Nyet!


“Nyet” was the stern answer from the manager at the Pizza restauarnt in Grodno when we asked for a table for 4. But there is a table there for 3 free there, we could bring another chair over said Mike, “1,2,3″ counted the manager pointing at the chairs and “1,2,3,4″ he counted pointing at us, “Nyet”. As the others turned around to leave what looked like the best restaurant in the town Jon threw dignity to the wind clamped his hands together in a passing resemblance of praying and said as his nose rapidly grew an inch or two “but we have come all the way from England to here for a pizza, Anglichenka!” and immediately his face beamed and we were shown to a table! Weird? Perhaps, or perhaps not. We are clearly western Europeans and have occasionally been mistaken for Germans who possibly are still not popular here after the war. Almost everything we see here is post war and a quarter of the population was killed by the Germans with thousands of towns, cities and villages leveled by them, some 9 times.

The pizza restaurant was in Grodno, just over the polish border and one of the few towns to escape relatively unscathed from the war. It is a glimpse at a past, and a present that could have been, with a much more Western European feel to Buildings and even the people. Again, the parks were perfectly manicured and the streets spotless. There is, as was also the case in Soviet times, almost zero unemployment, presumably as you sometimes see groups of 5 or more people weeding one stretch of road side and as the average salary here is only a few hundred dollars a month its probably very cheap to do so. The small villages along the routes are easy to see as quaint with their wooden buildings often brightly coloured yellow and green (little taste) and their flower filled gardens and vegetable plots, that is until you realise they have wells and are probably freezing in the winter. Judging by the ladies selling a few apples by the road its a hard life in the countryside.

Before Grodno we had stopped at the only remaining primeval forest in Europe. We spent about an hour trying to buy the ticket to get in to the park and in the end managed to rent bikes which we obviously didn’t want to do! But as it was only £5 we couldn’t face the hassle of another hour trying to get the right ticket and a refund and just thought it was not a bad price to pay for a UNESCO site anyway. We had a lovely cycle through the park (all of it the wrong way round) and waived merrily at the ticket inspector lady on the way out, who looked a bit baffled that we didn’t stop and that we were going the wrong way, but as she clearly hadn’t been briefed on what to do in these circumstances she didn’t chase after us.

Driving on from the forest we stumbled upon probably the most uninspiring Unesco site we’ve ever been to. Whilst scientifically important – it was the location of a point that helped measure the size of the earth in the 1800′s – its not marked on the tourist maps at all, presumably as its a plaque by the road in a field. If we hadn’t had our guide to Unesco sites with us we would have been completely flummoxed as to what it was!

Mir on the other hand is a stunning Unesco site, and rightly so. We manage to park in the coach park with a wonderful view of the castle and spent 3 nights here at times attracting more attention than the castle!
We were even treated to a firework display in the castle grounds to celebrate the lavish wedding celebrations of the daughter of one of the richest men in Belarus. All in an area where some of the houses still have wells and life looks unchanged in centuries.

Our last Unesco site in Belarus was the Najasvizh palace, only 30km from Mir, which was more of a country home and whilst interesting didn’t appeal to us like Mir did.

So with one last night at Mir, we prepared to move on to the capital Minsk…

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