Jetsetting

Visiting Minsk – A Memoir | Discovering Belarus

Due to the conflict with Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, I was debating on posting this blog. The country is currently in the red zone of Travel Advisory, of do not travel. I am doing it anyways, in the hopes that Belarus soon will be once more be free to travel in.

I was standing at the airport in Vilnius, Lithuania ready to board my flight to Minsk and I had started a conversation with an older American couple, who were also Belarus bound. We had discussed the countries that we have been to, as well as jumping into action once a county is free to travel due to political restrictions being lifted. How fitting that travel rule is today, once again.

I had visited Belarus in 2019, after the news that the country was open and visas were free to 74 countries. I decided that I was going, like many other jetsetters and true travelers- once a country opens and we hear about it, we get on a plane before it becomes a “hot spot”. Also for serious travelers, we understand that the world can change quickly, and a country can either open to tourism or close its doors.

When I came to Belarus, I was already on a two month trip in Europe and decided to fly in from Lithuania. It was an easier time for travel, months before the pandemic, and the current political problems in the region.

In truth, in the year I visited Minsk, I enjoyed my visit as a solo female American tourist. I found the people in Minsk to be very friendly with a dry sense of humor. It was a lively city were locals and tourists enjoyed strolls through the parks, and headed to favorite restaurants. The city was safe at all times of the day, and I never felt like trouble was waiting for me around the corner.

Greetings from Minsk

Minsk is the largest city in Belarus and the country’s capital, and they have invest a lot on the city’s cleanliness. One thing I noticed while in Minsk, was how pristine the city was. I heard another tourist mention the city’s tidiness, and our guide for the day mentioned that Minsk was named one of the world’s cleanest city’s. He was not joking, Minsk was named amongst the three cleanest city in the world!

History– Minsk was first documented in 1067 as the capital of the Principality of Minsk, prior to being annexed in 1242 by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It had centuries as the capital of Minsk Voivodeship, being a region annexed by the Russian Empire in 1793. Most recently last century, from 1919 to 1991, Minsk was the capital of Byelorussion Soviet Socialist Republic in the Soviet Union.

Belarus became an independent country when the USSR collapsed in 1991. It has maintained strong economic and political ties with Russia though. I remember having a conversation with my Minsk driver about their relationship with Russia, and he said that it was good and it felt safe to have Russia as a big sister.

There were many interesting places to visit while in Minsk, especially if you understand the history of this region. There are buildings that were important during Belarus’s Soviet and communist past that are being reused today. Minsk also had a familiar sense of structure and formality, that I have found a common trait in this part of the world.

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If you are interested in visiting Minsk in the future or wanting to know more about the city, I have listed several significant sights to see while visiting the capital. I am also a food blogger and gastronome, and added a couple of Minsk food blogs to this article- Enjoy!

City Hall

City Hall

City Hall in the center of Minsk has been a government symbol for centuries. The building was first mentioned in 1583 as a stone building, and has been reconstructed many times over the centuries. Most recently, reconstruction of Minsk City Hall began in 1980, with an extensive amount of research. The building was restored to its 19th century appearance, even down to the thickness of the walls. The restored Minsk City Hall was inaugurated on November 4, 2004.

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The Holy Spirit Cathedral

The Holy Spirit Cathedral is considered one of the city’s main landmarks, and is listed as a Belarusian Cultural Heritage Object. The church was built in 1633-1642 as a Bernadine monastery during the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and is the central cathedral of the Belarusian Orthodox Church.

Inside the cathedral are several important icons and relics, with the most valuable being the Our Lady of Minsk Icon of 1500.

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Svisloch River

The Svisloch is the largest river in Minsk, and you can enjoy it by renting pedal boats to explore the area. It is one of the city’s reservoirs and “cuts” the capital in half, into two equal parts by area. The widest part of the river in Minsk is in Victory Park, at 150-180 meters.

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Island of Tears

The Island of Tears is a memorial on the Svisloch river that is connected by a footbridge from the Old Town of Minsk. There are two significant memorials on this island – the Afghan War Memorial and the Weeping Angel.

