In June 2016 I hatched a plan to go deeper behind the Iron Curtain than I had ever been before. Since 1991, I have travelled around the Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Poland. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It was time to go further. I scratched Ukraine off the list because of the Russian incursions in Crimea. Russia itself was off the list because of the visa regulations. I had skirted Belarus many years ago on a Baltic trip and felt that the time had come to be brave and go there.
There were obvious obstacles: visa and language. The visa issue was quickly dealt with once I purchased a return flight to Vilnius and an accommodation in Minsk. Flying to Minsk is expensive so it is cheaper to go by bus or train from Vilnius. The language was more of an issue but I created a “cheat sheet” of the alphabet.
The bus journey from Vilnius takes about 3.5 hours and is far from exciting. The motorway is lined with forests broken up by occasional villages. The village houses tend to be brightly painted and have intricate designs on them. They also seem, from the motorway, to be low and tiny. The big excitement is at the border. Passengers have their passports checked, go on a little way, get out of the coach with every item and take it through the customs control, get back on the coach, go a little way, get off the coach and visit Duty Free then get back on the coach for the rest of the journey.
Coming into Minsk there is a collection of religious buildings and then the housing blocks loom large. Everything in Minsk is larger than life from posters, buildings and statues. This is a country which does not know the word “discrete” apart from when it comes to tourist information where less is really less. The bus pulls into the bus station or the train station and then the tourist is out there on their own.
Around the bus and train stations there are a few signs in English but on the whole the traveller encounters Russian and Belarusian. Little English is spoken outside the hotels but it is possible to find restaurant menus in English and other languages. The Great Patriotic Museum has information in very long-winded English.
It is the size of everything which is striking.
This piece of artwork is opposite the Trinity Suburb and adorns a small shopping centre.
This statue is in a park
Monument to the Heroes of WW2 (The Great Patriotic War)
And here is our friend Lenin outside the Government Buildings
The trip was, unfortunately, very short but left enough appetite for another visit.