Vitebsk – Ilya Repin’s house

Just when you think things cannot get any better, they just do. After a bit of a rest this morning it was up at 08:00, to a bright sunny warm day and straight to the train station to left luggage with the weirdest combination locks you have ever seen. Just so long as I remember what the combination is I will be all right. Nextup was to establish when the trains to Polatsk were, and how to get a ticket. A bit of a queue but I have my ticket for 21:31 tonight, a 2 hour journey and then to find a hotel.

I then got a taxi out to Ilya Repin’s house and Museum Park. He is a Russian painter I am fond of and who is part of the exhibition at the national gallery in London now. A day out when I get back I think.

Anyway, many people I asked did not know whom he was and/or where the bus was to get there, as it is 20Km out of town. I eventually got the taxi for $10. When I got there, I paid the taxi driver (Sergai) and headed to the museum and house. I could here the faint sound of music. Sure enough, there was a small band of men and women in traditional dress singing local folk music accompanied by musicians. They had come from the festival in Vitebsk. Needless to say, it was all captured on camera, as were the five dressmaking students who had made their own costumes for the festival. I was then invited by the curator of the museum to accompany her around the park where she gave me a personal tour and a detailed explanation of all the exhibits, buildings, trees etc… . The park is right out in the countryside right next to a river. I can understand why Repin liked it so much. Just the sound of the river and the countryside. The word tranquility springs to mind.

As I was a tourist and I had come all the way from Great Britain I was invited into the curator’s house for tea, which was made from the local very small purple flowers topped up with Balsam (A local alcoholic drink). All washed down with sweets, biscuits, chocolate etc… . I was not on my own, the five students were also there. We all chatted about traveling and they gave me a small history lesson on a famous Belarus female who has a church built in her honour in Polatsk, one for tomorrow I think. I had a relaxing cigar overlooking the river, chatting to the young man who also worked in the museum about Belarus, Great Britain, work, holidays. They then gave me a small postcard as a memento of my trip and a bunch of the flowers to make tea with later. (BTW I was given a flower yesterday by a family just for taking their photograph). They then put me on the bus back to Vitebsk. Her last words before leaving me were ” You have brought the summer to Belarus, I hope you like our country”.

This understated nature and genuine warmth of the hospitality really is emotive and powerful. It is genuine and without falseness. It seems to encompass all areas of life here. The pride they have in Belarus is also apparent.

I have discovered that many of the students do know English and can speak it very well but are just too shy. That seems to sum it all up really. Quiet and understated… very understated.

A haunting beauty it most certainly is.