Category: Rights


When I told people I was going to Moldova most either asked “Which country is that in?” or said “Oh, I love the Maldives!” Moldova is actually a very small country nestled between Ukraine and Romania, is one of the poorest countries in Europe and it shows. I made my way from Odesa to the capital, Chişinau, via Transdniestria (an autonomous breakaway region not recognised as a country by anyone except for Russia) on the train as it is a marginally more comfortable journey than mashrutka and I didn’t think I would get sick on it. The journey was hot and sticky, but scenic and I met a lovely English guy who ended up staying at the same hostel (the only one in the city) with me so we shared a beer and spoke English during the trip.

Chişinau left its first impression on us while walking the 1 ½ kilometres to the hostel from the station. Needless to say they don’t have properly paved roads, footpaths in general off the main road, street lights or street signs so it was an interesting walk in the nearly complete darkness. If this were a walk I had to take in the US I would have taken a taxi, but as it is Eastern Europe and I was with 2 guys the most dangerous part of the journey was tripping over cracks in the road or getting run over by a crazy driver. Heat exhaustion would have been an issue if the sun were still up, but it was still pretty dang hot as the entire region was struck by a heatwave with 40+ Celsius days and 32+ Celsius nights.

My first encounter with the natives was while waiting outside a supermarket for my travel companions when 2 guys came out and asked if I had a bottle opener (in very poor English). They asked where I was from and I told them Australia and they immediately started asking about white supremacy and if we had lots of white people. At least, that seemed to be what they were asking, their English was terrible as most Moldovans have very little reason to speak English. As they were leaving they also gave me a Nazi salute… It’s a pretty closed off country.

Because Moldova is so small you can easily stay in Chişinau, use it as a base of operations and just do a bunch of daytrips, which I had the best of intentions on doing and ended up not doing thanks to the ridiculous heatwave being too hot for even myself and certain other extenuating circumstances. Plus I like to go with the flow and it just didn’t work out. I’ll go through some of the things I intended on doing anyway later though.

My first day in Chişinau I just intended on exploring the city (something that can easily be done in about 3 hours). I did exactly as planned, stopped and had lunch, bought some groceries, went back to the hostel to have a nap and went out later in the evening with a guy staying at my hostel. We were walking to a beer house we had been told about and some guy ran up to us in the street because he heard us speaking English in American accents. Turns out the guy is from California and we invited him to join us for drinkies. What are the odds? We all had an enjoyable evening talking about anything and everything before heading back to sleep in our ridiculously hot soviet apartment room stuffed chockers full of beds.

The next day I fully intended on going out to the cave monastery that I had read about, but after talking to a guy who had gone the previous day and reading a few blogs about it it was apparently a wretch to get to and completely underwhelming. So instead I slept in, did laundry, got some work done, had a nap and wandered a bit more around Chişinau. That night we were joined at the hostel by a group of Romanians who were in Moldova for some bizarre reason and they were all heading out to a nightclub that apparently played some form of punk music so we decided to play Jenga and pre-drink before heading out to the club. Some things I have come to realise is that you can turn ANYTHING into a drinking game and if you are going to drink with Romanians, you had better be very good at holding your liquor.

So we went out to the club and it reminded me of an underground white supremacist punk club (unsurprising as Moldova is so homogenous and there are pretty much only white people here) complete with confederate flag hanging above the bar. Needless to say it made me feel fairly uncomfortable. The first band that was playing wasn’t playing punk music, much to my surprise. They were playing a sort of punkish cover version of old 60’s music. No complaints here! The second band that played was very punk looking and I fully expected some sort of Russian or Romanian or English punk music to come blasting out of the speakers when they started. Nope, it was their version of a song by the Black Eyed Peas who I would hardly classify as punk. They did end up singing a bunch of Russian punk music though.

At some point in the evening we met 2 Belgian guys (at least one was from Belgium) who were also at the club and when we all decided to leave I somehow ended up at a much more ‘upscale’ and ‘trendy’ nightclub playing pop and dance music instead where I felt insanely underdressed. I was wearing flats, board shorts and a singlet with my hair pulled back in a ponytail and every other girl there was wearing what I think were supposed to be dresses, but looked more like strips of cloth that had been ravaged by mountain lions. There were also mostly naked women men and women dancing on a stage. And can I just say, with how ‘expensive’ that place was for Moldova, they should have had western toilets and not squat toilets. What kind of person is capable of balancing over a squat toilet in 5 inch heels? After enough alcohol you can barely stand in them as it is!

