Along Independence Avenue

The final day in Minsk, Belarus.

Early morning. It was neither raining nor foggy so my travel companion and I headed out of our 1950 constructivist-style housing estate to see what Minsk had to offer.

Our first stop was the Great Patriot War Museum, which consists of a huge monument to the Heroes of Belarus, a modern museum telling the story of the war and a park. It is not easy to miss as the monument towers high above the landscape. We had a photo opp on the monument and then went into the museum. After showing our Student Identity Cards, yes it is possible to be a student over the age of 26, we obtained entrance tickets and a photographer’s sticker. There is a route round the museum and our attempts to deviate from it were thwarted by the curators.As in all things Minsk, it is large and the exhibits are on a large scale. There are information signs in reasonably good English but the museum custodians have yet to learn the art of the short, snappy comment.

After the Great Patriotic War Museum (Why still use the old Soviet terminology?)we opted for a bus ride. This cost 55 kopecks and took us downtown. Along the way we could see places we had visited the day before and helped orientate us a little.

We got off at the Gum Department Store, which is a huge shopping emporium reminiscent of 1950s and 1960s shopping experiences. The imposing staircase, which you see in front of you when you open the doors, harks back to an earlier, more expansive, age when shopping was truly an experience. The window displays say the store is only 65 years old but it has the feel of a much earlier age. I especially liked the Art Deco details on the heating grills and columns. One of the floors, I noted that a light fitting was topped with some Soviet Era symbols – a hammer and sickle being one. After perusing real fur coats and the socks (a passion of mine) we headed off in search of a cafeteria. This turned out to be on the top floor in some kind of atrium. The cafeteria is a relic of earlier times. A glass fronted display cabinet with little bowls of salads and desserts, a serving area for the main courses from which you pick your favourites, bread and drinks. I got some kind of meat in a nice gravy with mashed potatoes, a sweet roll and a red liquid with some fruit at the bottom. It is a school dinners experience so you deliver your tray stacked with empty dishes to the washing up window.

After the shopping experience, we headed down the street taking some photographs of grand buildings. We stopped off to take a photograph of Felix Dzerzhinsky, who helped to found the Ceka, and a couple of wall plaques. Then it was into the Post Office.

The Post Office is rather grand as befits a main Post Office. It has stained glass windows and serving windows in a semi-circular pattern around the room. Directly ahead of the entrance is the little shop. This is a wondrous place for collectors. There are printed envelopes with the most amazing designs and letter writing sets. As a collector of Soviet-style printed envelopes I was agog and came away with a handful. I regretted not buying more as they were so delightful The nice manager directed me to some of the collectors editions. There were too many to choose from so I am saving that pleasure for another visit.

Then it was on to Independence Square. Now this is an interesting collection of buildings. To the right, a run-down building which houses a cake shop, a supermarket, a bank (!), an exchange office and, apparently, a hotel.

There is a statue in front of the “hotel” which may have something to do with the foundation of the city. It makes a nice photo. Behind the back is the red Neo-Romanesque church of Saint Simon and Helena, a Catholic church. We had the chance to catch the final minutes of mass.

Then, we went around the front to the main square. Here are the huge government buildings (Dom Urada), a magnificent statue of Lenin and the State Pedagogical University. The square is a hugely impressive site.

We took a break in one of the government buildings which hosts a café-restaurant. Then, it was on to the railway station. Here you see the station, the City Gates and lots of huge buildings and shops.

From here we entered the Metro. It was the rush hour but we still did not have to wait more than a few minutes to buy travel tokens. Using the metro was simple – we followed everyone else and put our token in the slot. I have to say that on my next visit I want to ride the metro and see all the stations. The three I saw were amazing in their design and I am a total sucker for Art Deco and permutations of it.

Alas, we got lost yet again. A few pedestrians managed to understand my mangled request and directed us towards our housing estate. On the way we found a small restaurant where we ordered Grandmother’s Stuffed Cabbage Leaves. Very Polish. Later we visit s cocktail bar which was reminiscent of the kind of thing you used to find in Soho London in the 1980s. Very tacky and tasteless. Hygge, the Scandinavian style currently, popular in London, has not reached these parts.

Then, we were lost again for the final time! 3 nights in Minsk and got lost 3 times!

Giant Statues and Giant History Recorded

From my Facebook Page ( and TripAdvisor review

I have started writing up my reviews of Budapest on TripAdvisor.

Giant Statues and Giant History Recorded

There are few places left in Europe where you can see the monumental monuments and statues the Soviets placed to remind the conquered of their station in life. Memento Park is one of them.

Despite the Disney World approach to selling the park it does have a serious purpose. That purpose is to act as a reminder of how much the Soviet System brutalized the populations it tried to rule and subdue. The statues remind us of the enormity of the ego of the Soviet invaders and the belief system they tried to force on people e.g. Socialism with an Inhuman Face. Once you get past the tacky tacky souvenir shop, itself a comment on the tackiness of Sovietsky, then you are in a surreal world of monster statues.

Not all the statues are really really huge. Some are just normal pass-by without noticing size, some are just about noticeable and some are so huge they can probably be seen from outer space. The huge ones generally represent the fallen Soviet heroes or commemorate heroic events by the Soviets; the smaller one remember the fallen, the quietly heroic and the people who made a difference to life in the country.

The park is a place of wonder and reflection. There’s a huge pair of boots near the entrance which were Stalin’s boots. One could say, that they remind us that he got “too big for his boots” which is why he was deposed and most statues of him destroyed. Lenin fared better. Karl Marx, who stirred up the whole revolutionary business in the first place, sits at the entrance looking rather academic.

The park is accessible via metro from Gellert Station and a 150 bus. The bus trip goes through residential areas and a bit of countryside before stopping near a dirt track. When you get off the bus, the Statue Park is behind you . Look around for the boots!



Communist housing units in Warsaw

“Ostalgie” is the term used for having nostalgic feelings for the old ways of life behind the Iron Curtain. It emerged after the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the rush to capitalist-type economic systems destroyed the way of life which had existed since 1939. People in the Eastern Bloc countries began to miss some of the certainties of life and products of the Communist Era; people from the West began to yearn for a view of the life style which had been denied them for 50 years.

Ostalgie is evident in the recreations of aspects of Communist life in former Communist countries. Go to East Germany, Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic and take a tour in a Trabant. Relive the olden days in Warsaw with a visit to the Communist Museum with it’s replica Socialist Style flat.In Tallinn, visit the Energie or Narva coffee shops and see how it used to be, down to the decor and the brightly coloured cakes. In Warsaw, visit the Red Cow pub and marvel at their artifacts. Wander round old markets and pick up a statue of Lenin. In Riga, go to Agenskalns Market and get yourself a Soviet lapel pin or an old piece of equipment. The huge Victory Monument is still looming large in Riga, if you want to cross the river and marvel at it. In Budapest, don’t forget the Monument Park which is full of Communist Statues. In Lithuania visit Kaunus and see the remains of the Soviet monuments on the streets. The restaurant Marxism in Budapest is a reminder of how the food used to be. If you go behind the National Museum in Tallinn you can see an abandoned lot of old Communist statues, including a rather nice Lenin.Unfortunately, the statues and red stars have largely disappeared in Prague. There used to be a rather nice one outside the main station.

Obviously, no one misses the KGB in its various incarnations, the spying, the secret photography, the phone tapping, the prison cells, the sudden executions, the lack of free speech, the tanks on the streets, the food shortages and the blocked television channels. It seems, though, that there is a yearning for some of the simplicity and certainties of the old Communist days in our consumerist society.