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Monday 6th August(cont.)
After about five or six hours on the train and lots of scrutiny over Ryan's passport (the guards took his passport for what seemed like an age!) we finally got into Minsk. It looked like a lot of it was still under construction. We hung around the stations a little while, wary of looking so conspicuously like tourists and then set out. Unfortunately I'm not at my most confident when I'm not wearing my specs, and since I'd lost my only pair in Lithuania I wasn't so confident about walking around in a strange and half lit former soviet city.
We spent a good hour trying to find a hotel near the station. We reached the one that was reccomended in the guide to find that it was closed. It was at this point that although he wasn't keen on calling so late at night, Ryan borrowed a phone card from a street vendor and he called Vladimir. What we didn't realise was that there was an hours time difference between Vilnius and Minsk. We only found that out when we went to wait at the McDonalds opposite the Station and found it was already closed. While we were waiting w got chatting to a couple of student's who wanted to practice their English. It was a contrived conversation where I used a little of my limited Russian. It was at this time we found out that there was the one hour time difference. This means that when we called Vladimir we thought it was only 10:30 and by the time he'd gotten to us it was already well after midnight. Not seeming too put out by this and obviously happy to see his old friend, Ryan, Vladimir rather than us take a taxi (of course we could pay) took us on a tour down the main street of Minsk, praspekt Skaryny, towards his house, seeing many of the famous Minsk landmarks by night (in retrospect I'm glad we did this because my time there was so limited). Most of the beautiful buildings there are only less than fifty years old because Minsk was razed to the ground during the war. There are a lot of famous bulidings such as government offices, museums, and universities, and all along the main street which leads to Vladimir's house. We did stop for a beer on the way and eventually got to Vladimir's place around 4 in the morning.
We felt really bad when we realised our gaff, especially as to our surprise, Vladimir's wife, Allana was waiting up for us at home and had plenty of food ready for us (not forgetting the Vodka, or course.)But not only that, she was sick with a bad cold (Ryan and I felt really bad about that!) After we took turns to shower after our full day of travelling we were invited to eat before sleeping. Although Allana went to bed while we three ate we tried not to keep Vladimir up too late, but after a reunion with good food and vodka, what can you do? As I remember I hit the hay first to let Ryan and Vladimir catch up but I do have a bit of a hazy memory.
Tuesday 7th August
In the morning we met Vladimir and Allana's son, Yan, who blew me away with his English. He really speaks well for a young guy who, to my knowledge and I think I asked the question, hasn't lived abroad but has learned mainly from his parents. After a really big breakfast, the five of us went out to see some of the city's sites. I really didn't expect such hospitality, espeially as I was uninvited and unanouned. Unfortunately I only had a day in Minsk before I had to catch my train to Kiev as my visa was only for 2 days. Despite this Vladimir was insistent I should try to change my ticket to stay longer. If only it was that simple, I'd been fined and kicked out for overstaying my visa. Definitely the hospitality that Vladimir showed made me want to stay for longer.
As previously mentioned unfortunately Allana wasn't feeling too well and went home to rest - we felt quite guilty, especially because we'd reached their house so late. The four of us went to the WWII museum which is an important must-see in Minsk, but of course it's not exactly fun for all the family. Highly disturbing, especially the photos of accused partizans being hanged by the Nazis, and gloves made out of human skin. The information in the museum is only in Byelorussian so it's a good idea if you have someone with you who can explain parts that do need to be exlplained. Such as the false harvest failures which were used to keep the population under control of the state and caused millions of deaths through starvation. Of course the war lasted a long time so there's a lot to see and it takes a long time to get through it all. What's really interesting is the kind of weaponry which was captured and sometimes repaired by the partisans,such as heavy canons mounted onto wooden carts. Among the huge amount of memorobilia that all this equipment has become, I was really surprised to see a leather map case - the exact type of which I have at home in England that my grandfather gave me many years ago. At the end of the museum there's a stained glass memorial to Lenin. Vladimir was puzzled as to why Ryan and I would even want a photo of this memorial to a mass murderer.
For some much needed light relief after such a heavy afternoon we went to have pizza in what's known as the best pizza place in Minsk. We had a great time, chatted, joked and were treated to Byelorus Champagne by our generous host. It's such a shame that I didn't plan to stay longer in Minsk - and that my visa wouldn't allow for it.
Unfortunately those sands of time were running way too fast as usual and I heard the road calling once more. Vladimir seemed so laid back but I was a little nervous as I wasn't sure how much time we had to go back to Vladimir's place, pick up my stuff and still be on time for my train to Kiev. We did make it in plenty of time and had time enough to pick up a few beers and sit drinking on the platform until it was time to head off. I thanked Ryan for helping me out and thanked Vladimir for his hospitality and asked to pass on my thanks and well wishes for Allana and Yan and boarded the train. The guys were still there, waving as the train was pulling away. What a great pair of guys! Gotta go back to Byelorus.
While earlier getting on the train just to put my stuff in the compartment I used a touch of my limited, but by now becoming well used Russian with the stewardess and received a cold reply. Whoops! I received the surly treatment from the girl for pretty much the rest of the trip. I tried chatting with one other passenger for a while but this was hard as he spoke no English at all. I did get across to him that I'm an English teacher in Taiwan ("Ya uchitsyl Anglitchan, Taivan!") and showed him the photos of my students in Taipei.("Shtudenti") Okay, basically I was re-inventing Russian, but hey it works sometimes!
During the night I got awoken a few times while passing through the different border controls so not a great night's sleep but to be honest I'd gotten used to sleeping on these sleeper trains so no real problem.
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Last updated 29/01/2002- Created using Tripod Freeform by Rob
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