When I say this place was expensive for Moldova, I mean the cover charge alone was about $5 and the average daily wage of a Moldovan (assuming they are lucky enough to be gainfully employed) is $10. I bitch and moan in Sydney if I have to pay a $10 cover which I make in less than an hour working an entry level job. The average Moldovan makes about $250-300 US per month and it is painfully obvious. So many people are trying to sell whatever they can get their hands on in the streets. I saw hundreds of people near the train station attempting to sell old clothes, music cassettes, video cassettes, the very occasional cd or dvd, old tool sets, bits and pieces of pretty much anything. There was a slightly nicer market in the centre of the city that sold A LOT of artwork, some souvenirs and a fair amount of jewelry. I found an excellent little stall selling tatted jewelry. I had a lovely attempted conversation with the woman selling who only spoke Romanian and Russian. I found a beautiful pair of earrings (lots of them, actually) and a bracelet that matched a necklace I bought from a random woman on a random walking path in Cappadocia, Turkey. I didn’t buy the earrings, but I did buy the bracelet for myself and something else as a gift for someone which shall remain a secret because it hasn’t been gifted yet. However, I HIGHLY recommend them as gifts. It’s Frivolite Tatting Bijutery and they can be found on facebook or at www.splendid-magazine.md/friolite.html. Oksana speaks English so if you want to order something you can speak to her.

Anyway, back to one of the most impoverished countries in Europe. The 2011 GDP per capita was about $3,400 US which means people live on about $8 per day. I have been to some pretty poor places (Belarus for example) but I have never seen people look so defeated. Most of them speak some Russian due to TransD being a Russian speaking region and they live next to Ukraine, and they all speak Moldovan, which is a dialect of Romanian, but most people don’t speak English. Some of the younger people speak a little bit of English, but the fact of the matter is that they usually have no one to practice it with (not many English speaking tourists) and there isn’t anything translated into English for the most part. Call me a stuck up imperialist American close-minded snob if you want, but the fact is that in most parts of the world, English is the standard lingua franca of business. It’s a language that students have the option of learning in almost every country in the world (and is actually standard now in most countries as required in the public school system) which makes it an extremely beneficial language to learn. The only country I have been to where speaking English was not to my benefit was Belarus. A little German would have come in handy though…

Anyway, the ridiculously low socio-economic status that Moldovans hold along with their general lack of English speaking abilities means that there is really not a lot of options for them to increase their position in life. They can’t get scholarships to study at other universities, they can’t afford university in Romania, I don’t even know if they are eligible as ERASMUS students and they really have very few options. Except for the wine industry (amazing wines and super cheap) they have limited amount of arable land (it’s a small country, most of their agriculture stays in country), they have no natural resources and most of their energy is imported, making things even more difficult for them as issues with Russia and TransD meant that for a while their gas pipeline was cut off and Russia doesn’t allow the import of Moldovan wines into the country. So if you ever see a red wine from Moldova, purchase it.

I look at my life, everything I had, all the opportunities I had and still have. I have been extremely lucky to have supportive family and friends who tell me like it is. I have a family who has been able to provide for me and to allow me to do pretty much every activity I wanted under the sun and was able to help me while I was at university in Australia. I’m happy to drop $200 on a pair of shoes regularly when Moldovans make barely more than that in a month. I look at what these people don’t have and feel absolutely horrible not giving money to that woman begging on the street who has obviously been crippled in some way. I feel horrible for feeling suspicious about those people in the street claiming to collect for an orphanage and automatically assuming it is some sort of scam to get money (not unheard of). I don’t actually know if those people were collecting or it was a scam, but I still feel fairly horrible after thinking like that.

I tend to spread my money around to different charities when I can but previously I have only donated to charities directly aiding those in the US or Australia as those are the places that have a direct effect on me in some way. We want to help those in our own backyard, which is understandable and we always hear about the impoverished in Africa due to war and famine, or the child workers in South America and Asia due to human rights violations, but we don’t hear about places like Belarus or Moldova. If you are interested in spreading your money around a little bit more (if you can) to a country that is largely ignored by the rest of the world please consider donating to Outreach Moldova at http://www.outreachmoldova.org

What I’m reading now: The Time of My Life by Cecilia Ahern, author of P.S. I Love You.

