June 9:  Yartsevo to Minsk

I felt oddly refreshed this morning.  I had 6 hours of sleep (above average) and 6 beers (below average) so I guess that explains it.

Despite warnings, the water in Russia prior to Yartsevo seemed OK.  I didn't dare drink it but the shower water was relatively clean.  But Yartsevo was different.  When brushing my teeeth I thought the water smelled like sulfur, but I had just farted as well so I couldn't make a solid determination.  Then I showered and almost became nauseous from the stench.  It would be a weird feeling the rest of the day being clean, and at the same time unclean.

Sue got the Boob Shirt, and I'm not sure of the reason.  Something to do with Napoleon and Borodino and tanks.  (Can someone fill me in?)

Local guide Natalia (is that who Sam was trying to pick up at the bar?) travelled with us from Yartsevo to Smolensk, which was frigid and I was in shorts.  We visited Assumption Cathedral in Smolensk Fortress.  No photos allowed inside as usual, and it was too cold for photos outside.

Injury update:  My elbow still hurt from the Love Boat, and the right side of my throat was almost raw.

Near Smolensk was Katyn Forest, where Stalin in 1940 killed 22,000 Polish POWs and then covered it up by planting a forest on top of the graves.  When the Nazis discovered the site in 1943, the Soviets blamed them for it.  To intentionally confuse people, the Soviets opened a memorial in 1969 at the similarly-named Khatyn, a Belarusian village completely burned by the Nazis in 1943.

Mass graves at Katyn.  You don't get to see mass graves everywhere.

A summary of the dinners we had in Russia:  Every one started with the same "salad" of cucumbers, tomatoes and red peppers, with sour cream and bits of cabbage added for variety sometimes.  And almost every entree was schnitzel, which was consistently good.

On the coach we played Battle of the Sexes.  Each side had to come up with 10 questions they thought the other side wouldn't know.  The girls won 1-0 after Cara correctly named the teams playing in the NBA Finals.  I don't know how that got on the list.

Once in Belarus we stopped at the above-cited Khatyn, but it was closed to visitors.

In Minsk we met our local guide Anna.  It was supposed to be Marina, but she sat in the back of the coach.  Maybe Anna was being trained.

The only real attraction in Minsk is the Island of Tears, a memorial to those who died in the Soviet-Afghanistan war.

Island of Tears chapel.

Island of Tears.

Minsk has a very modern look, and that's because most of the city was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt.

All this World War II destruction has me wondering if public opinion on US intervention in Iraq would change if more people saw what I've seen on this tour--i.e., what happens when practicing genocidal fascists aren't taken out as soon as they're identified.  We left the Nazis alone in 1939 and untold millions died; we left the Baathists alone after 1991 and 300,000 Iraqis were slaughtered; we left the Taliban-al Qaeda coalition alone in the 1990s and their work continues daily.  With Saddam, Uday and Qusay, it seemed like a simple case of learning from past mistakes.  But learning is a skill undeveloped in most people, especially the French.

I don't know where Anna went but Marina accompanied us to dinner and to the hotel.

Before checking into the hotel, we stopped at a supermarket to buy lunch for tomorrow, since there wouldn't be a real lunch stop.  There was a mad rush as each person tried to assemble a meal in 10 minutes.  I ended up with sliced cheese and potato chips (crisps).  Tuna would have been perfect except I didn't know if anyone had a can opener.  I also bought a bottle of wine in case the hotel bar was expensive, and I had to make efficient use of the $20 I exchanged.  I sneakily drank some of the wine at the bar, but it turns out I had just enough money for beers until bedtime.  So I was stuck carrying around that bottle of wine with a mutilated cork until the last night.