Bridge to Island of Tears

The Afghan War Memorial is the centerpiece, with grieving women (mothers, sisters and widows), to commemorate the Belarusian casualties during the USSR’s nine year war in Afghanistan (1979-1988).

The Weeping Angel is an emotionally moving statue on the island. He faces the Afghanistan Memorial, covering his eyes and cries water teardrops into a small pool.

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Old Town

Minsk’s Old Town is located on the east side of the Svislach River, and bordered by Vul Maxima Bahdanovicha. The neighborhood is known as the “Trinity Suburb”, and originally dates back to the 17th and 18th century. Although the houses of Old Town have been recreated and reconstructed during the 1980s, it is still a pleasant place to visit with nice restaurants and cafes.

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Janka Kupała Park

The Janka Kapula is a lovely park along the Svislac river. It is named after and dedicated to Janka Kupala, one of Belarus’s classical writers of the early 20th century. In the park there is a beautiful fountain “Wreath”, as well as a monument of Janka Kupala that was built in 1972.

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Victory Park

Victory Park is the largest green space in Minsk, and is located along the Svislach River and Velodorozhka. The park contains the Belarusian State Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War, along with several gardens, fountains, waterfront views and stone paved paths.

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National Academic Grand Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Republic of Belarus

The current theatre was opened in 1939, and has been Belarus’s cultural hall for both ballet and opera. The State Theatre had divided into two independent theatres in 1996, the National Academic Opera Theatre of Belarus and the National Academic Grand Ballet Theatre of the Republic of Belarus. Then in 2008, they combined again to its current name, National Academic Grand Opera and Ballet Theater of the Republic of Belarus.

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October Square

October Square is a historic location in central Misnk that has been a venue for festivals, concerts, and socio-political actions since Belarus’s independence. During the soviet era, a huge monument (33 feet high) of Joseph Stalin was installed, and it had become the city’s main square. There were military parades and the square had welcomed demonstrations during various celebratory days- Worker’s Day, Victory Day, and October Revolution Day.

Palace of the Republic

October Square is surrounded by several Soviet-era style buildings, including the Soviet Palace of Culture of Labor Unions Building and Palace of the Republic.

Soviet Palace of Culture of Labor Unions Building

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Medieval Merchants Monument

Next to the Holy Spirit Cathedral is an interesting bronze statue dedicated to the medieval merchants, who helped Minsk become a prosperous city. The merchants are creatively portrayed weighing goods underneath a tile roofed shelter.

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Grand Café

I am not going to lie, but having lunch at the Grand Café was one of my favorite things to do in Minsk. This restaurant was so very grand! It is a luxurious and sumptuous place, and is one of the most beautiful old world dining establishments of its kind that I have been to in Eastern Europe.

I dined on delicious traditional dishes starting off with a Mimosa, of course. Then moving onto a buttery Chicken Kiev, fresh asparagus and a blueberry cream cake. Everything was magnificent from start to finish!

As a traveling gastronome, this is one restaurant that I would travel back to Belarus for. I found the Chicken Kiev served here to be the best that I have tried, but would not mind tasting other menu options. If their Chicken Kiev was as excellent as it was, it made me more curious on their other fine dishes.

For restaurant information and my full review – The Grand Cafe | Minsk, Belarus

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Minsk, Belarus Food Blog and Recommendations

As for food, I found a lot of delicious restaurants close to Old Town where I was staying. Eating out is definitely enjoyed by Belarusians, and there are plenty of options. I tried  traditional foods as well as international dishes. Everything I ate was terrific and I have no complaints.

From finally locating Chicken Kiev in Eastern Euro to snacking on local candy bars, my list of “What I ate in Belarus – A Food Journal”.

Belarus Food Blog – What I ate in BELARUS – A Food Journal

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Photos of Minsk

Soviet-era Communist postcard
Old Phone at Hotel Garni
Minsk Airport

Adventures are the best way to learn …

Yours Truly in Minsk

🌎 Thank you for visiting my website and NEVER STOP EXPLORING!

📸 All photos are taken by me and are my intellectual property – Trixie Navarre

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