What I’m listening to: In honour of what it felt like going clubbing in Moldova… Summer in the city – Lovin’ Spoonful

 

After spending a fair amount of time in former U.S.S.R countries and seeing a plethora of Soviet style bloc apartments I still haven’t quite summed up my feelings on the buildings. I have developed an appreciation for them, from an historical point of view. AGB did his master’s on Soviet apartments in Lithuania of all places so I was able to glean a fair amount of information re these eyesores and gain a bit more appreciation for them than I had previously held.

When most people think about Soviet bloc apartments they think of the hideous concrete establishments where people live in sardine-like squalor.

Now, I’m not advocating that we never tear any of them down due to their historical significance. It’s not like they are churches or mosques or synagogues or libraries. I doubt you ever could get rid of all of them anyway as they are so much cheaper to live in for people who make a very insignificant sum. When I heard what the average Belarusian with a decent job makes my jaw dropped. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it was still a bit of a shock. And I thought the US was guilty of slave labour. There is no way people on that salary can really afford a house on a two person salary.

Anyway, I have seen these blocs in Narva, Estonia where they are most definitely crumbly old buildings left over from mid-20th century Soviet rule. I’ve seen them in Leipaja, Latvia where they aren’t just crumbly old buildings, they actually do appear to be falling apart at the seams. I’ve seen them in Belarus, where there is a mix of crumbly old buildings (like the one I stayed in at Postalayet’s Hostel) and brand new buildings that actually look just like decent, nice apartments on the outside, but inside are the same Sardinian sized black holes of oppression.

Brest, Belarus was one of the places with these apartment blocks going up everywhere. Brand new buildings with double glazed windows, but still containing the small inner proportions I’ve grown accustomed to. The outside of the buildings were tiled or painted and actually looked quite nice. That being said, it’s still Belarus, it’s still a socialist country and it still suffers under Lukashenko’s rule. I actually quite enjoyed Brest though. It was a much more pleasant city than Minsk. Not that Minsk was unpleasant, but there was an air of rebellion in the air and the city was much more similar to Western Europe than Minsk was.

The main pedestrian thoroughfare was a wide, cobbled café lined street and I spent a fair bit of time attempting to order food and drinks there. My first day there I stopped at a café that looked good and asked the waiter if he spoke English (he didn’t) and for a menu. Thankfully ‘menu’ is a cognate in Russian. Anyway, he brought me a menu which I attempted to use my translator on (didn’t work very well) and eventually found something that looked like pork in Cyrillic (no pictures on the menu) pointed and ordered. Turns out it was a pork chop with potato or something. After sitting awhile to digest my meal I decided that dessert sounded like a good idea. I spent a good 10 minutes attempting to translate the dessert menu (don’t even bother) before the same waiter who brought me my menu in Russian brought me an English translation of the menu. Seriously? Really? He couldn’t have done that before?

Anyway, I discovered apple strudel (yum!) on the menu and ordered that. I’ve taken to ordering apple strudel damn near everywhere I go and have discovered that apple strudel is very different everywhere you go. I was brought this pastry/ice cream/apple concoction that looked more like a pastry made into a cup with a bit of cooked and raw apple and ice cream in it. In Romania the strudel are more like regular square pastries filled with various fruits. All of them have been delicious though.

So other than the café lined pedestrian walkway what is there to see in Brest? Not a whole hell of a lot to be honest. The only thing is Brest Fortress and there isn’t a lot of the fortress left. It’s now more of a monument to the sheer awesomeness of the red army I think. It’s a bit difficult to tell as nothing is in English. That being said, I could easily have spent a few hours there if I had a picnic with me. To get into the fortress you walk down a long and wide cobbled walkway (it’s a good couple of minutes from the car park to the entrance) leading to a gateway with a giant soviet star cut out from the wall. To top it off, there is “inspiring” marching soviet type music to get you in the patriotic mood.

It’s actually quite beautiful and park like within the walls for the most part, but they still have their random military monuments. The first one you come to is a set of 3 tanks where you can pay $3 or something to that appeal to get dressed up in red army uniforms and have your picture taken in front of the tank. Based on the advertising poster for this kitschy tourist activity they have uniforms for everyone, including babies. Personally, I find this type of blind, indoctrinating patriotism to be a bit concerning, but it’s what they grow up with.

