Category Archives: countries

Minsk (2013-10-08–2013-10-17)

It isn’t easy to write about places, where you spent much time. You remember only what you felt in that place at that time. So, for example, though I always mention Hanoi, I didn’t write even a single line about this city during my stay for almost one year. I hope I won’t get the same situation with Minsk, nevertheless I’ve spent only ten days in Minsk, not one year.

Although I liked Minsk as a whole, there were other reasons for a long stay. First, after Minsk I won’t meet old-known friends soon. Second, I treated my teeth there.

Dental tourism is quite popular in Belarus, since prices are significant lower than, for example, in Russia. Some clinics even offer all-inclusive service (accommodation, food, etc., including treatment as well).
It’d be cool if someone would cycle to Minsk 1000+ km only to treat his teeth, and then just cycle back home.

I think it isn’t worth to describe my tooth problem in detail. I’d say my tooth suffered a few years ago, when I was robbed in Moscow.
Belarusian dentist divided my life in two parts: the life with the original tooth and the life without it. For sure, I’m upset I have something artificial in my mouth, but actually there isn’t much to be sad as the rest teeth (31?) didn’t betray me yet.

Generally, it was my first visit of dentist in the whole life. It was interesting. Strange chair; drills, needles and saliva ejectors; doctor in a transparent mask; white cuttings of a tooth flying from the mouth and the smell of burnt cement. That was like a scene from sci-fi movie, when scientists work on some cyborg.

For a few days after the end of treatment I couldn’t remember, that I can smile widely now.

By the way, I was taking pictures of sellers in a marketplace when an old lady came to me and started shouting: “What are you shooting in here?! It’d be better if you’d go and take a picture of that Gypsy girl who asks for money, but has to be in school instead! Let people know about that from your newspaper.” I tried to reply patiently and kindly, but the old lady opened her eyes wider and shouted: “And he’s replying with such a devilish smile!”

I’m not surprised anymore, that Belarusians turn aside their eyes, when I ride near them and try to smile. Devilish smile!

Many foreigners complain, that Russians smile little. In my opinion, Belarusians smile even less, their face look concerned often.

But it seems the most greedy for smiles persons are pretty girls of Minsk. There are many beautiful girls in Minsk, but almost all of of them have a mix of arrogance, condescension, vacancy and some agitation. Hey, what problems have you got, enjoy the life, smile!
Though it’s common trend among many pretty girls. Simply in Minsk it’s more obvious because there is plenty of them.

In addition to watching girls and Minsk, I met my Russian ex-colleagues from Hanoi. Nowadays the live and work in Hanoi. Such a small world!

I was coming back after meeting with them, when I discovered a man’s body on the ground. I can’t say I always help to everyone, but in such cases I usually check if medical help is needed or a person just “takes a rest”. It was black man, I asked him about health in English and Russian, he replied back in pure Russian and asked to help him to go up.
He’d made an attempt to cross a road and was nearly knocked down by car. I started holding him. It was obvious he drank much, but still was able to move and talk, even though I needed to reask him ten and more times to understand at least a single word.

I was detected by a man who stood hear his car, and he started helping me. The black man didn’t lool like a homeless person, the supporting man told he’s probably a student. We decided it’d be nice if we can drive to the homeplace of the black man. But the black man replied about his homeplace only that he lives “on Earth” or “in Minsk”.

During our “conversation” we got to know, that the black man is named Vitalya (Russian name), that he drank with Armenians and watched ice hockey that day, and that he lives “in sin&rdquo. Sometimes he said distinctly: “I’m not a capitalist”.

We’d got to know his probable address, but he didn’t recognize the place when we’d come there. And when I called to named numbers of flats by intercom, people left confused. Hahah, imagine you live in Belarus, and someone is calling you at 1 а.m. and asking if you know black man Vitalya.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t help him more. We left him on a bench after many unsuccessful attempts to figure out where he lives. Vitalya, hope you are fine and you still live in Minsk!

Oh yes, probably I should write something about Minsk itself. About Statlin-style and Soviet-style architecture, about incredibly wide boulevards, about the national library that looks like a gigantic octahedron and has an observation deck, but you can’t see anything interesting from that deck; that the city looks nicer in the night, when you can’t see its gray colour; about policemen who made me remark about opened but empty bottle of beer and so on.

Oh no, probably I shouldn’t.

