Tuesday, August 12, 2014

1001st place

Years ago, a friend gave us a book called “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” The book doesn’t have a whole lot to say about Eastern Europe and leaves out Belarus altogether. Now that I’ve seen Braslav Lakes, I can only say that they’re wrong. This is an undiscovered paradise, and while I worry about what will happen as it’s discovered I think my readers would like to know a little more about our visit.

I wrote in my previous post about where we stayed, near Nedrava Lake and the village of Slabodka. We stayed longer than we planned and we’re already looking forward to returning. But today I want to say a little about the surrounding area. I have no idea how many lakes make up “the Braslav Lakes Area,” but Wikipedia calls it 30 and I suppose that’s about right. In between, there are hills, forests and bogs. I get special pleasure out of the hills because the area around Minsk is so flat that the rivers meander in crazy loops and the water barely seems to flow. While the river near us in Braslav didn’t offer a strong current either, at least it flows fast enough that the water looks fresh, and we could enjoy lots of panoramic views from the tops of various hills as we toured around the region.

Victor and Natasha drove us to see lots of interesting places, from the historic town of Braslav to the quaking bog near a Presidential retreat. Natasha took Alla out for a very successful day hunting egg mushrooms, which fetch a couple of bucks apiece in Minsk. They brought back a lot of them, most of which they peeled and put into a three-liter jar of vodka. This concoction is said to have some sort of medicinal benefit, though I have a really hard time imagining Alla doing anything with three liters of vodka. (I use vodka to wash windows, but that’s another story.)

We went swimming at the deepest of the lakes, whose name escapes me now. We started by walking out onto a peninsula. On one side, the shore plunged downward steeply and a few meters out it was already deeper that I was willing to free-dive. On the other side, the shore sloped very gradually over a shelf of blue clay. We lost track of Alla and Natasha, so I finally went over to the clay side of the peninsula to look for them. I found them wearing only their bikini bottoms, slathered in clay. Really, all I could see was their eyes and hair. After the clay dried, they came to visit us before disappearing to rinse off and come back to tell about how wonderful their skin felt after the mud bath. You won’t find any pictures of this online.

Back at the homestead, I really enjoyed village life, the inter-connectedness of the people and the way their lives differ so strongly from anything familiar to me. Sometimes the next-door neighbor brought over fresh goat milk, still warm. I had no idea it would be so delicious. Another neighbor raises chickens and tomatoes. A third raises ducks, and makes fresh dairy products from their cow’s milk. We ate lots of farmer cheese one morning for breakfast, with fresh applesauce and fruit preserves on top. I peeled a big pot of apples so Alla could make more applesauce. They have a delicious variety of apple from the Gomel region of Belarus, where both Alla and Victor grew up, just a few years apart. This is agro-tourism. This is living. This is Belarus.

More pictures here.

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