Continuing on into the park you walk over a lovely little bridge that leads to the statue of the ‘thirsty soldier’. It’s a statue of a soldier crawling desperately to find some water. It was also a very popular statue to have your picture taken in front of based on the amount of time it took me to get a photo without a million people in front of it. You can also find a rather large set of cannons to have a play on. Of course, no monument park in Belarus would be complete without the obligatory obelisk and eternally burning victory flame. This was the largest obelisk I have ever seen… seriously. I haven’t seen the Washington Monument in Washington D.C., but if it was anywhere near as tall as this one I would say it would be a fairly impressive site. Along the bottom of the obelisk were rows of commemorative carvings to unknown soldiers where people frequently lay wreaths in tribute to them. Judging by the number of shops I saw selling these wreaths I imagine it’s a fairly popular pastime.

The last major monument which I found fairly disturbing was a giant concrete/rock structure carving thing of the head of a soldier called “Valour”. It was the creepiest soldier monument I have ever seen and I think it tells you something about the type of government that builds these types of monuments. Some of the people who lead/rule countries in this world is of great concern to me and I have to wonder how these people make it into power in the first place.

I personally think the pride and joy of the Brest fortress should be the Orthodox Nikalaivsky Church in the middle of it just behind the scary looking giant soldier head monument. This quaint looking (on the outside) little church is the oldest Orthodox church in Brest and has survived, despite its use for various soviet activities throughout the years. I didn’t know if I could go in so I didn’t go in to check it out, but I imagine the inside would have been excessively gilded and gaudy on the inside.

I would definitely recommend a trip to Brest if you go to Belarus (especially if you speak Russian). It has much less of a military presence than Minsk, it’s definitely more western and there’s that hint of rebellion in the air. It’s fascinating to compare it to Minsk and to compare the way they live under a socialist regime compared to the way they want to live in a freer society. You can see the effects of creeping capitalism everywhere and it’s a great place to just sit and people watch if you feel like relaxing for a few days.

See Belarus photos here.

What I’m reading now: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

What I’m listening to now: Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix audiobook by J.K. Rowling

The Kindness of Strangers

When I started this post I had been in Belarus for precisely 4 days, and while it hadn’t been the hardest four days of my life, it had been frustratingly difficult. Between the language barrier, the red tape, all the signage being in Belarussian and my translator only having Russian, the constant feeling of being under surveillance, a wisdom tooth poking through and the lack of communication with friends and family when I really feel the need to talk I had been feeling the strain.

Despite the obvious government animosity towards foreigners and the distinctly familiar rudeness of public service employees (almost makes me feel at home) the people here are some of the friendliest people I’ve met on my travels. I suppose they could probably be rivalled by Middle Easterners who treat you like a long lost relative, but my point still stands. AGB says it’s because I’m a foreigner, which makes me exotic and exciting. I don’t know about that, but the people generally have been wonderful anyway.

For those of you who don’t know, I have an issue with social anxiety. This may surprise most of you who do know me because you’ll say that I am in no way shy, I easily hold my own in conversation and work well with people when I want to. However, in large group situations or dealing with strangers, my blood pressure skyrockets. Combine that with large groups of strangers who speak no English, signage is not in the Roman alphabet and most of them don’t recognise the Roman alphabet and it’s amazing I didn’t have a heart attack while wandering the Eastern Unknown.

Anyway, there were quite a few times when I had little mini freakouts. This time I didn’t have anyone there (namely Ivo or Rob) to tell me to snap out of it or act as a buffer and roll their eyes at me. My first freak out was actually on the train from Vilnius to Minsk. I had heard a fair amount about the corruption of the KGB towards foreigners by making demands for bribes or refusing to let them cross the border because their travel insurance isn’t valid. I was fairly apprehensive and hid ALL my cash to be on the safe side. I was in an extremely crowded carriage so I wasn’t asked for a bribe, but I did at one point have very large and very stern looking minions of the government glaring at me and telling me that the travel insurance that had been cleared by the Belarusian embassy was not valid and I would have to purchase valid medical insurance when I arrived in Minsk. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. I shall do that as soon as I arrive.” As if I was going to say anything else.

