Belarus: Day 10 and 11

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August 21st 2018
Published: August 21st 2018
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Day 10:

What on earth have I done to myself? I wake up at 9am the room still spinning in a rollercoaster of nausea. I repeat the phrase that has been my first thought every morning of this holiday. “I am never drinking again!” I don’t need to today to be honest as I stagger to the toilet I realise that I still have a skin full from last night. I return to bed and lay next to Yuliya wondering how I am going to manage for the next 24 hours before our return to the farm. Tonight we are staying at Sergey’s flat. I tell Yuliya to text Natasha and say I will not be drinking tonight. She says it is up to me when I get there.

Anya knocks and barges in. I grab a pillow to cover my embarrassment (It was hot last night and I couldn’t find my sleeping shorts). She should have waiting for the reply before coming in and she may not have had to face “little Steve”. Not my fault. She tells us that she is making breakfast and coffee. Yuliya goes to help whilst I get dressed not that it mattered now.
Breakfast is fried egg and strong liver pate on bread. Really! I have trouble holding the food down and return to lie on the bed. Anya goes to work at 11am and we prepare to spend the day in Minsk.
We get a taxi to the main train station. I sit in the back like a dog with my head out of the window trying to swallow back the ever increasing risk of vomit. I needed to do something about this and fast. We left the suitcase in the lockup and headed out into the city. Everything seemed so much more vibrant in the past couple of years. People busy themselves to work or shopping. The cafes along the Main Street were filled with people eating, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. During World War 2, following the German occupation, the city of Minsk was flattened. The city was rebuilt with a Stalinist architecture design, which favoured grand buildings, broad avenues and wide squares. Even though a capital city there is little claustrophobia which most modern capitals feel. We all looked at each other through bloodshot eyes. We made an executive decision we had to have more alcohol. It was the only way to combat this hangover- old school hair of the dog. We chose TGI Fridays and ordered a sharing platter (I knew that liver and other nauseating body parts were a rare thing to find on this menu) and a large beer each. We emerged an hour later feeling human again.

We went to a toy shop to buy the kids a present then set out for an explore. Walking around the familiar streets we reminisced about previous years. Passing the old dvd shop where you could buy the latest blockbusters for a pound, past Yuliya’s university, over the main city square where I had been charged(having to bribe) by the police for not having my passport the first year I came to Belarus.
Wondering down to the main tourist area we purchased some fridge magnets and a witch (traditional tourist item but we love them for our Halloween decorations). This is a beautiful area which surrounds one of Minsk’s most famous landmarks. The magnificent church “the Holy Spirit cathedral” completed in the 18th century and sits at the heart of old Minsk district overlooking the river. And then we walked down to the main river. This has now become the hub of activity in the city. There are several events a year down here from concerts to marathons. This week the world martial arts championships are taking place here. We walk around the lake passing the Isle of tears (a memorial commemorating Soviet soldiers from Belarus who died in the decade-long war with Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. The centrepiece is the chapel, with haunting figures of grieving mothers, sisters and widows at its base). Which is always a stark reminder of the military past and the fierce nationalism of the people.

We meet Anya outside her work for a chat and we say our goodbyes with the promise of another visit next year. We continue around the lake and approach a new museum that has been built. It is truly spectacular. The building is a museum about the World war 2 occupation of Minsk. The museum sits under a spectacular structure with cascading waterfalls down a hill at its peak sits a huge monolith with a huge statue of Mother Motherland at its base. It is truly breathtaking to see. The museum however is closed on a Monday. This will have to wait until next year.

The beer from lunch is starting to wear off and the fatigue of the night before starts to hit. We still have a 5k walk back up to the train station. We walk back through the bustling river front where athletes for the championships hang out and take selfies. We notice that all the traffic has stopped. We look up and the police have blocked the main streets in both directions. Tolik says that the President is coming. And true enough a police procession flanks a blacked out limousine which enters the arena close by. This all happened in seconds and I didn’t have chance to get my phone out for a picture.

We said our goodbyes to Tolik who was walking back to Anya for when she finished work. He looked as rough as I was again starting to feel. Yuliya and I walked back to the station collected our bag and jumped into a taxi which would take us to Sergey’s house. We were exhausted and glad for the first real seat of the afternoon. Taxis in this country (as in most countries) hear a tourist talk and the price goes up. Sergey has told Yulia that it should cost no more than 16rubles to get to his. We set off and realise that this taxi is probably left over from the German occupation. It is pumping toxic exhaust fumes into the back of the car. I become increasingly nauseous and my headache builds 10 fold. Sergey lives in the military district of Minsk and as we enter the area we notice numerous military facilities. I don my glasses as a makeshift disguise as I know I am on the military most wanted list. We arrive and we both stumble out of the taxi in a haze of exhaust fumes, instantly relieved to breath in the fresh air of the forested area. The taxi driver says the trip is 40rubles. Yuliya refuses to pay and gives the driver 20. Harsh words are exchanged and the taxi driver slams the door and drives off in a cloud of dusty exhaust fumes. Yuliya won this battle despite the attempted gassing.

