I had a bunch of notes about Belarus, they also got lost. This is being written 6 months later.
My main memory of the ride was large swathes of empty greenness and very smooth roads with barely any cars, and some glorious bus stops. There’s a main road that connects Vilnius and Minsk, but it seemed like there were barely any towns along it at so I took a detour
Unsurprisingly, there were a fair number of victorious-looking Soviet-style statues whenever I got to each town. I
Now that I carry a phone, my first time talking with Belarusians (outside of the border) was trying to buy a SIM card. I’d done research before hand which meant I didn’t have to have the plan explained, just find the MTS store and walk in. While they were remarkably surprised to have a non-Russian speaking foreigner, one of the two ladies knew a couple of words of English. The SIM cost 12 BYN (6 euros) and so I gave them 20 BYN, not having anything smaller. The lady thanked me and then went off to look after another customer. It wasn’t until she looked up for the 3rd time and saw me still sat there that she confusedly came over. It turned out that she’d decided that while my sim card came with 1000 minutes, and she had seen my visa would expire in 10 days, I clearly had wanted the other 8 BYN in credit. A bit of persuasion suggested her that I might struggle to make that many calls and I got my change, well 6 BYN anyway. Who could possibly need to learn Belarusian?
The other time, I was looking for water. I stopped at a petrol station and walked inside waving my water bottle around. The man at the counter filled it up and then started talking to me. My awful Russian meant that we couldn’t talk too much, but we still seemed to entertain ourselves for half an hour. He told me his name was Bob (although his name tag definitely suggested it was Vladimir) and pointed me out to every customer who came in. At first it was just ‘His name is Dominic. He’s from Manchester.’, but after I’d found a map and showed him where I’d been, he was spending a good couple of minutes per customer introducing me. As well as the water, Bob and his friend Natasha offered me a cup of coffee, an ice cream and we had the joys of a photo before I left.
In Minsk, I got to stay with Aleksander from Warmshowers. He had been a great help in getting the tourist visa, and was a wonderful host when I was there too. As a visitor, he had to take me to get registered which we tried to do one day, but turned up a bit too late to get it done in time so we got to go back the next day. Minsk is of course full of soviet architecture, but my favourite building is the library. You can see a video of it below. Outside of that, the main touristy thing we did was going to a Brazilian festival, which included a performance by a local group called Drum Ecstasy. The best thing about them was that they decided that the drill was a completely valid instrument, and played it – because of course.
Drum Ecstasy – playing with a drill
Aleksandr did a wonderful job of putting me in touch with his friends along the way from Minsk to Poland. It was just the first night that I didn’t know where I was sleeping, and that of course resolved itself. I was looking for a funny looking building that my Belarus app said was nearby. It was located in a cemetery. While I was going through the backstreets of a town, a car stopped next to me and a man in his 50s or 60s called Vladimir got out. I showed him the picture of the building, and he signaled for me to follow him. I did and not content with me having seen the cemetery he decided I had to see some other building, so I got to follow him down another road. When I got off the bike, I thought he was inviting me somewhere but wasn’t sure, so I called Aleksandr who acted as a translator. Yup, Vladimir lived a couple of kilometers away and I was invited to his for the night. I accepted, because why not, and made my way to his rather humble place. I got the tour, which included a garden and an outhouse containing a fantastic sauna/shower combination. I also found his interior design magical, and you can see the inside of his kitchen in the video below.