The fact of the matter is that most developed countries that provide worldwide travel insurance will cover Belarus because it’s not on any government’s “Do not travel” list. If you don’t have travel insurance (which you should ALWAYS have travel insurance) you can purchase it in the country for roughly $1 per day for the duration of your visa. It’s really not that expensive, but I wasn’t about to purchase it based on principle. Alternatively, it’s probably so cheap there you can pay out of pocket. They tell all foreigners that their insurance isn’t valid to get more money out of them. Other than that, I made it to Minsk and my hostel perfectly alright. The hostel was a bit difficult to find, but that’s probably because it was so bloody dark.

I stayed at Postoyalets Hostel, which is about as far from the centre as you can get (10 minutes). However, it’s cheap, most of the staff speaks enough English for you to check in and it’s clean. I’m going to try to put the Cyrillic version of the streets on here as well as the Roman version because Lonely Planet doesn’t do that (I’m going to write them a feedback letter) and it will also help with writing it down and getting places as pretty much no one speaks English. I would have found things to be a lot easier because transliterating to Cyrillic can be quite difficult and time consuming. The first time you go, if there’s not a lot of traffic it might be a good idea to take a taxi so you don’t get lost. I’m pretty sure I was ripped off as I was charged 80,000 roubles, but as it worked out to roughly $11 I’m not going to complain. Plus it was late so I just wanted to get there. The address is Partizansky Ave. 147 (Партызанскі Праспект). When the taxi drops you off it will be next to a large soviet block. The hostel is right near the end of the block apartment, not on the side that the taxi entered from. If you do decide to go via the metro (very easy once you work it out) it’s best if you are coming via train as you can catch the metro straight from the station.

The metro, at date of publication is super cheap. One way it is only 1500 Belarusian roubles, which is roughly 17 cents. I should also take this moment to state that President Lukashenko decided to devalue the currency in the past couple of years, so Lonely Planet guidebooks still have the exchange rate at just under 4000 roubles to the dollar while it was about 8800 roubles to the Australian dollar while I was there. As if the economy wasn’t bad enough and it’s not like they really encourage tourism. Anyway, back to the metro. The excessively unfriendly public servants working for the Minsk Metro don’t speak any English so either have exact change or the smallest amount of currency possible and know how to say “one” in Russian. They’ll give you a little red token which you have to put into the slot of the already open gate. Bizarre, I know. Anyway, you’ll be catching the metro from Lenin Square next to the train station and the metro will be titled Площадь Ленина (Pl Nezalezhnastesi (Праспект Незалежнасці) in Belarussian, but everyone still calls it Lenin Square and the station is labelled as such) to Mogilevskaya Metro (Могилевская or Магілевская one is Belarussian but I can’t remember which). They are on separate tram lines so you will have to stop at Oktiabriskaya (Октябрьская) station, take the escalator over to the other tram line and catch the tram headed to Mogilevskaya Metro (Могилевская or Магілевская). It’s the very last stop on the blue line. Easy as! From there you head up to street level and then walk through the park and the hostel is just on the other side of the street from the end of the park in the giant soviet bloc which has shops on the front. There is a big sign coming from that direction so you really can’t miss it.

Unless you have friends in Minsk or speak Russian and can go out clubbing, 1 day in Minsk is actually pretty much plenty. Almost everything to see is on the main road “Pl Nezalezhnastesi (Праспект Незалежнасці)”. You can actually walk up and down it a couple of times in a day. There are a couple of museums and the art gallery is a bit out of the way, but the museums don’t have English translations of anything (including the sign saying it’s a museum) so I didn’t bother as I wouldn’t have understood anything anyway.

It is apparently illegal to photograph any military or government buildings, so don’t get caught photographing the KGB headquarters, which has a place of prominence smack dab in the middle of Pl Nezalezhnastesi (Праспект Незалежнасці). I tried being sneaky about it and some wretched girl walked right in front of the camera when I was getting a photo of the KGB logo L. Other sites include the Theatre and Theatre Square where thousands of people occasionally decide to protest Lukashenko’s dictatorship and then disappear for their efforts. Next to the theatre is a museum allegedly, but as none of the signage was in English I can’t actually verify that.