We are greeted with the usual friendly gusto by Sergey and Natasha. I want a bath and to change my clinging-on clothes but am told that dinner is ready. I sit and notice shot glasses are prepared for me and Sergey. I say that it may be best to stick to alcohol free drinks tonight. He pours me a large shot of cognac. Fuck it. Whilst in Rome. Natasha produces tonights tea of various dishes with the centre piece being slow cooked pork joints cooked in beer. They are fabulous. Surprisingly after a few shots of alcohol I feel better than I had all day and we drink and eat into the night. The conversation is translated in its usual way and Sergey is very patient with me as I type phrases to translate into my phone.the bottle of cognac is finished and Sergey produces large glasses of beer. As always with Sergey we discuss politics and differences in social systems between Belarus and Britain. One of the things I did find out that Belarus has no welfare support for the working able people. If you won’t work you get no benefits and in addition, because you are not working you can obviously afford to not work and therefore you get taxed for not working. Now that is a system that would be of benefit in England with its lax welfare system. This is why the unemployment levels are low in Belarus because people can’t afford not to work… funny that.

Yuliya and Natasha go to bed, and Sergey and myself have an awkward drunken chat about wives, children and how we are the best of friends and we would one day bring world peace. Amazing what a little cognac can do. I am finally allowed to go for a bath at 1am and debate whether to burn my undergarments rather than take them back to the farm for Tania to deal with (we aren’t allowed to use the washing machine before you start accusing me of laziness).

Yuliya is asleep when I get to bed and contemplate awaking in 5 hours for another early morning trip to the station and back to the farm. The room holds steady and I am able to drift relatively easily into sleep.

Steve x

Day 11:

I am never drinking again. The pain from my liver as it attempts to rid my poisoned body of the toxins is evident again. Sergey I am glad to see looks just as rough as me, and he has work to go to today. I just needed to make it to the train then I could sleep this thing off. We get out of bed and head to the kitchen for a coffee. We are offered breakfast but I really didn’t fancy anything. Packing the bag is easy today apart from having to wrestle my underpants from last night into the laundry bag. We are quickly ready to get a taxi back to Minsk station to catch the train. We say our goodbyes (each one becoming sadder and sadder as we only have a couple left) and thank Sergey and Natasha for their hospitality and their company over the last couple of weeks.

Sergey has booked a taxi and I am told not to speak at all to see the price difference. Drivers in Belarus, and specifically in Minsk, do not seem to adhere to any speed limits. Our driver puts his foot down and what appears to be a rally cross event undertakes and overtakes cars left and right. He maxes his car at 60mph through the streets of Minsk during rush hour traffic. There are several moments that he slams the breaks to avoid on coming traffic or pedestrians ( as we all lurch forwards trying to avoid broken noses on the seat or dash in front) and then continues with his foot to the floor until the next obstacle. As you can expect the trip took significantly less time than yesterday. We arrived, luckily , unscathed and I was keen to know the price. He charged 12roubles. Thieving robbing bastard last night!!!!

We made our way into the station and after taking some cash out for the remainder of our stay discovered the cure for my hangover. Now I am not keen on having Western foods when away and even at home I don’t really like Macdonald’s or equivalent fast food joints but the station has now got a Burgerking. I ordered a XXXL burger and got a couple of bottles of Pepsi. We made our way down to the train. The train we were getting into was the Moscow to Brest train and therefore everything was slightly upgraded for the longer distance to provide more comfort. The beds in the carriage were material lined rather than wipeable plastics the cabins provided charging points but the best thins was that the toilets had toilet seats rather than a metal rim. I would enjoy this aspect of the trip immensely.

We settled into the cabin and ate our bounty from Burgerking. This was pure hangover heaven. I jumped onto one of the top bunks and started my blog from Sunday. I drifted in and out of sleep and the journey passed quickly and my hangover resides to a distant past. No more hard liquor for me this holiday. This will be no problem as I will be the only one who will drink it on this trip and I don’t really want to. Although I know there are 2 bottles of Vodka at the farm so I will see what I feel like over the next couple of days. We are planning to rest for the final few days with no plans for any parties or visitors. The weather is meant to get better from tomorrow and we are due to have some balmy 30 degrees sunshine. I have decided that my leg is at the point where I will risk some lake swims over the next few days and hopefully not get infected. It has healed very well and there is no sign of any infection.

We get back and the kids are overjoyed to see us. We give them the presents that we have brought. I spend the afternoon lying out of the sun and writing the last 2 days of my blog. Although warm there is a cooling breeze so the kids remain in and play games and get sucked into the electronic devices with the YouTube etc. I realise that I have been blogging about writing my blog so I am going off for a walk.

The evening is beautiful and I reach a good pace despite the head wind. Although still tranquil the canal walks are becoming tedious and repetitive. I need to find other trails for the last few days of my holiday as I need to burn off the weight I ate and drank over the last few days. I walk until the sun starts to set in a glorious sunset. With the moon rising above the horizon I feel it is good to be alive and indeed survived the last few days without alcohol poisoning. I have managed 11kms by the time I return to the farm.

On Thursday we are going to visit the Belarusian Father Christmas in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. In this country he is called Father Frost and he has a daughter called the snow maiden and his wife Mother Winter this place is one of the most magical places I have ever visited. I would love to come at Christmas. The children have been a few times and love it. Father Frost has a beautiful house that he lives in and comes out and greets the children and can talk in all languages. There are also open cages where numerous animals live like bears. It is an excursion I truly look forward to and look forward to tellingly about.

Anyway I’m going to have a late tea and get my head down I want to do 20km tomorrow although I may have to do it in 2 stints as Yuliya and Dasha want a walk in the evening. I shall post this blog as a double post

Steve x


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