Published: September 17th 2008September 12th 2008
Statue of Lenin standing proud along the appropriately named vul. Lenina
Regular readers will already be aware of the childish undercurrent to my sense of humour, so when the opportunity arose to explore a bit of Brest I was not going to turn it down. We did not want to milk it though, so we stayed in the small south western border town for just 20 hours.
We had enjoyed a first class four hour journey from Minsk. It only cost 11 pounds but we didn't get any food. We did, however, enjoy the screening of 101 Dalmatians in Russian. Fortunately it's not a deep film so we could work out what was going on, although it was a little strange watching Mark Williams and Hugh Laurie frolicking around and being heavily dubbed.
On arrival we found our way through the tree-lined streets to our hotel past yet another statue of Lenin, and we received a marginally warmer welcome than we had done in Minsk. Although smaller, the hotel was in the same 1980s vein as the Yubileiny with rooms either side of long, imposing corridors and decorated accordingly.
As the daylight hours were dwindling, we wasted no time in getting back out and having a quick look around
Home of Dinamo Brest and conveniently located about 20 yards from our hotel.
the Dinamo Brest stadium which was conveniently located about 100 yards from our base. Whilst peering in through the locked gates, a couple of schoolboys walked past sporting carefully-cultivated mullets - a sign that the youth in Belarus has embraced the 1980s with vigour. Just you wait, in five years they'll all be wearing Naff jackets and sporting floppy curtains.
I don't know whether the population of Brest are particularly unhealthy but there seemed to be a pharmacy on every corner. You would have no problem getting some Benalyn but we found it a little tougher tracking down somewhere to feed us, as understandably after a long train journey we were getting more than a little peckish.
Eventually by chance the waft of pizza smell lured us to a hidden downstairs joint, where our non-English speaking waitress and ourselves became embroiled in a dialogue which threatened to finish in stalemate at the drinks stage until she said "grapefruit" - it was the only option we understood, so we hasilty stopped her and ordered it, if only to hurry things along. Fortunately, the pizzas had pictures on the menu so after more pointing we sorted out dinner for something
Another view of the Brest stadium
like three pounds each.
We took a stroll along the main street, vul. Savetskaja, which was being dug up, leaving Brest exposed (sorry). Refreshingly, it appears that "no win, no fee" lawyers have yet to darken the doors of Eastern Europe because there was not a guard rail, fence or warning sign in sight. It was a breath of fresh air.
Like Minsk, the youth of Brest was out in force on the main street. Some coupled off, some chatting on mobile phones, but nobody acting with any kind of alacrity. A few milled around the cinema, some sat drinking in the bars that lined the street, but for a city of nigh on 300,000 people, it seemed incredibly quiet.
Darkness had falled by the time we made our way back to the hotel, but clearly nobody had told the council as the street lighting was conspicuous by its absence.
After killing gnats and mosquitoes in our hotel room, nearly knocking the extravagant ceiling light off its fixings in the process, we decided to see if our hotel bar would be a clement place for a late-night beer. The answer proved very quickly to be no.
The entrance to the stadium
It became apparent that the bar had been hired out to a private party. Sticking my head around the door, I could make out about four people dancing energetically to unnecessarily loud dance music. Those crazy Belarussians sure know how to party.
Because of our late arrival we had been unable to get to the striking Brest fortress, a spectacular World War II memorial , and with a 2pm train to catch that following morning, we needed to be sharp.
We got a taxi to save time and were dropped off about 200m from the main entrance, a tunnel with a huge Soviet star carved into the rock above. Haunting music boomed out from a speaker to add to the effect.
"Fucking hell" we both thought out loud in unison at the sight of the massive Valour rock ahead of us. The statue features a huge soldier's head carved into a rock. To its right as we looked was an Obelisk rising high into the sky. We had been informed of the scale of this memorial, and it was as breathtaking as it was poignant.
In 1941 soldiers defended this fortress against invading Germans. Heavily outnumbered,
Brest's main street. Quite a lot of building work is underway, leaving Brest exposed.
two regiments managed to hold out for a whole month. The scars of battle are visible through another entrance to the fortress, Kholmskie Gate, pock-marked by bullet holes. Much of the ruins are still preserved as a reminder, and an eternal flame burns to commemorate those that fought.
On the train back to Minsk, from where we would catch an overnight service to Kiev, we chatted to two men who shared our compartment. Well we gave it a go. One, Andreij, was in his early 20s and spoke a little English courtesy of a summer school he had attended. Unfortunately, the other man, Vlad, spoke not a word of the Queen's and was already drunk and liked to talk, so poor Andreij was forced into a translator role. It was a true case of the one-eyed man leading the blind.
It transpired that the older chap loved golf and cycling, and worked for a man called Paul Thomas who designed golf courses and is very rich. He liked to speak about golf and Paul Thomas a lot. With our lack of Russian knowledge, we had to use two napkins to draw out what we were saying. Perhaps the
In Belarus, the mullet is king. As demonstrated by this gentleman.
saddest moment came when Si tried to show Andreij his Belarussian visa. He turned away instinctively. We asked why, and it was told to us that Belarussians were not allowed to see a British man's passport.
About halfway through the four-hour journey, Andreij could take no more and went to the bar, inviting Si with him. Si was promptly propositioned by another prostitute, again seemingly being pimped by her brother. He left. Andreij didn't. In fact, he didn't emerge for over an hour before crashing through the door of the compartment, announcing: "I drink the vodka!!" with an inane grin, and zonking out on the upper bunk, falling into an immediate drunken slumber.
With our only method of understanding Vlad now unavailable, we expected conversation to fizzle out. Not a bit of it. In fact, Vlad didn't seem to care that we couldn't understand Russian and carried on speaking boldly and proudly in his own style for about an hour, despite us not understanding a word apart from the occasional mention of "Paul Thomas" or "Super!!". Every now and again he would punctuate his stories with a hearty laugh and offer up a high five.
Si swats the gnats
In our hotel we had a bit of a mosquito problem. Here Simon attacks them with a towel.
in this strange yet alluring country was nearly at an end. We would travel for 12 hours overnight to Kiev, the capital of neighbouring Ukraine. It was a nation hitting the headlines due to the tension with Russia that had erupted less than a month previous. Never a dull moment.
There are more photos below