Hi all. Today I want to look back at perhaps the ‘odd place out’ of my 2019 itinerary, which was the city of Minsk, capital of Belarus. For me, I took the opportunity because in the change in visa laws which made a country difficult to enter because of a series of bureaucratic procedures needed to endure to get a visa to be allowed entry, into one where you just get a flight and they said ‘Welcome to Belarus’ to me at immigration.
So now might be a good time to get in a visit. I hear the entry restrictions have now improved – when I booked my flight it was a maximum of five days. Now you get 30 days. There are still restrictions – you must enter (and presumably leave but I haven’t been able to check that) by the airport at Minsk. Smart Traveller says that land travel to and from Russia is not possible, but I’m not 100% on that because I’m sure I’ve heard of people doing it.
Belarus – also known as Belarussia and meaning ‘White Russia’ isn’t as north as much of Russia, and although it’s certainly cold I was there in mid-November and it hadn’t snowed before or whilst I was there. I left on the 23rd of November, there was snow in the forecast a couple of days after I left. But still, compared to the weather in say St Petersburg you get longer per year without snow.
But why was I impressed? Well, because I saw an interesting, clean, attractive in many parts modern European city. Things were a bit cheaper than in Western Europe without being dirt cheap, there was a decent metro system, trolleybuses and trams making a decent public transport network. There were a lot of shopping options too, a nice mall right near my hotel which was great value for money too.
There are a number of historical buildings, some beautiful, serene churches, and it felt like despite its history and a European buildings lining the wide avenues, and despite the fact that it was late Autumn and it was shifting to Winter, and leaves had mostly disappeared, the parks were lovely places to stroll. In Summer they must be quite glorious.
For the princely sum of 18 Belorussian Rubles I went to the Opera, nine rows from the front. That’s less than 10 bucks in USD and around 12 bucks in Aussie terms. And I saw a well crafted performance with excellent vocals and I was surprised – subtitles in English.
And what struck me in my short time in Minsk and Belarus was this – they are opening their doors. They are seeing tourism and something important to their country’s future, and so you will find English explanations, audio guides and the like if you visit the amazing museum to the Great Patriotic War (WWII). That’s an amazing place, a museum where the hammer and sickle flag still waves over it.
The National Library is a strange-shaped building built a few years ago now. It has an observation deck and café at the top (the hard part is finding the entrance) with views of this city.
A visit to the Museum of Miniatures may not be for everyone, but it sounded like something ‘different’ so I gave it a go. It was staffed by young university aged people and I had a guide to myself. I didn’t know much about the land of Belarus, but through miniatures of significant buildings around the country, I learnt a bit more, and I felt that this was a town for young people.
And as for shopping, well, if I can find a multi-level shopping centre (ie mall) a minute away from my hotel by chance, well it means that the shopping is probably pretty good in Minsk. Again, it was filled with young people shopping, and working at the stores. Many food options, lots of places to buy anything from tech to fashion. And cinemas too.
So, I think in the next few years Minsk could become a more visited city by many. Given the chance, I’d be keen to return! Thanks for visiting, and May the Journey Never End!