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Published: November 15th 2006
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 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...
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.
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.
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