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214475.  Fri Sep 28, 2007 6:47 am Reply with quote

That's a fair question - so let's try three answers.

1. Because the opportunity arose
2. So's I can say that I've been there
3. To see for myself how Communism works (or doesn't) in the modern world.

I did once get behind the Iron Curtain in the Olden Days (a week's excursion to Moscow and what was then Leningrad while I was at university), and it will be interesting to see how this compares with that.

214560.  Fri Sep 28, 2007 9:59 am Reply with quote

I'm not sure answers 1 and 2 are entirely convincing. Would you accept a return ticket to Milton Keynes on that basis? :)

I guess I can understand option 3 being a genuine point of interest. I'll look forward to hearing your findings, assuming they let you out again, of course ;-)

214586.  Fri Sep 28, 2007 10:39 am Reply with quote

I'm not entirely sure that I'm convinced by 1. and 2. either, but if I can't even convince myself that I really do want to spend a weekend in this bizarre land, then what hope do I have?

But y'know, Belarus adjoins Poland and I don't suppose the opportunity to go there will arise again, so it just seemed like a thing that ought to be done. And furthermore, after jumping through all the hoops that are necessary for those who would get a Belarusian visa, there's no way I'm backing out now!

(Oh, and I've been to Milton Keynes. But if someone posted me a return ticket to, say, Norwich - then yes, I probably would!)

234734.  Sat Nov 24, 2007 4:34 pm Reply with quote

I've been to Belarus, almost exactly a year ago. If you're going to Minsk then you will be pleasantly surprised. It took a lot of hammer during the war but has been very carefully rebuilt. It's very clean with plenty of bars/pubs/restaurants. The people are very friendly too. The city library is quite stunning at night although not in the centre of town.
However, if you are going outside of Minsk, what you are imagining is probably close to the truth. I went to Borisaw (Borisov) and it was definitely still struggling to shake off its past problems. Not an attractive place. There are some lovely castles and things dotted around the countryside.
It will be cold.
Any questions, don't hesitate to ask!

234749.  Sat Nov 24, 2007 4:53 pm Reply with quote

Thanks Albert, I'll give you a shout if I need to know anything before I go!

I'm only going to Minsk, so maybe I'll only see the most presentable part of the country - but either way, I'll post something here about it once I've been.

235591.  Mon Nov 26, 2007 6:59 pm Reply with quote

bring your own milk, bread and veg, as weird as that sounds. there is still a fair bit of fall-out from chernobyl in the ground round there - the minsk region was among the ones hardest hit by the rains - so unless you can make absolutely sure you're eating/ drinking imported produce you'll probably end up munching a fair bit of strontium 90 and caesium 137 with your lunch. so, strictly speaking, you should also avoid the local meat and fungi, but i guess you'll want to find a middle way between keeping healthy and not offending your hosts (not to mention that there's some tasty cooking to be had there).

there is, btw, a great tradition of arts and crafts in belarus, so you'll be able to get something nicer to take back with you than the traditional tacky souvenir. you'll probably find beautiful handwoven linen, wooden kitchenware, excellent crystal and also a lot of woven straw stuff.

i don't know about your accommodation arrangements, but if you're actually staying in private quarters it's a good idea to find out if there's anything they want brought over.



235598.  Mon Nov 26, 2007 7:15 pm Reply with quote

Thanks AFB!

I'll be staying in a hotel - and it is an old Soviet one, although it's been refurbished since those days - so that bit won't arise.

But I'll be sure to check out the arts and crafts, and I'll be a little bit careful about what I eat and drink, certainly.

I'm beginning to get excited about it actually, but it's still more than a week away so I shall restrain myself.

235629.  Mon Nov 26, 2007 9:31 pm Reply with quote

Oo-er, missus!

236297.  Tue Nov 27, 2007 5:39 pm Reply with quote

i'd be excited to go there... actually, this whole conversation has me feeling quite sentimental about all the amazing people from there i've met over the past ten or so years. you always try to keep in touch, but it tends to fizzle out quite soon because parcels are ripped open, searched and often looted at the border, mail is read and sometimes not sent on afterwards, and then of course you don't want to get them into more trouble with the state authorities than they are to start with, so have to watch what you're writing... it sucks! :-(

thanks, marina, swetlana, isaac, olga x2, uljana, katja and all the others, it was a previlege to meet you...



237201.  Thu Nov 29, 2007 9:50 am Reply with quote

Suze, here is the beginner's guide of things to see in Minsk :-

Oktyabrskaya Sq. and the Museum of WWII
Yanka Kupala Theatre
The Island of Tears
The Roman Catholic Church of St Simeon and St Helen
The Holy Spirit Cathedral
The Victory Monument

There are some decent bars/restaurants near the Cathedral.

I stayed in the 40 Years of Victory Hotel - it's not pretty but not a bad location. Buy a decent map is the top tip. It's not a large city and most things are walkable.
Have fun and don't forget to upload your photos when you come back so we can all see if it was worth the effort getting your visa.
I was only there for 2 days and think I saw most things, albeit very quickly!
PS - don't photo the Presidents residence or make any political jokes. (A bit like naming your teddy bear after a religious figure).
Have fun!

237269.  Thu Nov 29, 2007 11:04 am Reply with quote

Thanks Albert, I shall see how many of those things I can tick off when I'm in Minsk.

As for photography, yea I've been warned a couple of times to be a bit careful about what I take pictures of. One isn't allowed to photograph stations or anything else connected with the railroad either. (I don't know why, but this used to be the rule in all of the Soviet bloc countries.)

240957.  Thu Dec 06, 2007 7:01 pm Reply with quote

Well this is it. Time for bed, and then time for Belarus.

I should be back Sunday evening. If I'm not back by the end of Monday, please will someone alert the authorities!

240973.  Thu Dec 06, 2007 7:43 pm Reply with quote

given lukaschenko once tried to annex the territory of all the embassies in minsk i'm not sure how much use alerting the authorities will be. ;-) still, good luck! we'll send in the cia if you're not back by monday night!



240997.  Thu Dec 06, 2007 8:34 pm Reply with quote

Belarus had a sub-par national hockey team in 1998

242081.  Sun Dec 09, 2007 1:44 pm Reply with quote

Well I'm pleased to report that I got back from Belarus in one piece, and it was really rather an interesting trip.

The weather wasn't as cold as I'd feared it might be - it stayed above zero, and there was cloud cover and intermittent rain; so no snow and no ice.

A bit like Albert, I managed to see most of the main sights of Minsk albeit rather quickly, and I took loads of photographs. Some of these will go up on ImageShack just as soon as I get around to deciding which ones are any good, cropping them, and so on.

My basic impression was that Minsk is a pleasant enough city; decidedly Soviet in parts but also Polish / Baltic in parts. Naturally I didn't go to the large housing schemes, where I'd guess conditions lean rather more toward the Soviet side of the balance.

As for the regime, it didn't really impinge itself on me to a great extent. Yes, as one walks the streets of Minsk, one sees more men in uniform and carrying guns than one does in England - but the same is true of (for instance) France and the USA.

A couple of things I did notice though - when a guide is informing one that photography is not permitted here, there is no "please" and there is little doubt that to disobey the instruction might carry consequences.

And there's just a slight feeling that if one ventures away from the main visitor attractions, one is probably being followed. That may well just be paranoia, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that it isn't the case.


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