A Russian proverb says: Better seen once than heard a hundred times.
Reason enough to spend a holiday in Europe's last standing dictature!
I was apparently the only tourist who was not (A) visiting the Tshernobyl kids he was taking care of or (B) seeing his Belarussian Internet date for the first time. All other people I met fell into either category (A) or (B).
The great tourist attractions such as "the island of tears" and a massive collection of stalinist architecture are not the only pleasure Minsk has to offer for the eye. The National Library that President Lukashenko had ordered to be built looks more like the death star than a library building. In order to have a look inside the death star I had to become a card-carrying member of the library. It's impressive (not thatg I could read a single book, though)
It's also probably the last escape where shopaholics can go into rehab. There is one cinema. One. Tickets are sold out for the next month to come. There is one Mc Donalds and one Mango. That's it. In the rest of the department stores is nothing really you would want to purchase. There is also no advertisements in the street. Busstops are decorated with posters of Belarussian girls in their traditional costumes harvesting corn or proud Belarussian metro conductors in their uniforms.
I walked through Minsk when the orthodox easter celebrations were held in the churches. The queues were impressive and people brought cake and eggs (and some vodka) to have it blessed by a priest.
On the train to Moscow at night I shared a compartment with Vasily. We had some issues communicating in the beginning until I could tell him in my limited Russian that I come from Germany. He replied in fluent German from then on. Vasily served during the cold war in the German Democratic Republic and that's where he learned the lingo. Since they did not accept Belarussian roubles in the restaurant car and I did not have any Russian money he insisted that the Vodka was on him. When we arrived in Moscow he came with me and got me on the right metro. As we took the escalator down what felt like at least 100 m undergroud he told me that this is only the official Metro and that there is a second secret system. I never found out what his job was, but I guess he was an apparatchik and he knows...
In Moscow I checked into the filthy hostel where Spanish women complain about the cleanliness of the showers and Russians play online poker all night. I share a dorm where one is always snoring, another one comes in drunk in the middle of the night from a pubcrawl and yet another person has the alarm set to 6 o'clock to catch an early train and takes an hour to pack everything in noisy plastic bags. Red Square is a five minute walk, the staff is extremely helpful and there's always a cold beer in the fridge. Unshaved and smelly backpackers who just got off the Trans-Siberian are happy to have the first shower in 5 days.
En bref: It's paradise. Life couldn't be better.
Not the yet to be opened Apple store of Minsk, but the National Library a.k.a. the death star.
Worth checking out:
What's on in Minsk
Everbrite's Belarus page
Travel Europe's Belarus Travel Guide
some restaurants my colleague Anna recommends:
This one is on the way from Trinity Suburb to Independence avenue, a bit behind the town hall
площадь Свободы, 23 (Ploschad Svobody/Liberty Square)
open 10:00 - 01:00
This one is close to the metro Oktyabrskaya at the Independence avenue and it is next door to the McDonalds
проспект Независимости, 23 (prospekt Nezavisimosti / Independence avenue )
open 11:00 - 00:00
Another one a bit further away in the direction of Victory Square
проспект Независимости, 25 (prospekt Nezavisimosti / Independence avenue )
open 11:00 - 01:00
Even though two restaurants above have house numbers 23 and 25 they are not so close to each other!
It's about 150 meters away!
This one is very close to the station, so you can eat there before the depature
Эль Помидоро (El Pomidoro)
улица. Кирова, 6 (ulitsa Kirova / Kirova street)