Friday, 24 July 2009

Weekend in Lagorsk, Belarus

For our last weekend in Belarus, at the end of June, our friend Olya invited us to go and stay with her family for some proper Belarussian hospitality and culture. So we headed to Lagorsk, a little way outside of Minsk, initially on the wrong bus of course. Lagorsk is not far away from the capital but you don't have to go far to get into the countryside. We had a very memorable weekend which made it pretty hard to leave - if the visa hadn't expired we might just have stayed.

Olya taking some pictures near her home.

Fishing lake outside Lagorsk.

The area was littered with beautiful small villages, flower meadows from the low intensity farming they practice and lots of wildlife.

Despite being in the country for two months, we hadn't had our first sauna yet. Saunas are a serious business here and we were given a serious cleansing with some birch twigs while wearing only these very practical hats. The experience was followed in the traditional way with a few vodkas, salted beef and wild mushrooms. The forests were just filling with berries and lots of people were out picking wild strawberries which can fetch a good price at the market.

Olya's mum kept producing pancakes (Blini) with honey from the back garden. Her dad is a forester and keeps bees in his spare time. This is a very popular past-time in Belarus and the value to the countryside is recognised with beekeepers being given tax breaks. Note the lack of gloves - he's quite hard and took me quite easily in an arm wrestle after a few vodkas.

On the Sunday we visited the nearby memorial at Katyn which commemorates all the hundreds of villages burned by the Nazis during WWII (or The Great Patriotic War as it is known in Belarus). The memorial lies on the site of the old village of Katyn. The monument depicts a man who returned to the village after the event to find his grandson. There's a chimney stack for every house that stood there and a bell on each that tolls every few minutes. Remembrance of the war and the country's eventual victory against occupying forces is frequent and not just once a year as in the UK. For example newly wed couples all visit memorials after their ceremony and place flowers there.

The Victory in the war is still an important political point and reminders are everywhere. Many plaques with strong messages and Communist symbology stood around the site.

On a lighter note, Belarus has some interesting cuisine. One example popular with us was Gil - stringy cheese smoked in beer!

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