Left Behind, Minsk
Wednesday, 11 August 2010 01:22
DSC_0953Minsk was our following destination after Grodno. Although city was almost completely destroyed after 2. world war it has been rising up again. Wide and long streets, huge parks and the Statue of Lenin welcoming people as in all other Soviet cities.

Red coloured St. Simon & Helen Cathedral is one of the few constructions survived from the war that can be easily noticed among other buildings. As in Grodno here we can see the typical Soviet houses and those minibuses which are called mashrutkas. However we are getting used to the Cyril alphabet sometimes it causes to get lost in the city.

DSC_0434Belarus is one of the countries in Europe which has no costs. On the other hand we can feel the disturbing humid and high temperature. Since there is no sea or natural lake in the city an artificial lake was constructed in the city centre. This  region is assumed as most popular and expensive neighborhood for living in Minsk. Also there is an island on this lake. As we walk through the bridge which connects the island to the land, we reach to a door where dozens of locks are kept. These locks are hanged to the door by the people who got married to last their marriage and love for all their life. In addition to this tradition, married couple leaves money in front of the statue of a crying angel again on the island. Brides wishes a happy marriage by means of touching the angel statue. It is not difficult to figure out which part of the angel is touched most. The monument on this island symbolize the mothers whose child were died in the Afghanistan war. That is why this island is called as "island of tears".

Comparing with other European cities there are less cafe and restaurants in Minsk. Night clubs are the most popular places for weekend activities as expected. It was not surprising to see Turkish speaking people in the safe and peaceful streets of Minsk because there are many Turkish firms here for business purposes.

Our travel wind is blowing again. Now it is time to move to more North towards Russia through Baltics. First destination in Baltics is Vilnius of Lithuania. We will write our observations about Baltics soon.
For pictures of Minsk visit section Travel Notes.
Traveling back in the time, Grodno
Sunday, 01 August 2010 15:15
We left Krakow by a night train. Lonely and quiet... Our train was heading to Bialystok. After eight hours of journey, we reached Bialystok, last major city before the Polish-Belarussian border. There were four more hours for the take-off of the train which will take us across the border, to Grodno. We decided to spent this time wandering in the streets of Bialystok. Unlike many other Polish cities, Bialystok is more like an unknown city. Not very big anyway. It's possible to see the effects of Russian architecture in the city. We are obviously closer to Russian territory.
We returned back to train station when the take off time is close. We would obviously travel back in time, it was clear after we saw our train to Grodno. Passengers are usually elderly, who went shopping to Bialystok. Our journey was quiet and peaceful until the border but it changed after we got closer to the border. Turkish passport is very interesting for everyone. First Polish border police starts to ask questions. No need to say that everyone in the train keeps looking at us suspiciously. I am not quite sure if they ever saw a Turkish passenger on this train.
Afterwards its turn for Belarus police. A police officer with a dull, dark green uniform, a big hat starts asking questions in Russian. His front teeth must be gold and silver. He doesn't speak English, we communicate with him in a very basic body language. The guy who sits next to us smile and say the following words which summarizes everything clearly; "You are very interesting people"

After a while, our train comes to Grodno train station. We see that the police officers has some precautions outside. The reason for the precaution becomes clear in a few minutes; the passengers of the train get out and start running to the building. They want to get into the building as soon as they can since passport and luggage controls take a considerable time. We are not in a hurry, our passports will be interesting for them and we will have to wait anyway.

As expected, we are the last for the controls. Everyone leaves and we two keep waiting among many police officers with letters from Cyrillic alphabet on the walls. This must be a movie scene or a dream. All the process takes 1 hour and 15 minutes. The police officer we met in the train also keeps track of the process here. Our national identities and signatures are also examined as well as our passports. The time we spent is relatively good because we learnt that some of the people who came here before had even some blood tests.

It seems that we had a travel back in the time around 30 years while we pass the Polish-Belarus border. There are troleybuses, old cars and minibuses (saw them first time after Turkey). What interesting is, there are attractive girls in these old minibuses. What a contrast !
There are different examples of Orthodox and Catholic arcihtecture in Grodno. The city is not very crowded. Its even impossible to see a tourist around. The only language we hear is Russian. Money is another difficult topic for us. 1 Euro is around 4000 Rubles. The banknotes have a large spectrum and thus we have many banknotes. We don't even understand whether what we bought is cheap or expensive. Except this, the biggest problem for us is Cyrillic alphabet. We don't understand anything, it is impossible to find our ways on our own.

Night life is another interesting topic. Beautiful and attractive girls dance with the guys from 1970's all the night.

An important note about Belarus is registration. You have to register yourself within three days you come to the country. It is an old procedure remaining from USSR years but this is how everything is controlled.

We are leaving Grodno tomorrow and heading to Minsk. We have to start getting prepared for Russia, looking forward to take on the Trans Siberian...
Note: You can see Grodno pictures in the Travel Notes section.