26 January 2011

The Capital

Minsk is a bigger city than we were expecting. We're not exactly sure why we thought the industrial, cultural, economic and administrative capital of Belarus would be anything other than big. Unfortunately, after being in Saint Petersburg for two weeks and then experiencing small town Belarus for nearly a week, we were less than excited about being thrust into a metropolis again so soon. Quaintness isn't really Minsk's thing, but there's an attractiveness to its bizarre severity.
For a city 80% destroyed during World War II, it has an overwhelming sense of history. Stalinist architecture towers over the streets, which are peppered with busts of Lenin and black marble memorials to fallen Belarusians. The country's history has seen a lot of death and the monuments erected don't try to sugar coat it. This one was in honor of countrymen who died in the Afghan War. The women in the statues are wailing with grief, eyes and mouths agape horrifically. There's also a Jewish Memorial in the city, that we never got a chance to see, which is comprised of statues, arms raised and faces emoting, lined up for the firing squad.
There are three easy ways to see the human side to any city, though, no matter how inaccessible or imposing it may seem. The first, is to do laundry. The laundromat Tatyana dropped us off at happened to be located within the big outdoor market. It seemed to be patronized by cleaning women doing large loads of bedding. We were probably the strangest walk-ins they've ever had.
The second is to go to the flea market, which our laundromat happened to be located right inside of. We grabbed two pork-fat filled mushroom barley soups and successfully convinced the man behind the counter that we didn't need any pizza. Then, I bought some toiletries from one of the little windows above. As overwhelming as they seem at first, it really is nice to just be able to point at what you want.
The third way to find the charm just about anywhere with a church is to take a stroll early Sunday morning. Minsk happens to have quite a few churches, mostly Russian Orthodox, and the day was just snowless enough to make walking around and people watching not only possible, but pleasant.

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