Back from Belarus
September 12, 2014
As seems to be the new pattern here, I return with a trip report— I spent last week in Minsk. After I went there this past spring, I said I’d love to go back, and as it happened, my job wanted to send me again. Last time I stretched my report into five parts (starting here), but this time I’ve not got the energy; I came down with a cold/sinus thing a day or so after I got back, and it feels like a struggle to just sit here and drink cup after cup of homeopathic tea.
This trip I didn’t have to go alone but had a companion, a colleague who was going to meet up with the team working on his module areas same as I was meeting with my teams. We left from Detroit on a Saturday evening and connected through Amsterdam to Minsk. I’m not sure if we came into a different arrival hall than I did last time or if there had just been a renovation, as the booths to buy health insurance were not hidden upstairs but right on the main level. We had no problems clearing immigration or finding the driver to take us to the hotel. It was late afternoon when we checked in, which left us time before dinner to take a walk to Independence Square and back, with me pointing out various landmarks. We had dinner at the hotel, something I hadn’t tried last time, before retiring to our rooms to rest our jet lagged brains and bodies.
The work part of the trip went pretty much as I expected, with me sitting in a conference room answering questions and doing demos for various combinations of people working for the firm my company has partnered with there. Someone took us to lunch every day, with draniki (potato pancakes) always on offer. In the evenings, though, instead of someone taking out out every night like they had when I was there on my own, they left us to our own devices the first few nights. We did not do the stereotypical American thing and go to McDonalds, but instead tried a cafeteria at the underground shopping mall, a fancy restaurant on the top floor of a building off Independence Square, and a cozy basement eatery in a neighborhood I hadn’t been in before. There were English menus in all, though sometimes the translations left things unclear so we weren’t always sure what we’d ordered.
Thursday night we went with a group to what they translated as a “beer restaurant”, where we listened to a bar band, shared a platter with 3 kilos of grilled meat, and sampled fermented beverages from all around Europe. Friday we knocked off work a few hours early and went on an outing to Mir Castle, about an hour and a half outside the city. Our hosts were apologizing because it was a small castle, and not all original construction, but we assured them it was quite a treat for our eyes, as we only have castles created for theme parks at home. The elaborate decor in one of the dining rooms was worth the trip in itself, with patterned tiles on the imposing stoves and intricate and colorful carvings covering the ceiling. After the castle, we went to a nearby park with a palace, walking around the grounds as the sun set.
I think my colleague would have liked to head home on Saturday, but my trip got nailed down first, and I had asked to stay until Sunday so I’d have more time to explore (since who knows if I’ll ever be back). Our hosts arranged for us to attend a big party their firm was throwing that evening, which left the morning and afternoon free for sightseeing and shopping. I got up earlier than my colleague and did some wandering on my own before we met up for a self-guided walking tour of our own design, with stops along the way to buy souvenirs and a return to the hotel via the metro.
The party was held at Dreamland, a small amusement park in the city limits. There were numerous food and activity stations as well a selection of the rides available to all guests. We didn’t do everything, but I put on my “good sport” persona and tried a lot more than my colleague anyway. After three or four hours, the party was still going strong but we were not, so we begged off and made our way back to the hotel, strolling through a part of the city I hadn’t had a chance to spend time in before, then one I had, then on to the metro.
Sunday was completely consumed by travel, again connecting through Amsterdam. Since the last time I flew back to the US, the new rules about electronic devices had gone into effect, and that added frustration to the layover as we had to remove all our devices and chargers and cords and get them scanned separately, which made the line move super slowly as the screening area wasn’t setup for people to do all that unpacking and repacking, much less have a good spot for the random power up checks to take place. But we made our connection and made it home on time. My colleague’s bag did not, but he reported it showed up the next day.
It was a good trip, though tiring. I would still like to go back, but I’m not sure if that will happen. The company we’re working with said they’d like me to return; I just don’t know if my company’s travel budget and workload will accommodate that. I hope so, since there are definitely places around the city I haven’t gotten to see yet and others I’d like to spend more time in.
If you want to see more of Minsk, I narrowed down the many, many photos I took on my trip to the ones in this set.