White Russia

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November 4th 2006
Published: November 15th 2006
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Communism LivesCommunism LivesCommunism Lives

This was the very first thing I saw when I stepped off the train in Minsk. It literally sent chills down my spine. Communism is alive and well in Belarus.
I must admit, when the idea of going to Belarus first cropped up my initial thoughts were; “umm…no way…it’s too dangerous…it’s too communistic.” Strangely enough, the longer I mulled it over, the more excited I became and decided that this was just too good of an adventure to pass up. Well, fast forward two weeks later… train tickets purchased and visas freshly stamped we were off to Minsk.

I found the Russian night train to be surprisingly well appointed. The beds were soft, the linens were clean and the pre-war Soviet music which was blaring throughout our compartment was actually quite pleasant. We shared a four-person sleeper with two other Russian women who very generously offered us their aid with translating the Russian customs forms. So, I tucked myself into my bunk, popped two Unisoms and was fast asleep. I awoke to stern commands from the Belarusian boarder guards demanding our passports with all the charm of a prison guard. They flipped through the pages, discovered that we did, in fact, have our proper documents and stamped us in with relatively no hassle. In truth, we were relieved because we had expected much worse. At most borders, this experience usually
Quality train timeQuality train timeQuality train time

There's plenty of time to kill while traveling on a night-train...especially a Russian night-train to Minsk. This is usually when and where I get my best ideas. Of course, everyone knows I write down EVERYTHING.
translates into extensive luggage searches, painstaking document checks etc. I took this as a “good sign.”

The next morning our train pulled unto the Minsk train station. The ground was covered in snow and it was bitterly cold. When I emerged from inside the train and out onto the platform I was totally in shock…culture shock, that is. People were getting very close and yelling things at me I couldn’t understand. All the signs were written in Russian…a.k.a the Cyrillic alphabet…a.k.a. I couldn’t make out a single letter!! Holy Sh**!! “Where am I?” That feeling was even more profoundly echoed when I first laid eyes on the enormous granite statute of the “Hammer and Stickle” in the center of Lenin Station. There are no words for the feeling that passed through my body…even now.

I actually could write a book detailing our stay in Minsk, and even then I am not convinced that it would accurately convey my experience. So, in the interest of saving time I am going to list the things that made the biggest impression on me…the things that I wrote down in my journal at the moment they impacted me. Forgive the randomness; they
I wish we took a taxi...I wish we took a taxi...I wish we took a taxi...

Getting to Minsk was one thing, getting to our hotel was another. The snow was really coming down and piling up on the streets...we lugged our luggage through it like snow plows. Look...the hotel is at the very top of the hill...great!
are in no particular order:

•White Russia is in fact white.
•Swarms of Police officers everywhere we turned. Explanation: Belarus has one of the highest ratios of Police to citizen in the world. Without them, a dictatorship just wouldn’t be as fun.
•The city felt lifeless, dead, frozen in time. I imagine it looking exactly the same 20 years ago and 20 years from now. It’s a stagnate page of history.
•I felt uneasy/scared for most of the time we were here.
•It was not actually possible to order a “white Russian” despite it being listed on all the restaurant menus. By the end, we ascertained that it must be due to a state-wide milk shortage. Ugh…only in Belarus.
•A sea of concrete box-shaped apartment buildings…a truly desolate sight.
•The confused stares from other guests of the hotel at breakfast because we were the only table where there were no men. That simply doesn’t happen here.
•No one waits in queues…everyone cuts in-front of you. If you stand in a proper line, you WILL be skipped. Even while standing at the ticket window, someone will inevitably attempt to elbow in. This is the true definition of dog-eat-dog world.
Ahhh...Hotel BelarusAhhh...Hotel BelarusAhhh...Hotel Belarus

This is the city's trade-mark hotel and a defining part of the Minsk skyline. Believe it or not, this hotel doubles as a mini-water park AND a dodgy nightclub.
LOVE blue eye shadow.
•I feel so grateful to have seen and experienced this country. It was raw, cruel and, at times, unimaginable that a place like this still exists.
•Happy to come, but much happier to leave.

In sum, when the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, nobody bothered to tell the Belarusians. This country is truly a well-preserved time capsule of an era most would rather forget.
Again…there are simply not enough words.

Additional photos below
Photos: 27, Displayed: 24


Whaaaat is that?!?!Whaaaat is that?!?!
Whaaaat is that?!?!

Even more famous than its grandiose size, is its ghastly soviet bathroom tile that looks like it was installed by drunken trolls. Ugh!! I must say...the picture really does do it justice!
We thought these were a myth...We thought these were a myth...
We thought these were a myth...

While on the hunt for the radiator nob, Emilly discovered this little plastic box in the corner. Turns out, this little box is a functioning Soviet radio that only plays one station. The only control feature is an on/of button. Listening to is was truly creepy.
A city made up of concrete blocksA city made up of concrete blocks
A city made up of concrete blocks

It was amazing to see the city-scape so devoid of any ornamentation. It was just a collection of minimalistic-square buildings. A city where no progress has taken place in the last 20-years, clearly illustrated by the frozen-in-time-architecture.
Independence SqaureIndependence Sqaure
Independence Sqaure

Formally known as "Lenin square." Here you can see the government house directly behind the very massive and imposing statue of Lenin. There were police just about everywhere you turned, so taking these pictures was a bit nerve racking.
The Red ChurchThe Red Church
The Red Church

Chruch of St. Simon, the city's best known Catholic Church build in 1908. When the Bolsheviks came to power, the church became a cinema, a film studio and later a popular meeting place for the opposition in the 1980's. Now it is used for its original purpose.
Warming upWarming up
Warming up

It was so coooold outside that we popped into a cafe for come Lattes. Here's me in all my winter gear...but nothing is warm enough to withstand a winter in Belarus.
New clear dayNew clear day
New clear day

View of Minsk from the top floor of the hotel. The second day was much more tolerable (no snow and clear skies). We enjoyed this view while having breakfast.
Cathedral of the holy spiritCathedral of the holy spirit
Cathedral of the holy spirit

One of the most instantly recognisable symbols of Minsk...this gleaming Orthodox cathedral in the heart of downtown. Built in 1642...closed by the Bolsheviks for half a century, now re-open.
Island of TearsIsland of Tears
Island of Tears

A memorial set up in 1988 to commemorate Belarusian soldiers who died in the USSR's disastrous 9-year war in Afganistan.
The chapelThe chapel
The chapel

With haunting figures of grieving mothers, sisters and widows at its base.
inside the chapelinside the chapel
inside the chapel

The colors inside against the blue sky...gorgeous!
Boy-like figure of an angleBoy-like figure of an angle
Boy-like figure of an angle

Rigged-up to cry tear-drops...you may notice that a certain part of his anatomy is shinier than the rest. Due to a Belarusian tradition for newlyweds to visit the memorial on their wedding day...grope the poor young boy and be guaranteed children.

15th November 2006

Such an amazing description....I am very very jealous of your trip...
15th November 2006

Fanstastic! Minsk is somewhere I've always thought about going. Oddly, I want to go even more now!

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