The first major outing from the site was on the "weekend" (calendar
days Wednesday and Thursday, but it's easy to forget that when you
started the week on a Friday not a Monday). Five of the foreigners and
one lovely Belarusian lady, Sasha, piled onto several buses to reach
Polatsk, the most ancient city in Belarus (first mentioned in 862).
There, we were met by a local archaology professor and many of her
hospitable students, who took us on a walking tour of town. We passed
the center of the world monument, another monument to the letter "w"
(the only letter that Belarusian has different from Russian, and I
suppose when you lack a strong identity, it's important to grasp at
anything to be proud of!), the town's Lenin statue, the place where a
cathedral once stood, the ancient riverside street (which reminded me
of Arrowtown, a riverside town in New Zealand), and the ancient
cathedral. We saw the merging of the river Dvina River and the Polata
Creek, and admired the ancient Pagan stone upon which the lovely
ancestor Prince Boris decided he needed to mark with a cross (but
which is still sought after for fertility blessings). They took us to
see the university (which reminded me a lot of Akhawayn in Morocco
because of its newly renovated-ness) and their dig next to a
fascinatingly decrepit deserted house.
The next day (after getting an internet fix, and discovering all sorts
on financial pains in the arse), we headed in the rain to the next
town of Vitsebsk, another ancient city, which also happens to be Mark
Chagall's birthplace. We tried to find his art museum, but ended up at
his old house instead. It was barely two rooms, and certainly a
wake-up call to the living standards in this area. I find Belarus'
history quite fascinating. How can such a huge place (half the size of
Poland!) exist that so few people know about? It was the area where
almost all of the Russian Jewry came from (as they were restricted to
this area), and has passed hands from the ancient Rus of Kiev, to the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania, to Poland to Hitler to the Soviets and now
independence! It really is right in the middle of Europe. The two
towns we visited were actually part of Russia, yet with such large
Belarusian communities, so they were added to the new Belarusian
Soviet Socialist Republic when it was created in the 1920s and 30s.
Pics: letter w monument, lenin statues-beshankovich, vitsebsk,
polatsk, learner sticker, decrepit house, Chagall statue
This is an interesting "learner driver" sticker.... required everywhere!