Published: August 1st 2011April 27th 2011
After narrowly escaping a few run-ins with the Belarusian Military and the KGB, I was looking forward to getting out of Minsk. We had an unearthly early start to the morning and found ourselves back on one of those odd sleeper train carriages (which stunk like I don’t know what) but at least this time we had more normal seats for another olympic session of cards for the next 4-5 hours on the way to Brest.
It was a gloriously hot day (despite the forecast to snow the same time next week), but with our limited time here we only came to see one thing: The Brest Fortress – a WWII Soviet memorial, and originally the largest 19th century fortress of the Russian Empire. The long walk to the fortress in the heat just about killed me, but it was worth the effort. In the middle of the fortress stood the rather impressive valour monument – a giant stone soldier’s head projecting from a massive rock, and adjacent to it – a shiny tall obelisk.
Some of the local military were just finishing a ceremony when we arrived, which was interesting to see. But what I noticed the most
was the young age of the kids being taught to carry guns.
We looked at the bullet and bomb holes on the fortress buildings. In 1941 German invasion saw this fortress withstand at least 500 cannon fires and 600 bombs!!
There seems to be quite a lot you could see here, but we were conscience of the time and our long walk back to the station.
Our train was due to depart from Platform 1. We couldn’t see the number on our platform, but we were on the platform closest to the station, next to Platform 2 and 3, so we assumed we were in the right spot. However, we had already noticed that over here trains seem to arrive at stations quite a bit before the departure time, so started to wonder where our train was.
After a bit of asking around, we finally found someone who spoke enough pigeon English – and found out that not only were we standing in the wrong place, but we still had to go through customs and passport control – and our train (the only train today) leaves in 10minutes! Yikes!!!
As soon as we got to the customs
desk they could see we were in a hurry. The main guard tapped his watched and asked how much cash we have!?! I was a little oblivious to exactly what was happening, as I was trying to find my buried passport! James didn’t have any cash on him at all, so they asked me. I thought it was more to do with taking large sums of money over the border, rather than a blatant bribe. I pulled out a few low notes (careful not to show anything for my currency collection - I would not be happy if I lost any of that!). Thankfully even 100 or 1000 BYR is worth nothing here (eg less than £1), so the guard said ‘it wasn’t worth it’ and just let us through. Phew!
Yet, we still had to go through passport control – and time was running out! Needless to say he was also taking his time! And then to make matters worse our carriage was right down the other end of a 40 or so carriage train! We made it, with what could only be seconds to spare – or they did actually hold the train for us. We were
happy to finally be sitting down (not to mention something to eat!), ready for our 5-6 hour train ride ahead.
It wasn’t long until we got to the Belarusian / Polish border. The customs and passport guards once again came through the train. The first lady asked if we had any cigarettes or alcohol and my first response was ‘sorry, I don’t smoke....’; but James soon pointed out, she wasn’t asking for a bribe, she was actually just doing her job!
A New Zealand passport caused quite a fuss – the only words from the other guards was ’neuava zealanda’ and then a bit of a giggle!
We eventually made it out of Belarus and into Poland. I must say I felt instantly more relieved knowing we had got out of Belarus safely. The KGB did not catch up with me, hopefully no more bribes and that strange ‘I’m being watched’ feeling is slowly subsiding...
There are more photos below