Tuesday, October 27, 2015

To Minsk and Back: a tale of Tourism, Politics and Drought

My last blog post described how I was going to be in Minsk while the MS ride was happening.  I wanted to prove that to you through some pictures and a few stories.

Minsk was a lovely city. While not on par with Amsterdam or Stockholm, it was great for a town that was 80% destroyed during World War II (or, as they call it, the Great Patriotic War). Besides the great people and beer, I learned two major things. The first was that there was a Stalinist style of architecture. This can best be seen in the two towers, known as the City Gates, rebuilt after the war. This style was significantly more ornate than I had counted on. The statues above the fifth floor represent the roles in the Communist ideal: a worker, a collective farmer, an engineer and a soldier. They are iconic buildings, directly across from the train station. I was glad to be there in the early fall, as the weather was quite temperate. It never got below 50F, although I 'm told that -40 is common in the winter.

The other lesson was political. I arrived two weeks before Belarus’s elections.  Lukashenko was running for his fifth five-year term as president.  There were banners for the election throughout the city.  This is a picture of a 12-story-tall banner, the largest I saw, on Lenin Square. What was strange was that I could see identical signs throughout the city (three from my hotel window, for example) but never any sign for a candidate. I’ll just say that the government locked down the opposition and Lukashenko won with 85.3% of the vote. If interested, you can see there views of the election from the apathetic voice of the people, lead-up to the election and the final results. It was refreshing to be back in the United States with our somewhat chaotic election process.

We also had torrential rains the weekend that I had to be a tourist. It’s been a long time since I saw rivers of water two inches deep coursing down street gutters.  After the drought of California, it was great to see. The rains finally did abate on Sunday afternoon, so I was able to go out and be a tourist in the city.

Speaking of drought,  I came home to the depleted reservoirs of California. I decided to see this first-hand on a mountain bike: two pictures show this very well. The first is the selfie, my first one posted on Facebook, of me as I biked out onto the old road, Old Santa Cruz Highway, which was in place before the reservoir was built. That is the picture from the ground level.  A week later I was hiking on the hill above the dam and shot the picture below. I put a red dot on the highway, just left of the center, where I shot the selfie. This gives you a perspective of the low level of the reservoir; it is currently at 18.7%, the lowest of any reservoir in Santa Clara County. If you are interested in the history of towns now coming back above water, this article does a great job describing what has been submerged at Lexington for half a century.

It’s great to be back home.


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