reach Kungur until after 4pm and the caves close at 5. We decided we would camp in the car park and go to the caves in the morning. Then we’ll hit the road for Yekaterinburg.
Could this represent life in the Gulag?