Vitebsk–Minsk (2013-10-05–2013-10-07)

Apparently, in two nights I’d spent in the dormitory, its residents got used to my bicycle in the corridor and became to consider it as a part of furniture: I’d found a long sock on the handlebar. Attentive Nastya made me sandwiches to eat on the road and gave dried mint, with this mint I don’t feel the presence of food remains in the tea at all.

It’s always unpleasant to go out of the city: traffic lights, incovenient turns, you need to think where to go next. You don’t feel it when you arrive in a city: you know you’ll be in a place very soon, you need to endure just a bit.
In this situation a GPS-navigator is really helpful, though I need to stop to get it from a pocket. Usually I just turn it on in the morning to write the track, put into a pannier, and then take it back in the evening only to turn it off.

Due to high-quality Belarusian roads and monotonous landscapes with fields going till horizon I felt sleepy. But then I turned to R114 road, it goes through a forest, the bicycle jumps on hummocks from time to time, no drowse anymore. Many locals go from village to village by bicycle.

In the evening the sun looked out and illuminated everything around, and then slowly burnt down in the sunset. I took my camera for a shot, and then found a sleeping place in twilights. It’s getting dark earlier with every new day.

The whole forest was covered by strange grass, I couldn’t view the actual ground. The grass curled and curled, your foot goes down for thirty centimeters when you step on this grass. Due to the grass it was hard to understand whether I found a flat place for sleep or not. Only in the morning, when the grass was pressed by my weight, it turned out the place wasn’t quite flat.

On the next day I had to go by M3 highway a little, but I quickly turned to the road leading to the Latygolichi village. After 20 km asphalt changed into disgusting unimproved road with sand, but my previous experience on the way to Smolensk didn’t teach my anything, or maybe I wanted more adventures, and I didn’t stop. Luckily, I still could pedal there, though it was a slow ride.

In Latygolichi I couldn’t find the continuation of the road, locals helped me, unimproved road changed into dirt road, it became easier for riding. It was getting darker, and I tried to go from the village as far as I could. Finally I’d stopped in a beautiful coniferous wood, but I put the tent up in the darkness.

There is one thing I haven’t got used to yet. It’s a fear my sleeping place will be discovered by people. There isn’t a big chance that something really bad would happen in this case, but this fear isn’t about changing the place in the night or smth. like this; it’s the fear of uncertainty. You simply don’t know the typical scenarios how the situation would go on if you are discovered. I think it has to happen two or three times, after that I won’t worry anymore.

On the third day in the afternoon I reached Borisov and saw it’s only 61 km left. Initially I wanted to go from Vitebsk to Minsk in 4 days without any rush. But, again, I didn’t want to use my previous experience and rushed toward Minsk. In Zhodino I went along a long fence, there is BelAZ and many gigantic vehicles. I rode with the torch not long time, illumination appeared in 5 km before the city starts, and I even became dizzy, because I understood I’m quite close to the destination point.

The Minsk’s main road artery, enormous Independence Avenue, pierces half of the city starting in the center and ending exactly in the place, where the road to Borisov starts. Many sightseeings of Minsk are located along this avenue, so, even before the time I’d reached home, I could watch much in Minsk.

At some moment I’d seen a sign of bike lane. It was supposed that cyclists should use the same sidewalks that pedestrians use. It’s a very strange idea. But sidewalks in Minsk are even wider than in Smolensk and Vitebsk, so I decided not to break the law (if it’s regulated by law). Near GUM (Main Universal Store) the bike lane ended up by a pedestrian subway. I got rid of my stupid idea to use those bike lanes and came back to the normal road.

A friend of mine, Anton, met me at home. A few years ago we were flatmates in Moscow.
Finally I got someone to drink beer. For some reason I furiously wanted it the last few days.

Belarusian border–Vitebsk (2013-10-03–2013-10-04)

Russia has open border with Belarus. You’re noticing there is a border only because there is a long queue of trucks waiting for customs check. If you go by car, you can race through the border and notice it only when you see that signs have changed the language.

I pedalled slowly close to lonely bored customs official and appeared in Belarus.

I heard much about high quality of Belarusian roads, so I was surprised the road didn’t become better, in fact it was even worse than in Russia. But it turned out that only the first few kilometeters were like this. After that I got quite good asphalt with very wide roadsides, you can ride there even with closed eyes, so safe you feel there. Later I made sure that it’s absolutely typical in Belarus for big enough roads (but some exceptions do happen sometimes).

Another interesting discovery was that even in village’s shops in Belarus you can pay by bank card, I didn’t need to find an ATM. Even in out-of-the-way places Belarusians use cards actively. Probably one of the reasons for that is high inflation in Belarus (1$ is about 9100 Belarusian rubles at the moment), so if you use cash, then eventually you’ll get too many banknotes.

