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April 13th 2019
Published: April 14th 2019
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Saturday April 13 – This vacation will be similar to others in some ways – new country, new adventures, no idea which shoes to pack – but it will also be something new, as I’m going to attend a 10 day silent Vipassana meditation course which begins on Tuesday evening. This will be new for me in many ways.

Today, however, I did my normal thing. Went to bed last night more stressed than I wanted, got me and Jeroen up at 4am so he could take me to the airport for my 6:45am flight. We left 20 minutes later than I’d intended, but somehow we were there nearly when I’d planned, and it didn’t take all that long to get through security though I do still have a knack for picking the slowest lines, whether it be check-in, security or passport control.

Not long after I sat down, I saw one of my students and his family. The dad came over to speak to me immediately, trying to place me, and it turns out he is an American traveler as well, and we talked until boarding. I had just turned on my laptop when he sat down and
KGB BuildingKGB BuildingKGB Building

This was the first photo I took in Minsk, and it's the KGB building right across from my apartment that I looked for for ages without realizing...
proceeded to turn it off again, without logging in, since I could see I wasn’t going to be able to use it without being rude. We had a nice chat though, and then took our seats to Frankfurt. In Frankfurt, as we got off the plane, it was starting to snow. SNOW! Luckily, it did not hang around to delay my flight. I moved quickly through the airport to get to the correct terminal and go through passport control, since I’d be leaving the Schengen visa area. I looked around for some food, decided on a “classic baguette” sandwich (which was not even on baguette bread but still looked tasty) and went to sit at the gate and use the internet. I realized that my computer will connect to the internet, but chrome will not work in the airport or in the apartment I’ve rented. Happily, Firefox will. As I ate my sandwich, they asked for a volunteer to give up a seat for a later flight and some cash, but I was not about to do that. My time here is limited, and that would have meant missing out on Minsk, basically.

The flight to Minsk was where I’d planned to do all of my planning, since I hadn’t gotten around to it before. Planning and relearning how to pronounce the letters in the Cyrillic alphabet. I was able to do some of that done, and then my seatmate started talking to me. He’s an American who plays hockey, and lived in Belarus for two years to play for a team here, and now lives in Russia, playing there. He’s back to train and play for an international hockey tournament that will take place in a couple of weeks in Kazakhstan. He has a house in Florida and is buying a condo in Dubai, so it can’t be too bad. He gave me some advice about Minsk, which was nice, and we chatted a bit.

We said goodbye when we got off the place and it seemed to take ages for my backpack to come out, but when it did, I was lucky to find a bus that was going to Minsk that was just about to leave and still had space. It took 40 minutes and only cost $2. I was quite tired at that point, from not getting enough sleep last night. I looked at the trees on the drive for some of the time, and closed my eyes some of the time. When we got to the Minsk bus station, I actually had a handle on which direction to go and recognized the Gates of Minsk – two buildings that are like an entry from the nearby train station. I took out my printed map and walked to the airbnb I had rented in about 15 minutes. It was a beautiful sunny day, a bit cold, but really nice. I found the building but had to find a way to get to the back courtyard, which did not take too long. I had been stressing about which apartment it actually was, since the airbnb people had not been writing me to answer my questions. I only got the responses at 4am, and I wasn’t sure it was all answered. At first I thought the keys were missing from the lockbox outside, but it was a different lockbox that basically fell off the wall but opened to the same code as the one I needed. I got into the building and stood outside the apartment door, using the internet to send a help message. But I looked again and saw the lockbox was on the other side, so I was able to get the keys after all. Phew.

Next I checked out my little one room place, proper Soviet style. It was super hot inside, with no way to alter the heating. I guess they really are prepared for winter here. I repacked my bag quickly and did some reconnaissance on the internet. I tried to sign in to airbnb, but it said it didn’t recognize my device and the only way to get a code was to get it on my phone. But I have no mobile and the number they would use is my home phone. Stupid. I wrote them a big angrily and eventually got my code later. But before that I headed out to make the most of the day, as it was already 3:30pm. I wandered back to the train station to take some photos of the Gates of Minsk. I also visited a Catholic church, called the Red church due to the bricks it is made from. There was some sort of child (Easter?) mass going on, and everyone kept kneeling all the time. I left to take some pictures outside, and then came back in to snap a few shots. Everything is very big – super wide streets, large uncozy squares, big buildings. I tried to find the KGB building that was supposed to be so obvious, and the bust of the guy who led to its creation, and it took me ages. I had marked the wrong part on my map as to where the apartment was, so it kept throwing me. It turns out my building is RIGHT IN FRONT OF the KGB building and the bust. Duh.

As I walked around, I started to get more and more hungry, so I walked over to a café called Lido I’d heard about. I was proud of myself for finding it, but it was not what I thought it would be. It is a cafeteria style local food place, from what I’d understood, but it didn’t have much choice and wasn’t all local, and seemed a bit more upscale than I’d expected, with everyone sitting around having cakes. Maybe the other branches are larger? But I did find another church nearby and it was a Russian Orthodox church. They are so beautiful inside, and everyone stands as there is nowhere to sit. This was the first time I was there during a service, and it was very interesting to see how different it was than a Catholic church service. I didn’t stay too long, but it was the first time I’d seen the priests(?) clergy(?)doing their thing. I also saw the doors that they sing behind and enter the church from, and then they walked all around with the incense, both familiar and different to what I’ve seen in church before. I decided to go back to my apartment and check out the restaurant downstairs that had been busy whenever I passed that other airbnbers had raved about. It was quite good in the end, and I’m glad I went there. I had to wait about 40 minutes for my food, but she had warned me. I ordered a liter of water with mint and lemon to rehydrate while I read my book and it was perfect. The dinner was also really good – some sort of potatoes dumplings in cream sauce with bacon.

It was almost 8pm when I left there, so I just went to a small shop across the street and bought some bottled water to bring home. One of the women was able to help me find still (not sparkling) water and was already fixing the shelf to replace water when I walked away. Back at the flat I showered and organized my bag for the next day. It felt a little cooler inside now – maybe they don’t like it so hot for sleeping. My train to Brest leaves before 7am and I will stay the night there, but I have also rented this place for three nights so I can leave my big backpack behind and not have to worry about it. So extravagant, I know. I’ll just take my daypack for the next two days to make it easier. Packing has to wait until tomorrow morning, since I’ll need almost everything before I leave, but I organized what I could, including pouring some water into my water bottle for the trip. That’s when I realized the woman in the shop last night must have misunderstood my request. She helped me pick out sparkling water, rather than still. And it’s a little salty. All around kind of a disappointing purchase.

When I went to sleep, I had to convert the sofa to a bed. Luckily it was not hard to figure out. I found the sheets and closed the drapes. Light still comes in, so I used my eye mask to help. I could just hear a tv coming through the wall, but decided against ear plugs and hoped it would be more comforting than annoying, like being a kid and knowing your parents are watching tv in the family room. I was never going to understand it anyway.

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