We were very glad to arrive in Perm during daylight hours for our walk to the hostel which was located in a slightly rundown area in a suburb. After half an hour walk we got there safely and checked in. The building looked a lot shabbier then it did on booking.com thanks to the art of taking advantageous photos but the inside was fine. Two letdowns were the lack of heating and missing window handles. The former was immidiately fixed by a construction type heater fan and Matthias managed to lock the windows with a knife from the kitchen. Those things fixed we were able to relax but still had to go shopping. Thankfully the supermarket was only 10 minutes walk away. After a yummy meal we spent the evening relaxing and planning our journey further.
Somehow we stayed up too long so when our alarm went of at 7am we were so tired that we fell asleep again within a minute. Matthias rewoke again at 9am but Zoë slept all the way to half 11. Our trip to Kungur was now forfeit and we had to spend the time in Perm. The only issue with this was that our accomodation was about 4km away from the center. We had booked it to be close to the train station and with good bus connection to get to Kungur; not really for sightseeing in Perm. One of the best things the city has to offer for tourists are two walks marked by red and green lines on the pavement. The longer (green) route comprised 40 signs outside significant buildings and sights and takes around 1.5h to walk. The red route stops to places with romantic stories and partially coinsides with the green line. It took us quite a bit longer (we guess the official time is without reading the signs) even though we skiped some part of it. Most of the signs are at buildings because they used to be schools and some famous Russian poet, author, or other person went there. As a foreigner these names didn’t mean anything to us and so we started skipping more and more of the text. It was also getting quite cold thanks to the wind. We sought refuge in a lovely café on the way back. That evening was filled with us working out how we can make it to Kungur ice cave and still get the train.
The solution to this issue was the fact that we could board our train in Kungur and did not have to come back to Perm. We first though we had made a big booboo when we discovered that Kungur was on the main train line line and a lot of trains stop there. Once we got there after 2.5 hours of walking, a city bus in Perm and one overland bus we realised that there was absolutely nothing for tourists to do and see apart from the ice cave. Perm was therefore definitely the better base.
Buses to Kungur run frequently throughout the day. The best stop to get off is outside the train station were we managed to deposit our backpacks for 200 rubles each. Connection to the cave is made by bus number 8 (10 min, 20 rubles) plus a few hundred meters walk. At first it seemed we were the only people on the guided tour but in the end there were 18; all apart from us were Russian. Kungur ice cave is the only karst cave in Russia set up for tourism and 1.5km of it can be visited. Entry is 600 rubles for a normal and 700 for the longer version which includes a laser show and a different route. The first two grottos were covered in ice.
The diamond grotto had more ice and walls and ceiling were covered with lots of small crystals. The Polar grotto has trees of almost palm sized snowflake shaped ice crystals which were very impressive. This first section also features some illuminated ice sculptures. After this the grottos had no more ice but featured various rock formations with interesting shadows and some lakes. The tour was very informative (if you speak or at least understand Russian) since our guide talked a lot explaining certain formations, features and the geography and history of the place. Sadly there were no signs and no audioguides available.
After we emerged into the sunlight again even the 12 degrees felt very nice and hot. We were very disappointed to find the café at the entrance closed (only for 3 days) and the one in the nearby hotel wasn’t very nice. Therefore we decided to walk back to the station. After buying some grapes to snack on the train we had dinner in the shopping center next to the train station and still an hour to wait for the train.
Probably our best reason for stopping in Perm was the cave in Kungur. Our guidebook did not reveal to us the fact it was also on the train line which is definitely worth factoring in. Perm has got a lot of history but mainly in regards to theater, ballet and opera (important art schools). Apart from that it is probably best described as a post-industrial industrial town and quite run down. The bus station for example consists of one building with the yard being half tarmac and half gravel with busses stopping both along the road and behind the building. It also broke up our train journey into legs of 19 and 44 hours. Had we combined them into one we probably would have gone crazy. In hindsight we think we should have stopped in Kungur during the day and spent a night or two in Ekatrineburg which is meant to be nicer than Perm. This is why you need to be careful when you plan your stops along such a long train line and do plenty of research about the places along the way.