Prices in Belarus are lower than in Russia, but I can’t say the difference is really significant. In the main meat and milk goods have lower price and taste better. Bread is also very tasty.

There were lesser forests, more fields. As in Russia there were different sculptures made from round stacks on many fields. Probably that’s tradition for the time after harvest. It’s funny to look at them, usually they look like some animals, bear, for example, or old man and old lady. But the most popular is caterpillar, it’s very easy to make a caterpillar using round stacks.

It’s only 50 kilometers from Belarusian border to Vitebsk, and I pedalled as slow as I could, because my host, Nastya, worked during the day. In spite of this I came early.

Nastya lives in a dormitory provided by plant where she works as a constructor of seeding-machines, syringe-machines and so on. The room was nice. It was more like a communal flat, not a dormitory. She slept in a room of her friend on the next floor, so I could fully use her room during the nights.

There was a ping-pong table and a man who had a ball. He agreed to gave us the ball, but only if we agree to play with him. After that he told us he drank five bottles of vodka with friends that day.
But even in that condition he played well, but very awkwardly doing impossible motions. Then his friends went for him, and he was absent for a few minutes. He came back more encouraged and played much better. It turned out they’d drunk another one bottle.

In Vitebsk I wandered for long time. I was in house-museum and art-center of Chagall, he is one of my favourite artists. There was a bit of utensils in the tiny house-museum and a small garden behind it, I wasn’t inspired; the art-center keeps some gifted Chagall’s pictures, that place I liked.

But the nicest thing in Vitebsk was quick transition of concrete jungles to small wooden houses. Just a few meters from the center of the city and the area looks like a village. Maybe I should live in a village someday; who knows, maybe my mission is to be a farmer.

Smolensk–Belarusian border (2013-10-02)

On the way to the Belarusian border I stopped at memorial complex in Katyn founded there by Poles. I asked a security guard to look after my bicycke. He told me there was a Polish cyclist a week ago. He had a weak tent, not suitable for downpour, and guards aloowed him to put the tent under their roof.

This place keeps very strong impression. There is a wooden cross and empty benches in front of it in a well-groomed forest. The names of the killed Polish officers are engraved on metallic, artificially rusted plates. A bell is hanging and the lower part of it symbolically goes down the base.

That day I’d spent my last Russian rubles. Initially I took 3 thousand rubles (less than 100 $) in cash, one thousand of it was spent on new pedals, gas and hat, everything else was spent on food. So it means even with unplanned purchases I spend less than 10 $ per day.

The closer I came to Belarusian border, the more sparse forest became, I found a place for the tent very close to the border.

When I’d installed the tent I figured out I’m thinking that even though it’s so nice to stay in a flat, but it’s very cool to sleep in a tent. It’s a felling of freedom.

Smolensk (2013-09-30 – 2013-10-01)

Sasha and his wife Katya offered me a separate room. I tried to enjoy what the civilization can offer me as long as possible: lied on the bed for long time, took a warm shower for long time, drank tea cup by cup. In the first day and night I felt very warm in the flat, though heating didn’t work yet. But Sasha and Katya wore warm clothes at home.

Previously on the road I got a problem with a pedal. I’d lost the plastic cap which protects the bearings against water and dirt. About three months ago I already got a problem with these cheap Chinese pedals, the ball bearings were smashed in a mess (have no idea what kind of metal was used for them), so that time I disassembled the pedals and put new bearings. But it was obvious that sooner or later I’ll have to change theses pedals. Sooner.

Sasha explained where the nearest bicycle shop is located, and I went there by tramway. It seems there are three tramway routes in Smolensk, coaches are either old soviet coaches (it’s nice to be shaked there) or new ones, I was very surprised there is free Wi-Fi in new coaches.

It turned out many shops and services don’t work in Smolensk on Monday. The shop was closed. I’d bought a new gas balloon (I thought the old one is nearly empty, but I could use it for 6 more days) and balaclava for the coming coldness.

The center of the city was renovated due to the celebration of 1150 years of Smolensk that happened a few days before my arrival.
Sleeping districts reminded the same districts in Moscow sometimes.
Almost all the streets I chose for wandering were very broad, sidewalks were broad as well.

On the next day I finally had bought pedals, found a host in Vitebsk, examined photos and played with Sasha and Katya’s dogs, they’ve got three lovely miniature schnauzers.