Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Long Day

Hotel Belarus Saturday 2:15 am

I’m exhausted. That pretty well describes my day. My two plane rides were pretty uneventful. Seeing Hungary’s biggest Basilica from the air was quite nice as we followed the Danube over to Vienna.

I stepped onto the bus to take me to the aircraft bound for Minsk and thought I had entered a different world. I didn’t think anyone spoke English until I saw the four most typical American tourists. Lost, ignorant, English-demanding tourists. I was horrified. Got on the plane and sat next to this British guy that I’ve decided is a drug runner. Before I had even said a word to him, he took one look at me and said, “Boy, you’re a long way from home.”

He said he was headed to Belarus for business. Said he was in agriculture but he failed to go into the specifics. For some reason though, he had a multiple entry visa into Russia in addition to Belarus and was traveling to Belarus for the second time in two weeks. Also he had a huge suitcase and was only staying here for the same 4 days I am. I guess I’ll see what he’s drummed up on the plane out of here on Monday.

We waded through security together. Ahh my last American dollars spent. I’ve had two dollars in my wallet since I got over here in August and I’ve been dreaming up things to spend them on once I get back in the states. Just when I’m counting my chickens, Belarus goes and requires you to have medical insurance which costs $.50 per day. So the two dollars covered my medical insurance, but now I don’t know what to do. I’ll look in the seats to find some change.

The Minsk Airport seems like it should be something out of 28 Days that zombie movie set in London where no one is doing anything. It had the structure and size of any US airport. The Drug lord said it was built for Soviet troops but I didn’t believe him. Only something like 5 flights fly into the airport everyday. There is no one inside the airport except for a few workers. Just huge open corridors with no one to walk in them. Security is kind of a joke. Also the bathroom I ventured into didn’t have a proper toilet and looked like the inside of the local bar at about 3 am on Saturday night. Welcome to Eastern Europe.

Me and the drug lord got outside and I waited for the public bus to come for me and a friend for him (aka the grower). A really disappointed taxi driver wouldn’t leave me alone thinking I was ripe for money. The bus was surprisingly really comfortable. Ok so mind you no one speaks any English in this country so communication is a bit sketchy. Lonely Planet said the bus took me straight to the train station where I was to meet Virginia. Slowly everyone (as in three other people) got off the bus and suddenly I was alone. So I used my little guide book to tell the driver I wanted off at the train station and he figured it out, though he kept yelling at me and I have no idea what he was saying. I should also mention that the roads were huge, open, and bare. All this infrastructure for no one to use.

Minsk is beautiful. I can’t deny it. All the guide books warn of how socialist it is, and yes it has some of those buildings. But it has a number of older neo-classical and baroque buildings that are amazing. Plus not only is it very clean but all the parks are very modern, lots of fountains, well cut crass, beautiful sidewalks, etc. I know, I know, this comes at a price with no political freedom, many people living in poverty, and many other social problems but in a way the city is incredibly modern.

Virginia and I had set up a meeting place on the 4th floor of the train station at an internet café. I tried to meet her on the tracks and missed her so I walked up to the 4th floor and it worked like clockwork. These meet ups usually never happen this well. I tried to meet up with several friends in Paris and always failed.

VA got in at about 8 pm so we got the metro ($.25 per ride) to our hotel. The Hotel Belarus is beautiful on the outside but a bit “rustic” on the inside. I can’t complain because its been awhile since I’ve slept in a hotel, but its nice. Boy is the bathroom blue and the TV has MTV and Cnn. We got settled in and VA gave me a nesting doll of the Minnesota Twins. See picture.

It’s a little odd how the hotel works. A lady sleeps on a couch on each floor behind a desk. To get to your room you have to get the key from her every time you come back. For some reason time just seemed to escape us today. We ran around the hotel looking for car rental agencies for our trip to Brest tomorrow. Sometime during my journey earlier I had this terrible craving for a huge Italian pizza. I know this is probably a bad country to have such a craving but nonetheless I was thinking of one thing only. Well after the hotel drop-off we’re looking for some food and sure enough we happen upon a “hoppin’” pizza restaurant with club inside. I got myself a mighty fine pizza in the wonderful Belarus.

After dinner we went for a stroll and sought out the 24 hour internet café. What a city. Like I said, very tall, modern, beautiful buildings. We passed a number of parks and streets that could have been in any city in Europe. It was simply astounding.

We passed by some wonderful pieces of Soviet art as well as some newly rebuilt churches and the President’s house. This will have to be my parliament picture from this country because the President, Lukashenko,is basically the king of the country.

We got to the internet where I scored both summer job opportunities I wanted in DC so now I have to divide my time between the two. Hopefully it leaves lots of time for playing softball.

After the internet we made it back here to the hotel and we are exhausted. I also just drank the tap water which is a no-no and I hope I don’t get sick. Wake up is in a little over 4 hrs so I had better get some sleep.

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