Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hotel Yubeleiny (Jubilee) Minsk, Belarus 1:45 AM Monday

So much driving. Today we got up in Brest, toured the village, saw the Brest fortress, visited two small towns in rural Belarus and drove all the way back to Minsk – a 4 hr drive. We should be asleep by now but we’ve been enjoying all the videos of Byelorussian babushkas we took today.

First off we made it out of bed by 7:30 in time for breakfast. That was some delicious rice and cutlets to Virginia’s ?, I call it oatmeal. As always with all Russian meals tea as well. We toured around the town a bit to see Engel’s Street, Red Square, Lenin Square and a nice tall statue of Lenin pointing at a Polish Church.

Then off to the most visited attraction in all of Belarus. I don’t actually know if that’s true, but I told Virginia it was and have decided it so. This was a fortress built centuries ago but actually soldiers defended it against the Germans for a month during World War II. It is huge and has all kinds of sights. There is a huge face of a soldier sculpted next to a giant obelisk with a eternal flame in front. When we were visiting a group of 14 & 15 yr olds were training how to guard the flame. The fortress basically functions as a huge park and there is a brand new Orthodox Church inside the fortress.

There is also a palace where the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed that drew the Soviet Union out of World War I. Having a car for today was almost necessary after everything that we fit in and the state of public transportation in Belarus. Still most of the time we feel right at home. I’m still a bit nervous about driving because I’m scared of getting pulled over, but otherwise it seems like we could be in any Western city. Virginia and I both feel the country is very clean, modern, and orderly. The people are extremely nice and welcoming. It’s just too bad their leader is an ass.

After the fortress we headed out near the family village. First stop was a town right next to it of a decent size where all the residents go to work, school, and church. There is also a big cemetery. We played the oh so stereotypical roll of genealogists and searched for the graveyard for Nosik (family name) or Hocik as its spelled in Cyrillic letters. Yea my Cyrillic is coming along nicely. We actually found about 5 different Nosiks in the village but we don’t know if they’re related. Virginia was standing next to one such grave when a man and his family walked up. Virginia started talking to him and realized this guy’s uncle was actually a Nosik. After a bit more discussion it turned that he probably belonged to a different group of Nosiks but still the coincidence was quite odd. After scouring the graveyard for all traces, we went back to the village to get some more info. Turns out the lady wasn’t related to Virginia, but she was really helpful and pleasant – I still feel useless.

Before heading back to Minsk we stopped at the Museum of Confiscated Art, which the authorities took from people trying to smuggle stuff into Poland. Wow that sucked except there were a few cool paintings but all kinds of icons. I mean who would have that much astounding art in Belarus anyway.

Deciding we should put the car to good use, we decided to stop at two different villages on the way back to Minsk. The first one was a town of about 15,000 set on the edge of a huge lake. It had a big fortress with a moat around it, though the fortress was under reconstruction. The weather has been beautiful here like 80 degrees and sunny everyday. Our luck continued and even enough to invite the mosquitoes. We were wandering through the park around the fortress when 3 girls heard us talking and kind of invited themselves with us. Pretending they didn’t speak any English, they spoke Russian to Virginia and made her translate the tales of the town and fortress to me. After we walked around and saw some statues they finally started speaking English which they did excellently. They were great tour guides and showed us some cool sites of the town which included a 16th century clock tower, a beautiful Polish Catholic church, and a 16th century town hall. Things that are surprisingly old for most of Belarus where things were mostly destroyed during the Great Patriotic War.

We said good bye to the girls and moved on to the town of Mir which pretty much could only boast of a nice big castle beside a pond. Now I love a good castle and Virginia has never been to one since those fool Russians don’t’ know how to build a proper castle. We were too late to go inside but got a nice view of the outside and spent some time next to lake trying to get infected with malaria.

We hadn’t eaten since breakfast so we were hoping this village of about 2500 had a cafĂ©. We found just the one in the town center, though by this time I’d say it had turned into a bar and served as the town hang-out. I got some kielbasa sausage and Virginia got some potatoes and vegetables. For some reason she thinks shes gone vegetarian – I know the truth. With tea and everything the dinner cost $3 total.

After that it was past 11 and we still had a long drive back to Minsk. Again a slight detour in the city due to misread maps but we ended up at our new hotel fine. This one I like the best and actually has carpet.

So many things I want to bring up, but I just can’t fit them into this space. Perhaps the most bizarre thing was at the toll booths on the way to Brest. They don’t actually make you stop and when you approach them, they just wave you through without any real consideration. The first time this threw us off, but knew what to expect for the next three toll booths. Also we saw toll road written in English several times along the way one such phrase that was actually translated.

Another thing I can’t capture is how welcoming the people are. Every person we run into is very kind and loves to talk. No one has a bad attitude and Virginia wants to trade up her time in a Russia for a few extra weeks here. Unfortunately, that wont’ happen. Ok I fell asleep before writing that last part, so I had better get under the covers.

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