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Visiting the belarus capital city Minsk for me was an exceptional experince. Knowing little about the country and only three words of Russian, I ventured well outside my usual travelling comfort zone.
A good friend of mine departed for Minsk university in the autumn of 2006 to study Russian so I decided to visit him. He was helpful in guiding me around the city when I arrived, but his knowledge of visas, flights, buses and all the other information required in advance of my visit was priceless.
From the North of England the are several options of travel to Minsk. Direct flights can be pricey and with budget airlines flying to neighbouring Lithuania and Latvia there are choices to be made. On grounds of cost I flew from Liverpool John Lennon airport to Kaunas, then took the bus to Vilnius where I then caught a further bus to Minsk itself.
It was a bit of a trek, a night in Kaunas was a worthy investment and once aboad the second bus I felt I could relax! Travelling with my partner we did estimate that the way we travelled, including the night in Kaunas accomodation, it cost less than a quarter of the price of a direct flight to Minsk.
Everyone assumes Belarus is going to be cold, I know did, but when I was there in late May the temperature was an unforgiving 29oC. Boy it was hot!! Make sure you consider this if visit Minsk in the spring.
The currency was at first a little confusing. With notes in circulation of 100,000 roubles going right down to 10 roubles I spent a lot of my time counting zeros!! It took a while getting to know the differences between the 20, 200, 2,000 and the 20,000!
Undeterred, and with my old friend acting as a personal tourist infomation guide I enjoyed the feast on the eyes that is Minsk. Powerful looking buildings and monuments, impressive squares such as Victory square and even large residential housing blocks all had an architectural style that looked so quintessential 'soviet union'. Never having visited the former USSR, every view I had (no matter how mundane to the average MInsk resident no doubt) was awesome.
I visited the ballet for the first time in my life, again a wonderfully different experince and what was so nice was people of all ages there and enjoying themselves. Youngsters showed adulation for the perfromers that in England is reserved for Premership footballers. The ballet building itself looked like a ancient Greek building - but with a communist twist to it!
Before I left England I had heard stories of crime and muggings in former soviet countries so I was a little wary on my friend when he told me he felt safer in Minsk than back home. Having been there myself and walked the streets at 11.30 at night without any incidents towards me or anyone else for that matter, I can only agree. There was police presence on the streets but at no time did I see them hassle anyone.
My friend suggested we visited a army museum/ training camp to the North of the city call Stalin Line - apparently the USSR days and particularly Stalin are in some quarters now being revered as the 'good old days'. Certainly the Soviets did have their fair share of, to be polite strong leaders!
Anyway, Stalin Line must have been a key strategic site for the defence of Minsk and this base was still kitted out with trenches and gun placements not to mention some huge decommissioned guns, tanks and aircraft.
It was a very hands on experience, the gun placements were loving looked after and kept in perfect condition, the equipment oiled and immaculate - and more than a little claustrophobic. A helicopter had soliders preparing for their routine near by too, my friend asked if we could go on board and we were allowed on (once they had checked we weren't American).
Sat in the cock pit of this helicopter looking at a zillion switches and levers all with instructions in Bela-russian , it was only when a soldier popped his head in and said in English 'Don't touch anything' that i realised that this was a real life, working helicopter!!! Boy i had to concentrate so hard on sitting still - I really don't want to break anything, or end up in prison! Twenty minutes after we got off it, it was flying the troops around the military base.
On my last night I went to the restuarant on the top floor of the Hotel Belarus the view across the city was spectacular. I was sad to look out of the cityscape knowing I was leaving the following day, but the sights and sounds of Minsk made the trip memorable. I have been very fortunate to travel to some beautiful and interesting places so far in my life and when it comes to rating some of my experiences Minsk is right up there with the best.
Not sure how much this tells us about Belarus, but a pleasingly personal first review.
jesi 18.12.2007 11:33
l must admit the "readiness"of the military site is a little worrying in the light of the deterioration of diplomacy we currently experiencing.
. . . ~ ! ♥♥ ! ~ ........................................................... ~ jes ~ ! ♥♥ !
RICHADA 09.11.2007 20:32
That's what this site is all about - new experiences, different destinations - yes I really enjoyed your Minsk experience. Richard.