Minsk

Russia sees Minsk as a little brother State. This Slavophilic relationship along with the political climate has led to the strict border control that limits the amount of people and information that can come in or out of the country. On the whole it is relatively simple to obtain a visa, providing you avoid the barrage of websites offering Belarusian brides that appear through the visa application channels. Much of the area was levelled during World War 2, but glimpses of the older style architecture remain. Sadly they look completely out of place and almost bizarre alongside the soviet monstrosities that have been built in the last half a century. The most heinous crime is probably the national library, which has been criticised for its hideous appearance and spiralling costs. The atmosphere can seem slightly odd at times, but in a country where people spy on friends and the state have complete control over the media, this is hardly surprising. The inhabitants are very welcoming on the whole and will do everything in their power to show off their rapidly improving nation in the best light. One technique for doing so is to ply guests with alcohol and care should be taken during meals as your hosts are likely to have more experience in putting away the local vodka than you.

Attractions

Ice Hockey - The national sport is ice hockey and the national team caused huge upset in the 2002 Olympics with their victory in the quarterfinal over Sweden. There are plans to build a stadium in every centre but currently the main stadium in Minsk is the mot obvious place to watch a match. The standard is very high and the atmosphere normally very exciting. The President is said to organise his own mock matches here with players from the national team. It is in everyone's interest that his team wins and there have been serious repercussions when this has not been the case.

Monuments - The soviet fascination with statues and giant statues of its leaders has been likened to the personality cult created by Mao. Across much of Easter Europe there are gaping chasms where these giant features once stood, the statues having been destroyed or relocated to special parks that exhibit them outside towns. This is not the case in Belarus, and although there are no giant heads of political leaders actually on display, there are some pretty spectacular and often eerie figurines of towering proportions scattered throughout the city. Highlights include the "Obelisk to Hero City Minsk".

Yakub Kolas' State Memorial and Literary Museum - Yakub Kolas was one of the most eminent writers of his time and is honoured by a statue, square and museum. The building is where the author, poet, scientist and public figure spent the last twelve years of his life before he passed away in 1956. The exhibition focuses on Kolas' work but also provides a good introduction into the movement that he pioneered.

Shopping

The centre of Minsk could well be a futile shopping experience. The main streets are lined with boutiques apparently selling Gucci and Prada, closer inspection however reveals that none of the shop really hold any stock and are simply part of a huge communist fa�ade.

Unsurprisingly given the level of corruption and resulting chasm between rich and poor, the most desirable goods remain unavailable outside the black market. If you're shopping for gifts or simple groceries head towards Galaria Mastatsva or the market next to the Museum of Great Patriotic War. Typical souvenirs include dolls, folk art and clothing and military artefacts and soviet trinkets.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Dining in Belarus on the whole can be a fairly laborious experience. It can often be the case that each item of food must be ordered individually, which is ultimately very frustrating if working from a foreign menu and phrasebook. The more tourist driven places tend to have abandoned this system and anywhere in the Old Town should be quite straight forward, although the food is mostly of national orientation. For international dishes, try Jomolungma on Gialo Street that serves a plethora of interesting dishes from Nepal, Tibet and Southern Asia.

Aimlessly walking through the city at night will probably lead to trouble. The credible nightlife spots are not that obvious, and the streets are far from being lined with pubs and bars. The bars most popular with tourists are 0.5 on Gertsena Street and the enormous Rakovski Brovar which even boasts its own brewery. Korchma has relaxing views over the river and the surrounding architecture is made up of an odd variety of styles, which adds to the view. Nightclubs are either seedy discos frequented solely by old men and prostitutes, strip clubs with extortionate admission fees and drinks or strange nightclubs. The latter are also frequented by prostitutes and often have strippers, although they are least pushy when it comes to propositioning punters. One of the most accessible and fashionable venues is [http://www.bronx.by/ The Bronx] which has live DJs, a restaurant and more modern style of cabaret compared to most other places.

Tourist Information

Belintourist OfficeAddress: Yubileynaya HotelProspekt Pobediteley 19Minsk

  • Telephone: 375 17 226 99 00
  • Closed at Weekends

Airport

There are two main airports that serve the city. [http://www.avia.by/pages.php?id=108 Airport Minsk-1] has a terminal that looks like a state building, which is novel, but it sees very few passenger flights despite its excellent location ten minutes from the city centre. Airport Minsk-2 or Minsk International Airport has a very military feel and paperwork tends to be rather laborious entering and leaving the country. You can pay for it to be expedited while you take a seat and a drink at the 'passenger common-room'. The airport is 45km outside the city and taxis can be extortionate, instead take the bus from the central bus station. Flights depart here to destinations across Europe and the rest of the World.

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