The next day, my primary focus was to get a train ticket to Moscow. Dragging my bag all over town, I was of to the Belintourist office. Although the lady at the desk spoke only Russian and French, she was very friendly and helpful. I obtained a ticket for the 7:00pm train to Moscow. A bargain at only a couple of million. What struck me most however, was when I walked to the Belintourist office, a small art market where they were selling all sorts of things, included a big, spiked club. I really wanted to have one, but figured that a 3 kilo club wouldn’t go down well with the police checks I would most probably encounter on regular intervals over the next couple of weeks. I hoped to be able to stop by at the end of my journey.
When at the Belintourist office, some guy started talking to me. He turned out to be English and to celebrate our mutual love for strange countries in Eastern Europe, we decided to go for a drink. Patrick was staying in Miiiinsk, visiting someone he met some time ago when he went for a regular holiday to Miiiinsk. The lady he was visiting was so surprised, when he went here for the first time, that people actually came to Miiiinsk out of their own free will, she immediately invited him over.
When walking towards the center of Minsk, we stopped at the Minsk international exposition center.We had to cross a street with no zebra crossings, where two police officers where eying us from the other side. One of them motioned that it was okay for us to cross. After doing so, the other officer came up to us and wanted to give us a fine for jay-walking. The two officers started to get into an argument with each other, while they really couldn’t communicate with us at the same time. We moved on.
The exposition center was big, open and completely empty. In the back of the building some people where working and we tried to get the attention of some semi-official looking people. When they concluded we where stupid foreigners we were told to wait and they started to prepare some plastic bags with goodies. An official ceremony, with the head of the exposition center, an interpreter and a lot of handshaking and welcomes later, we left with a book on Olympic Belorus, a t-shirt and some other minor goodies on the country and its Olympic history.
After a short spree on Russian beer, Patrick was off to a wedding (not his own, although his host was trying to set him up with a nice local girl) and I had decided to take in two museums. The first one was ‘The Museum of the Great Patriotic War’. The Great Patriotic War, by the way, is what ‘we’ generally refer to as the second world war. Considering the number of Russians that died in the second world war, it makes a lot of sense to call it Great.
The museum had explanations in two languages. Russian and Belorussian. The pictures, however, spoke for themselves. Definitely the most disturbing are series of photos where partisans are being executed by not-so-friendly looking but laughing Germans. And there’s a lot of these pictures. Some strange twist of fate eventually did liberate the Belorussians from one reign of terror, only for them to be hurdled in the next one.
The second museum I entertained myself with, was the ‘Belorussian State Art Museum’. Not bad at all, this museum has quite a nice collection of paintings. Some international, but mainly from local painters.
Afterwards, I went strolling around the city. There’s a nice park, right in the middle of the town, around the Svislach river. Actually it’s two parks, filled with kid’s rides, kiosks selling beer and shashlik, promenades to stroll, etc. A nice area to while away the hours, as a lot of the locals do too. I couldn’t help myself and decided to enjoy some of my time, sitting on one of the benches, drinking a beer (they only sell half-liters) and munching some very good shashlik. If you’re wandering what it sounded like, sitting there, click on the logo
to the right!
The shashlik filling my tummy, I hiked back to the train station to get on the train to Moscow. This time, it turned out, I was traveling second class. In my cabin where three more beds. Two at a lower level, doubling as couches during the day, and two higher up. Strangely enough, the higher beds are always cheaper, although they give you more privacy and let you sleep all day long if you would want it.
Anyway, I had two people sharing my compartment. Two big Russian guys that looked like archetypical Russian thugs. Broad shouldered, short-haired, square-faced, they packed large sporting bags. Both wore bad suits and changed, almost immediately after getting on the train, into loose gear; slippers, shorts and sweat shirt. I kindly asked if I should leave the room, for them to change, but no, since we where ‘men among each other’ it was okay, of course. However, would I have been a woman, they would have insisted on me staying.
The more quiet-one took one of the upper bunks and slept almost instantly. The second guy, on the other hand, just couldn’t stop talking. Discussing soccer, basketball, Russian politics and the current social situation in the former Soviet Union, we had to share tea, beer and, of course, vodka. Back then, I was still drinking vodka the wrong way, only small sips at a time. However, as I found out later (only then did I understand the strange looks when people where eying me drinking vodka), you have to drink your glass of vodka in one gulp. Yummy!
The guy that almost couldn’t stop talking had moved to Belorus because of his wife. They where on business and would go on to St. Petersburg the next night. I hesitated to ask what kind of business they where doing in St. Petersburg (them looking like the thugs they seemed, although they where both very friendly), but when I finally did, the guy only replied that they had to convince someone in doing business with them. Hmmmm. However, he turned out not be Russian at all. Originally coming from Turkey, he had lived in Romania before moving to Belorus.
After a couple of vodkas and the obligatory address-swap, I decided that the sheets brought in by the provodnik where just too inviting. I took a nap.