Novogrudok, Belarus (2011)
(also spelled "Navahrudak")

Morning light had not arrived when I reached the train station in Baranovichi. A man appeared as I stepped off the train and said something that included the word "taxi." For $30 US, he made clear that he would make the 45-minute drive to Novogrudok. Was he a "licensed" cab driver? Probably not. He was, however, there on the train platform early in the morning and ready to work for cash. He carried my bag up a long flight of steps, and he got me safely to Novogrudok. Along the way, he stopped at a monument about 15 minutes south of Novogrudok. It's a monument to the Bielski brothers.

Photos below: Bielski brothers monument and plaques at monument.

Notice the top of the monument with symbols for the Orthodox faith, the Jewish faith, and the Catholic faith. (In that part of the world, "Christian" means "Catholic.")

The Bielski brothers worked out of the forests surrounding Novogrudok; even today, Belarus is 40 percent forested. The guide whom I found had worked for a month with the author of the 2003 book on the Bielski brothers. She had located exact sites for him, taken him into the forested areas with a driver, and explained the area to him. The guide was the director of one museum in Novogrudok (the Novogrudok Museum of Local Lore) and was connected to a second museum in Novogrudok (the Adam Mickiewicz Museum). She had been educated in Vilnius, Lithuania, and she spoke several languages, including English.

Photo below: St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, Novogrudok.

The language spoken at St. Michael the Archangel is Polish, not Russian which is the usual language spoken in Belarus. The church is used by the small Polish-speaking population that remains in Novogrudok. In that area, the borders have been on roller skates for centuries, and especially during the 20th century. You need a good dose of history to understand even day-to-day life in that part of the world.

Photo below: St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, inside.
They were reciting the Rosary, in Polish.

Photo below: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.

Photo below: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church.
The view below is more straight-on than the view above. In the photo below, you see the archway that people walk through to get inside the church.

My guide was Orthodox. She had informed me that taking photos inside the Orthodox church would be considered rude and should not be done. Consequently, no inside photos. However, there are inside-the-church photos here: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

Regarding the photos from inside the Catholic church, photos are routinely taken inside Catholic churches.

The first night in Novogrudok, the guide offered a walking tour of the town. We walked to the ruins of Novogrudok Castle and then to a monument to Adam Mickiewicz.

Photo below: Adam Mickiewicz monument.
(not my photo)

The guide also pointed out the local internet cafe, a good restaurant, and a cheap grocery store. I survived in all three speaking nothing but English. In the internet cafe, it was obvious why I was there. The young man communicated how many rubles for 15 minutes; I sat down to a keyboard that typed Cyrillic, communicated my confusion, and he made a quick adjustment so that I was back to typing with familiar-looking letters. (5,000 for one hour, about one dollar U.S.)

At the restaurant, I lucked into a young Belarusan man who worked for Carnival Cruise Lines; he was home for a few days, and his English was perfect. He also told me that, while I would need an adapter for the electric cords for my computer and cell phone charger, I did not need a converter. The meal at the restaurant was very "meat heavy." I had ordered sausage and potatoes. The meal came with a side dish that would have served as a meal by itself: something like stir-fried beef and vegetables. For an American, it was just too much meat, but Belarusans eat lots of meat and potatoes -- not particularly tasty meat, but they eat a lot of it.

Grocery stores are the easiest place to survive when you don't speak the language. Just select what you want; take it to the cashier, and you'll be shown a total amount to pay. Many of the food items were made by familiar, name brand food producers.

The hotel accommodations in Novogrudok deserve special mention. The "room" was actually three rooms -- a small apartment. It was old, but absolutely clean, complete with a refrigerator, television, a full bath, and a "powder room." The apartment was complete with dishes, cups, silverware, a tea set with a giant tea pot, and shot glasses -- since everyone is presumed to drink vodka. The rooms had windows running along the entire front of the apartment. At night, I would hear the sad roar of a caged lion or tiger; just across from the hotel was a small traveling zoo, and the caged animal would cry every night.

Cost of the three-room suite was less than $60 US per night.

From Novogrudok, I traveled to four villages west of the town.

2011 Trip