One thing you will notice is that the soviet’s love their obelisks and military monuments. I imagine my boss would DEFINITELY have a few comments about countries that memorialise and glorify violence. I myself find it rather jarring and a bit difficult to take in after all the ridiculous brutality that was seen under the soviet regime. For instance, both Minsk and Brest have statue’s glorifying Lenin. The main government square near the station is still called Lenin Square by the locals, even though the name has officially been changed to a Belarusian name.

You can also see a small bust monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka (later became the KGB). The Cheka, if you aren’t aware, is most famous for their crimes against humanity in sending hundreds of thousands of innocent people to the gulags, or just committing mass murders if they couldn’t be bothered. Needless to say, Lukashenko is a big fan of the U.S.S.R and sovietisation and wants to return to the previous state of being. He did work on a collective farm before becoming President after all. Somehow I doubt that he actually did much work and probably stuck with supervising.

After seeing all these monuments and glorifications of soviet dictatorship horrors you come to understand why there is such a heavy military and police presence in Minsk. I’ve been to countries where the military is definitely always present, but not to the extent that I saw in Minsk. I think I saw a small amount of graffiti once on the outskirts of the city. I’m also pretty sure I saw more men in uniform than I did pedestrians on a beautiful Sunday. They are absolutely everywhere! You can’t turn around without seeing them. It’s like McDonald’s on Manhattan Island. Needless to say I kept my head down and my nose clean.

I wanted to try some traditional Belarusian cuisine while I was there and this is where my blood pressure began to skyrocket again. I don’t even know why this time… all you really have to do in a restaurant is point. So I did not want to go the the Macca’s or TGI Fridays, who’s presence I found fairly odd but I could only find one other restaurant with a menu translated somewhat into English and it was a pizza place (they really love pizza in Belarus). I busted out my mostly trustworthy Lonely Planet guidebook to Eastern Europe and found around the corner from the KGB building that there was a restaurant with some traditional dishes on the menu. This is where the kindness of strangers once again comes in.

It can be really disheartening going into a café or bar or restaurant alone and being treated like crap from the staff. They really have no concept of customer service in this part of the world, especially if you don’t speak the language. That goes for the Baltics where damn near everyone speaks about 5 languages fluently. So I sat down at the restaurant and when the waitress came over very hopefully and apologetically asked “An-glee-skee?” No dice. Not that I was expecting her to be able to speak English anyway. She smiled at me though and wandered off to go get a menu. The menu had a very rough translation of the Belarusian dishes into English so I attempted to order a couple of those and we both had a giggle about my attempted pronunciation of the Cyrillic letters. The staff, despite being unable to speak any English, were always smiling at me and generally very pleasant and attentive towards me. They could have very easily ignored me as has happened in pretty much every other country. I’m currently in the Ukraine and I had to wait 15 minutes between asking for the bill and getting it in one restaurant and had to wait 45 minutes between sitting down and ordering food at another…where I was the only customer. It’s very uplifting and does a lot for one’s morale and says a lot about the people in the country when you are treated kindly, rather than frustratingly, by people who probably wonder why the hell you came to a country where no one speaks English without learning some of the language first.

One more place that every American who goes to Belarus has to visit is 4 Kamyunistychnaya Street (Вуліца Камуністычная). This apartment block is the one that Lee Harvey Oswald (the alleged JFK assassin) lived for a few years before going back to the US and assassinating JFK. He fully assimilated and went completely native. Changed his name to Alec, learned Russian, married, had a kid, the whole nine yards. It’s just on the other side of the bridge on the way to the Victory obelisk down the main road through town mentioned above.

A few comments on Minsk:

  1. Google translator is your new best friend if you don’t speak Russian. When catching a train anywhere, expect a queue of at least an hour, so get to the station early and take a piece of paper detailing where you want to go, which train and which carriage class. “Tak kupe biliet do ….” (one way kupe class ticket to…) Is a handy phrase to know. Though if your pronunciation is as terrible as mine it’s better just to write down “так Купе билет до…”. It’s worth paying for kupe rather than the regular carriages as they are comfortable and not crowded. It’s also only a couple of dollars extra. I rode in blissfully private and cushioned comfort for 4 ½ hours from Minsk to Brest for less than $8.
  2. Signs are all written in Belarusian so a Russian translator will only take you so far :S
  3. The carbon emissions make the place absolutely filthy. Take some wipes with you because just stepping outside your door will cause you to become covered in grime and you don’t want to be eating with your bare hands on the train when they are filthy with goodness only knows what.