We have arrived in Minsk, settled into our apartment in yручча (Urucha, a district on the northeast side of the city), and started exploring the city. I’ll meet colleagues at Belarusian State University next week.
We were met at the airport by Vadim, a Belorussian who works for the U.S. Embassy and speaks fluent English. Vadim helped us get to the hotel where we stayed until securing a place to live, get our rental squared away, navigate the bureaucracy of registering to be in the country legally, and learn a little about the transportation system and location of the spots where we will live and work. We would have been a bit lost at first without Vadim. He’s a great guy!
We visited the National Library of Belarus on a cool rainy afternoon, but the rain didn’t dampen our spirits much. Here we are with the library behind us. This crazy glass structure is more than 20 floors tall and the central part of it is a rhombicuboctahedron, which I think of as a diamond (rhombus) that is cube-shaped eight times over (octahedron). Outside the library is a statue of Francysk Skaryna, the man who brought the printing press to Belarus in the early sixteenth century.
I didn’t get to see their holdings very much since we were mainly interested in looking at the structure from the inside, including spinning balls in fountains, artwork celebrating the printing press and the spread of knowledge around the world, as well as frescoes and murals and other art pieces circling around the base of the building. The art was anything from illustrations of Adam and Eve to gorgeous colorful iterations of Belarusian folk tales. The kids found a golden carriage, and we were off to some fairy tale world in no time… only to return with a splash to the real world of present-day Belarus with Abigail, our four-year-old who tried to stop the spinning ball in the fountain but landed on the floor instead. Wet but no worse for the wear!
While I am refreshing my knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet and my tiny bit of the Russian language, I have been pleasantly surprised by the language apps available on our phones. With Voice Translator, I can speak English or Russian and get the translation (spoken and written) quite quickly.
Those of you who know my wife Beth (aka “Wonder Woman”) are probably not surprised to learn that she has found the shops we need, supplies we need, the banks we need, and the best places to get everything nearby — all without knowing the Cyrillic alphabet or the Russian language (although she’s beginning to learn them too). She goes out and finds stuff, surprising me with some great coffee and tasty pastries (name unknown). Black coffee is “Americano” over here, but most people seem to prefer Cappuccinos.
The kids have already made friends down on the playground in our courtyard area. The imposing granite Soviet-era buildings don’t stop them from enjoying life. A babushka (grandmother) on the playground with her two grandsons and little chihuahua was delighted to learn that we are here from America. Bonafide Americans are unusual here, but wannabe’s are everywhere. America means freedom.
Burger Kings and McDonalds are here in the city… and we ate at Papa John’s two nights ago. Waiters get a star-struck look in their eyes when they realize we are trying to communicate in English because we don’t really know Russian. (“It’s just like in the movies!” might be what they’re thinking.) We have a great view from our patio/deck area where we ate dinner last night. Life is good!