Trans Siberian Railway: Perm

After Omsk, we were off to Perm. Perm would be our first actual CouchSurfing experience. While our hosts in Omsk and Krasnoyarsk are part of the CouchSurfing community, our Perm hosts were the first people we were connected with solely through CouchSurfing. We arrived in Perm in the morning and our CouchSurfing hosts had a friend pick us up from the train station. We dropped our stuff off at our host’s apartment and were taken on a walking tour of the city.

We wanted to stop in Perm because the Perm Opera and Ballet House is one of the best in Russia. Unfortunately, the Diaghilev Festival that I wanted to go to takes place in June and by the time we would get to Perm the ballet season had closed for the summer. We decided to stop in Perm anyways despite this since we figured any place with a re-known opera and ballet house must have other cool things as well.

I’ve mentioned before how great of an experience I had CouchSurfing in Russia before. Especially if you’re an English speaker traveling to a non touristic city, you’ll have no problem finding a host. I had found a host in Perm well in advance of our arrival date. Our original host ended up not being able to host us last minute so I ended up posting a public trip on CouchSurfing and immediately received messages from people to host us in Perm. So even though our original plan fell through we were able to find a backup pretty quickly. My impression was that people in Russia who are part of the CouchSurfing community are quite to host foreigners and tend to be more open-minded than western media outlets would have us believe about Russia.

Anyways, so me and my friend spent our first day in Perm on a walking tour. We later met up with our hosts, a couple, for dinner. After dinner we went back to their apartment and discussed what we would do for the next couple days. All of our hosts in Russia didn’t just provide us a place to stay but also wanted to make sure we had a great time in their city. We only had one full day in Perm so we had to make it count.

We decided together that we would check out an ethnographic museum just outside of the city since a military festival was going on at the museum the next day. I don’t know if I mentioned it before but there are reminders of WWII everywhere in Russia. There are statues, memorials, murals, and so on, commemorating WWII absolutely everywhere. So it wasn’t too surprising that there was a festival at the ethnographic museum that had a big emphasis on WWII.

Khokhlovka Architectural and Ethnographic Museum is 43 km outside of Perm. It’s an open-air museum as well as the first open-air architectural museum of wooden architecture in the Ural. The museum was very cool to begin with and an even bigger treat that there was a big festival going on. While it was a military festival, I thought of it as more of a cultural festival. There was dancing, music, singing, WWII re-enactors, as well medieval re-enactors a part of the festival. The museum grounds are huge so if you go, expect lots of walking.

After the ethnographic museum, we went to our host’s parent’s summer home. We were told that if you have the resources, then Russians will most likely have a summer home. This will be a home that’s in the countryside where people can relax, be closer to nature, and have space for their own Russian banya (sauna). This was an awesome opportunity to have barbecue with our awesome Russian hosts and their family. Our host’s dad asked if either me or my friend had ever tried Russian banya. Neither of us had. So of course he insisted that since we were in Russia that we HAD to do it. Me and my friend were of course game so while our food cooked and while we ate dinner, the sauna was being prepared. To prepare the sauna our host had to start burning wood in the sauna and wait for the sauna to heat up to the right temperature.

I have to say that trying Russian banya was one of the highlights of my trip. It was SOOOO awesome. I’ve tried saunas before but I always thought they were pretty miserable. Sitting in a hot steamy room and sweating your ass off is not something I had enjoyed in the past but since I was in Russia, I figured I should give banya a try. Our host gave us a run down and a demonstration of how to use the banya. Our banya was heated to 54 degrees celsius which we were told was pretty mild but since it was our first time, our host didn’t want to kill us. We got into the banya and stripped naked. We were given felt hats to wear to help protect our heads from the heat. Like other saunas, you can throw more water into the stove to create more heat and steam. The difference between this and other sauna experiences was this was much hotter, we also had aromatherapy oils that we could put in the water before throwing it into the stove. There were also oak branches soaked in the hot water used to hit (massage) yourself and others in order to improve your circulation. My friend and I took turns hitting each other with the oak branches. And I have to tell you. It was really relaxing and the beating of the hot oak branches really felt like your body was getting a good massage. It was really hot so we would take short breaks and then return to the sauna. We probably were in the sauna for a total of 30-45 minutes. I never knew how awesome beating yourself and others with oak branches in a banya could be. After banya, we took showers in the cleaning area of the banya. Then we continued to bond with our hosts over conversation. And of course, just a little bit of vodka.

The next day, we got breakfast with our hosts, went to a cafe, and then were dropped off at the train station. If I had more time in Perm I would’ve liked to visit the PERMM (Perm Contemporary Art Museum) which is the first and only contemporary art museum in Russia. And if it were a different time of the year, I would’ve loved to see the ballet.

Next stop: Moscow.

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