Jun. 5th, 2013

khar_muur: (khar_muur07)

A quick stop to get some cakes to boost us up, then off to the border we go. Sparrows have built nests between and under the ceiling structures, and they whoosh above the queuing cars and lorries. Past the initial check-up the radio only plays Belarusian schlagers.

The amount of paperwork it takes to get to (and out of) Belarus is simply incredible. I keep thinking, "This is why EU. This very thing." They check our luggage every chance they get, and stall us due to some minor details in our documents, but after two hours we're done with it all and on Belarusian soil. It's warm. Fields and meadows everywhere. The road is brand new and in excellent condition.

Horse carts, doll houses, broken-down houses, storks flying over our heads, little rivers, forests. Cows, sheep. More cows. People working in the fields. Warnings for potential speeders ("Your licence will be revoked"). This country is extremely flat, and the highest point stands at 250 metres high.

TomTom takes us through Valožyn, which has us confused a while, but I consult the map, and everything is in order.

Overall I get the feeling that this country is run on strict rules and regulations, with little tolerance for deviants of any kind.

Approaching Minsk, the first thing we see are enormously tall buildings at the horizon. The closer we get, more buildings appear, then suddenly we're smack-dab in the middle of a 60's inspired science fiction metropolis, with buildings tall as the sky, neatly in rows, streets pristine and colours harmonious. Some SU era houses look unpolished—in fact, everything only seems to be either brand new or Soviet, nothing is older or in-between. I begin to understand what a belarusian fellow told us at the border. "You must visit Minsk", he'd said, "beautiful city, new city!"

We meet with my family by the Palace of Republic, a ginormous multi-column building that is impossible to miss, even amongst the other pompousness that is this city. We shoot some pics at the plaza, then we must carry on with the journey. I dread that we have yet another border to cross today.

The southern side of Minsk offers far less dramatic views, and sci-fi turns into modern Europe. Soon we're back at the countryside, with the endless fields, road construction sites and colour-coordinated cow herds. The police randomly stops both of our cars to check our documents. A little dog is trying to cross the heavily trafficked road, which breaks my heart. Everyone drives quite recklessly here, and there are lots of new cars on the highway.

Our plan now is to drive straight to Kiev, Ukraine, ETA 2:45 AM. The evening proves uneventful, and we watch the sun set at around 10 PM. This part of Belarus resembles the Carelian Russia in many ways, from the colourful but shabby houses to the weird bus-stops and the constant sightings of smoke from, one assumes, burning trash. The only significant difference is the quality of the road.

The four stages of Belarus are: 1) field 2) forest 3) tiny village, and 4) Minsk.

When we cross the border, the cars get sprayed with disinfectant. Getting out of Belarus is surprisingly painless, and into Ukraine the only additional nuisance (besides the mosquitoes) is an officer who searches both cars and asks strange questions, such as if we've got tazers, or either girls or drugs in our car—the guy's pronunciation was quite interesting. Well, we had none of those in any case, and got to be on our way.

It's stupid o'clock and still we drive towards Kiev, current ETA being 4:31. It sure paid off to get those two good nights in a row. Roads here are more random chance than in Belarus.

First impression of Kiev: shabby. We arrive at 3:51 AM, ogling at the blinking lights, lorries parked in the middle of the road, and very dodgy buildings. This looks a lot more like Russia than Belarus, only messier. Huge billboards dominate the cityscape. Some new buildings resemble the sci-fi ones at Minsk. On the other side of the river Dnjepr is clearly the newer and cleaner part of the city, also one mind-bogglingly gigantic statue. Clearly, this city has it all.

I'm posting this update a little late, since our hostel's Wi-fi didn't reach our room or, specifically, my bed.

khar_muur: (khar_muur07)

This hostel is incredibly shabby. What better way to start a day than a dry shower and a toilet that doesn't flush? Yes, there's currently no water in this damn hostel.

Amazingly enough, there's yet another raw restaurant available, and even our omni company likes what they've got. After that, we plan a little, and walk through the city centre to the Dormition Cathedral to see the cave monastery. Unfortunately, we arrive too late, and take a stroll around the historical site around the cathedral instead. It's hot day, and we're all dripping sweat, walking up and down the old stairs and ramps around the monastery gardens. Sister buys a traditional embroidered shirt. Failed to buy a card. Still haven't sent any cards, but I promised, so I shall.

We loiter around town, and visit a high-end restaurant called Whisky Corner, and confuse the very polite and orderly waitstaff by ordering silly things like fries and fruit. The fruit plate is huge (700g, they always state portion sizes in menus here), and I'm given a fork and a knife. So there I am, in a fancy ukrainian whisky restaurant, cutting mega-sized grapes in half with a knife and fork, marinated in a whole day's worth of sweat and dust, feeling like one big exclamation mark.

A random guy asks us for light, then pot, but we haven't got either. Back at the hostel, I'm happy to notice the water's back. We'll try the caves again tomorrow, as well as The Great Patriotic War Museum and adjacent previously mentioned ginormous statue, called Mother Motherland.

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A Journey in the Dark

March 2016

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