About : Europe

There are 3 very different parts to the ride. In Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland and Germany you’re in modern western civilization all kinds of amenities and support – fine dining and **** hotels to budget inns. You ride on nice, paved secondary streets, and especially in Germany, on a lot of spectacular bike paths. Crossing into eastern Europe, (Czech Republic and Poland) the roads are about the same, but the seleciton of accoodations goes down outside of the major cities. In Belarus and Russia the road selection and hotel selection outside of major cities goes way down – get support or bring camping gear.

Barysau 111k/69m***

4 September 2003
Barysau, Belarus
111km, 69 miles ***

(Note to Riders: it’s really only 80km from Minsk to Barysau (pronounced Barisov), but given gaps in cities and hotels in this part of the steppes, we had no other options. We did, however, ride 30 km past town and then had Alexandr and Yuri take us back to Barysau.)

Today started with little promise, but it turned out to be the among the most memorable days of of the europe2003 ride. Given our short kilometers day, we met in the lobby at 9:45am for departure. We rode right through downtown Minsk on an 8 lane road with more impressive government buildings interspersed by 4-6 story office/retail type structures. Within 10km we were down to 3 lanes and then down to 2 (in each direction) by 20km and then one by 30km. Just before the 30km point we planned a stop at the “Glory Hills” monument honoring the heroism of Soviet soldiers who won impressive victories over Hitler in these hills.

Sorry for the bad picture. As usual, it was a cold, cloudy, wet morning. We do get a couple hours of dryness each day. Here’s our lunch break at 60km point. Charlie and Alexandr are doing a map check, Yuri is doing a garbage run.

The only other picture we took on the ride to Barysau is of the sign entering the town, this one with Charlie and I in front of it. There just isn’t much other than farm fields and occasional forested areas around here. We dumped our stuff at the Berezina Hotel (the only one in Barysau – and like the rest of the city, pretty well run down) and then got back on the bikes and pressed on to make the following day easier.

Heading NE out of town we passed some interesting looking cemeteries. They were fenced in, and within that fencing were grave areas with fencing around them. Many of the tombstones had more than just name and date – they had a cameo or photo of the deceased. (We were later informed that these were Catholic cemeteries…)

Back on the M1 we came upon the first mileage (kilometerage?) sign with the distance to Moscow.

Charlie says this wasn’t the first, but it was the first one I could read. We also passed more wayside vendors – this guy selling mushrooms. We’ve learned that the woods around here are absolutely full of different kinds of mushrooms. Not only do rural peasants pick and sell them, town dwellers make forest runs and pick and picnic.

I’ve been looking for a good village photo, but the flatness of the land coupled with the small houses and vegetation make it difficult. Here’s an attempt.

This is representative. These villages seem to have electricity but not running water. There are no lawns – the yards are used for crops or animals, the occasional load of rough cut lumber, or other random commodity item. I took this photo while waiting for support to pick us up and take us back to Barysau. They arrived, and here’s Alexandr and Yuri putting the bikes on top of the Lada.

Thinking there was not much informative or entertaining in today’s update, when we got back to the hotel I washed up and walked around and take a few photos of Barysaw (Barysau) (pronounced Barisov). It’s a 900 year old city of a couple hundred thousand people 322km from Chernobyl (the closest we’ll get). First, here’s a flattering picture of the Berezina Hotel – where we’re staying. Again, I would have had a hard time recognizing this as a hotel, it’s run down and the signs are indecipherable.

I headed 1 block south to the main train station, then west, taking pictures of people, buildings and places. The first one here is of a boy filling water from a public faucet. Many of the homes here, even right next to the main road, don’t have running water.

The residential roads are all dirt, again even only a block from “Main Street”. Some kids take advantage of it by digging huge pot holes

This house is one of the biggest, nicest ones around. Like most of them, made from wood and tin, with a fence, but this one is bigger, painted and has one of those street faucets right in front.

I had fun taking and showing pictures to the small children above, so I attempted it again with these 3 boys (?).

They were so impressed they hounded me for a block and I had to take and show them their pictures a number of times. Here’s the last two pictures of my Barysau walking tour. The first is an apartment building (typical) and a couple of other structures on an artery. The second is of “Main Street”

Barysau has a small town square with the ubiquitous statue of Lenin, which I did not photograph. I had to hustle back to the hotel for my 6:30pm pick up to go to dinner at a local resident’s house. Alexandr 1 (ours) knew Alexandr2 (the local Barysau resident) because they are both involved in touring Clubs. Alexandr 2’s group does rafting and hiking in addition to biking. Here’s the road to his house.

Charlie arrived an hour and half before me and was butt-naked sweating with 3 other guys in the banya (sauna) behind Alexandr2’s house. I stayed with the wife (Olga) and Nastya, who I thought was their daughter. We toured the house and took some pictures.

Alexandr2 built the home himself, without the aid of an architect. Except for the “stairway of death” connecting the garage to the main home, he did a great job. It is really the tallest, nicest home in the neighborhood. Their old home, one of the smaller wooden ones, abuts the new one on the left side. The last of the above 4 photographs is the view from their front window on the 2nd floor.

We all talked for a while, then Olga laid out a great spread for dinner – really the best meal I’ve had in this country. The next photo is Olga, Alexandr2, Charlie and Olga’s dad. (He and Nastya came before and after dinner, but not during.)

We stuffed ourselves and had some really great Georgian wine. Then Alex cranked up the samovar (it’s the same word in Russian and English) and we moved upstairs for some tea and cake. Alexandr2 also showed us some videos of his bike tour to Lake Baikal and some exceptionally well done photo albums of bike tours to Kazakhstan and (one other place).

That’s Alexandr1 and Olga in front, Olga’s dad and Olga/Alexandr2’s niece Nastya in back. We all sat on the floors (the only furniture at this point is the kitchen table and chairs and a coffee table in the upstairs living room (?).

There was more than enough curiosity and camaraderie to go around. The two Russian/English dictionaries we had were well used. Charlie got extensive practical practice with his Russian, and Alexandr1 did his part to help. We talked about the town, schools, the economy, politics, biking, their home, the Belarusian culture and more. They really, really did not want us to go – but we managed it by agreeing to delay our departure and see some War of 1812 battle sites around Berezina (the name of the main river that flows through the area and through Barysau. We didn’t leave until around 11PM.

The guidebooks say the Russians and Belarusians are aloof (at best) to strangers, but once you get into their homes they are extremely nice. The guidebooks are right and probably understate the hospitality of these people. We’ve never been around any nicer “strangers”. It was fun, fun, fun…

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