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Published: April 16th 2008
Alright, the best news first: I've made it safely back into civilization, i.e. the EU. Unsurprisingly, it's like a different world here, no more surly people, bad service, spitting as a form of expression, and no more Cyrillic! But how did it all come about?
After my last proof of life, I managed to catch the train from Kyiv to Minsk after 10 hours of waiting at the train station. Yes, I could have left my luggage in a locker there, but -behold!- the descriptions were all in Cyrillic, and since I prefer my luggage safely tucked away, I refrained from that plan and grudgingly carried it with me. I killed the time reading, going on the internet, and snoozing away with the head on my backpack.
The actual trip was nothing worth mentioning, the usual suspicious border guards, monolingual train attendants, and the mandatory Russian guy in my compartment, fortunately unable to hold a conversation with me.
I arrived at 6am in Minsk, with rough instructions how to get to my host's place. I had to take a bus, which wasn't so easy, since there were normal buses, marshrutkas (Mercedes sprinters...), trolleybuses, and trams. After confusedly walking around
for an hour, I managed to find the right bus, and went on without a ticket. I didn't know where and how to buy a ticket, so I just sat there, waiting for something to happen. And really, shortly before arriving at the right stop, a guy came up to me tocheck my ticket, and since I didn't have one, he fined me 7,000 Belarussian roubles, which is about 2.50€. Not bad for a bus ride, I daresay.
Having arrived at the right appartment block, I was greeted by a sleepy Belarussian guy, who told me where my room was, and I went straight to sleep until 12. My host Konstantin and his wife Julia were really friendly and hospitable people, and they didn't like to say something unless absolutely necessary. I was also about to find out that Konstantin doesn't like to lock the bathroom door when he uses the loo, that his wife announces she'll cook a traditional Belarussian meal, but then doesn't, and that her brother also lives in the flat, which came as a rather shocking surprise to me.
Minsk was surprisingly neat, compared to her sisters Kyiv and Chisinau, if you forget about the
One of the most important landmarks of Vilnius
ubiquitous Soviet architecture, and the Byzantine-style KGB headquarters. There are even a couple of green spots around the city, and it's not as grey as its reputation.
I can't say that there was a terrible lot to see, though, so I spent my time just roaming around and taking in the cultural experience, which turned out to be a bit more pleasant than in the big neighbour country to the South. Hell, some people even spoke English, and I was able to buy my onward train ticket to Vilnius without too much of a hassle. I wasn't too keen on staying longer than two days in Minsk, which is why I'm already here, enjoying the amenities of Europe.
The passport control at the respective borders was quite interesting. The Belarussian side was looking at my passport for 5 minutes, probably wondering what the fuck I was, and what I was doing in their country. I only showed my ID to the Lithuanian guards, to prove to myself I'm back in the EU, and they just had a quick glance at it, and gave it straight back to me. Sweet. No more feeling like a suspicious Western intruder.
first sign of decency after more than two weeks was the incredible friendliness of a bus driver (!) in Vilnius. First I got on, bought a 1.40LT-ticket from him with a 50Lt-note, which would have been enough to enrage the average bus driver, but he suavely gave me back the change. Then I told him where I want to go, and asked where I have to get off, and, despite his not speaking English, he explained it to me. It even got better: when we arrived at the street I was supposed to go, he stopped the bus, got out of his booth, and came back to me to ask which house number I have to go to. So I told him, and he was thinking for some time, then asking the people on the bus where it was, then assigning a girl with the task to take care of me, since he had to drive. So the girl got off at the same stop as I, since she lived closeby, and brought me to the place where I needed to go. I don't know if you can imagine, but after weeks of abuse, such unexpected friendliness was seriously warming
the cockles of my heart.
My host in Vilnius is a 28-year old mother, named Lina, with an 8-year old son, Audrius. She's a really nice and hospitable lady, and the kid is really cheeky, and tries to catch my attention all the time, mixed with an understandable intercultural shyness. But he already started learning English, so he was able to say what his name is in English, at least. Not bad for a kid that age. When I arrived, he was already fast asleep, so me and Lina just chatted a bit in the kitchen, drinking tea and eating some sort of apple pie.
Naturally, the reception I got already won me over for Lithuania, but today was what I would consider the best day of the whole trip so far. Yes, Vilnius is seriously that good. Lina showed me around a bit, we went to the University, to some of the numerous churches and cathedrals, then she went to fetch her son from school, and I went for a stroll on my own. I discovered heaps of great cafes, a lush vegetarian restaurant, a juice bar, and a plethora of fantastic architecture, friendly waitresses, helpful people,
Me, a wall
I am the flower in your dustbin
and an old-world charm that cities like Prague have lost a bit because of the abundance of tourists it gets. Vilnius feels like a well-kept secret, and it has a definite Bohemian atmosphere to it, not only in the self-proclaimed republic of Uupio, a small district full of artists, hippies, stoners, and other subcultural crowds. It felt a bit like Christiania in Copenhagen to me.
So I'm glad I've finally had a good day again, and a good travel experience on top of that! I reckon there's no denying that, I am a supremacist. I'm a Western European elitist educated vegetarian non-smoking multilingual pierced tattooed guy who abhors Arabs, Ukrainians, Russians, Christians, Muslims, jerks, fuckwits, you, your mum, your girlfriend, and probably you. That means, when I get out of my comfort zone, I get cranky, and want to be nursed by Mama EU with good service and a sterile sort of cleanliness. Of course, that conclusion doesn't rid me of my numerous past mistakes and embarrassments, or my abundant flaws of character, but, you know, I'm trying, and maybe I'm also traveling for that reason, to try and understand myself a little better, that is.
And the fact
that my personal well-being depends so much on a comfortable environment makes me contemplating, once again, "How fragile is the flame that burns within us all, to light each passing day?"
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