Belarus, Minsk and the National Ice Hockey Championships


I’ve crammed more cultural and tourist stuff into the past two days than I’ve managed in months of getting pissed up in bars around the world.  This is due in no small part to traveling with my Czech friends, who of course have their own car.  So up and down the country we zip, visiting sights ranging from the historical to the comical.  It’s a total hoot, and a real stroke of luck that I’m getting to see stuff I wouldn’t normally have managed.  Like old Father Frost.

Father Frost is the Belarussian equivalent of Santa Claus.  He lives in a forest in a national park, and you can visit him all year round.  This is just too tempting for my companions to ignore, so we pay him a visit.  A state employee who sits in a log cabin and waits for kids to yell at him.  With a ridiculously fake long white beard and hair, he comes out if you call, and starts ranting something in Russian.  He’s surrounded by surreal and creepy wooded sculptures of fairy tales and myths, and it turns out to be quite entertaining.  Apparently it all kicks off at Christmas as you would expect, with thousands of visitors everyday.  All those screaming kids.  No wonder his hair’s white.

Across country and Belarus is littered with old Soviet statues and memorials.  Particularly spectacular is the fort at Brest, which contains some incredible rock carvings, and harks back to times behind the iron curtain.  We whisk from site to site, filling the day with experiences.  I’m enjoying myself, as it’s reminding me of my time in Russia many years ago.  I have a penchant for old Soviet iconography and propaganda.  I find it fascinating.  It’s worth a visit here if you do too.

Minsk is pleasant enough, but lacks the charm of Tallinn or Vilnius as you might expect.  It’s certainly more of a concrete jungle.  Communist tower blocks dominate the skyline, and in truth, the outskirts are quite ugly.  Whoever designs these things should be put up against a wall.  The old town has its appeal, but I can’t for the life of me find a Belarussian flag sticker for my guitar.  As the hockey match fast approaches, I’m running out of options.  For the love of god Belarus – and other countries take note – make a sticker of your flag!  No I don’t want a magnet.  No I don’t want an actual flag.  I just want a damn sticker.  I’m in a stinking mood as the shops close.

I’ve opted to move faster, so this means I won’t be making my original planned quarter-final of the ice hockey championships.  As the Czechs are playing tonight, our kind couch surfing host manages to get me a last-minute ticket, so the evening is spent cheering the team against the French.  I’m not a great lover of ice hockey really.  It stops and starts too much, and I find more enjoyment scanning the crowd.  It’s an exciting game sure, but I just can’t buy into it.  The Czechs win 5-4 which obviously pleases my companions.  I’ll stick to football, and watching the stunning Belarussian in front of me.

My plans have changed somewhat.  Things are afoot.  As much as I would like to extend my stay, I need to be somewhere by a certain time.  It’s the fastest I’ve ever seen a country, but largely thanks to my Czech friends, I feel I’ve visited much more here than in places I’ve spent longer.  But on the morrow I will undertake what appears to be the most challenging hitch to date; Minsk to Kiev; and unstable Ukraine.



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