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12 quick thoughts on Minsk : 48 hours in Minsk

Minsk is a large sprawling city. Period! 12 quick thoughts on Minsk

In fact, the entire city looks like a cleaner version of  Sawgrass Mills mall in Florida. For instance, this was walking into their “Old Town”

To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t think of a single time in travel conversations that Belarus was mentioned as a happening place to visit. It’s like the Montana or Saskatchewan of the former Soviet republics aka typical complete fly over country. My primary motivation for visiting Belarus was to increase my country count. If you’re old like many of my friends, the only thing that may come to mind when someone mentions Belarus is the episode of Friends when Phoebe’s boyfriend runs off to Minsk.

Yeah that really happened and I remembered that I had a stamp from Belarus. Point is … that’s all I really knew about Minsk. Also the fact that my computer refuses to accept Minsk and tries to autocorrect it to “Minks”.

Couple things I also heard prior to my trip here

  1. I heard Belarus was still very much a dictatorship and not very welcoming for foreigners (especially Westerners) :
    I won’t comment on the political situation as I don’t have enough context, but I can definitely say that everyone is curious and I’ve gotten stopped everywhere by smiling people and asking where I was from … for more context … a previous post captures the spirit … “If you’re brown and Trini in Uzbekistan … this happens …
  2. I read about accommodation options being limited and expensive.
    Also not true, but with my SPG status … I’ve been staying a hospitality suite at the Marriott Minsk. It’s a phenomenal bargain at 3000 SPG points a night … more to come on my room review at the hotel.
  3. I was told to avoid using my mobile phone near public squares if any protests were taking place as the government would use it to track me and arrest me.  12 quick thoughts on Minsk
    I’ve been using my phone everywhere and I haven’t had a single question or even sideways look from anyone about this. However I’ve also not been around any public protests here … no sane reason for that anyway.
  4. Based on initial conversations with people … I imagined Minsk and Belarus to be the poorer, little sister of Russia: less modern, less stable and less free. 12 quick thoughts on Minsk
    I haven’t been outside of Minsk, nor could I put that into my packed country hopping itinerary – so I couldn’t comment on the less free and less stable part … but I can definitely say that Minsk is a modern, sprawling rebuilt city
  5. Transport around is tough 12 quick thoughts on Minsk
    Hell no … but for US and Canadian guests, Uber is your best friend here …
    It’s cheap, fairly reliable with most drivers speaking English and more importantly, not having to worry about currency exchange issues. When you get to the brand new airport, just call an Uber and in about 7 years, you’ll be at your hotel or downtown. Here’s my fare breakdown from the airport : 24.79BYN is about 17$ CDN or 13$ USD … which is pretty freaking awesome
  6. Teachers and doctors are ridiculously underpaid. Belarus is a poor country. While it was one of the most economically advanced republics in the former Soviet Union, its economy declined rapidly after it became independent. A doctor I met here told me that average salaries in Belarus run about $300-$500USD. I can’t imagine a doctor earning this …
  7. Everything is new because the city was levelled in WWII and then bombings happened again about
  8. Belarus is excellent doing some country hopping : Belarus borders five countries: Latvia to the north, Lithuania to the northwest, Poland to the west, Russia to the north and the east, and Ukraine to the south.
  9. I didn’t notice any police in Minsk ,whereas in Moscow police often stop people (locals and foreigners alike), asking to see their documents, I was told in Minsk that never happens in Belarus. People I talked to said that generally feels quite free to come and go as they want, which even includes studying in a foreign university.
  10. As a foreigner, I never felt uncomfortable and I definitely didn’t feel the anxiety of having white power nationalists next to us like in Lviv. In fact, I walked everywhere I could within reason

  11. The restaurant scene wasn’t for me because Eastern European food isn’t for me … but like all through this Easter European trip … there were some amazing themed bars. They really know how to drink in style here and drinking is definitely cheap … unless you’re ordering higher end booze – although not as cheap as Lviv.
  12. Minsk may not have the same charm as the capitals of nearby Latvia and Lithuania, but the city itself is attractive, with clean, wide sidewalks made of colored brick, a river running through the center, and parks and monuments scattered throughout the city.  While lacking English explanations, the Museum of the Great Patriotic War (the Soviet name for World War II) makes for an interesting stop with several rooms full of sometimes graphic displays.
  1. I heard Belarus was still very much a dictatorship and not very welcoming for foreigners (especially Westerners) :
    I won’t comment on the political situation as I don’t have enough context, but I can definitely say that everyone is curious and I’ve gotten stopped everywhere by smiling people and asking where I was from … for more context … a previous post captures the spirit … “If you’re brown and Trini in Uzbekistan … this happens …
  2. I read about accommodation options being limited and expensive.
    Also not true, but with my SPG status … I’ve been staying a hospitality suite at the Marriott Minsk. It’s a phenomenal bargain at 3000 SPG points a night … more to come on my room review at the hotel.
  3. I was told to avoid using my mobile phone near public squares if any protests were taking place as the government would use it to track me and arrest me.  12 quick thoughts on Minsk
    I’ve been using my phone everywhere and I haven’t had a single question or even sideways look from anyone about this. However I’ve also not been around any public protests here … no sane reason for that anyway.
  4. Based on initial conversations with people … I imagined Minsk and Belarus to be the poorer, little sister of Russia: less modern, less stable and less free.
    I haven’t been outside of Minsk, nor could I put that into my packed country hopping itinerary – so I couldn’t comment on the less free and less stable part … but I can definitely say that Minsk is a modern, sprawling rebuilt city
  5. Transport around is tough
    Hell no … but for US and Canadian guests, Uber is your best friend here …
    It’s cheap, fairly reliable with most drivers speaking English and more importantly, not having to worry about currency exchange issues. When you get to the brand new airport, just call an Uber and in about 7 years, you’ll be at your hotel or downtown. Here’s my fare breakdown from the airport : 24.79BYN is about 17$ CDN or 13$ USD … which is pretty freaking awesome
  6. Teachers and doctors are ridiculously underpaid. Belarus is a poor country. While it was one of the most economically advanced republics in the former Soviet Union, its economy declined rapidly after it became independent. A doctor I met here told me that average salaries in Belarus run about $300-$500USD. I can’t imagine a doctor earning this …
  7. Everything is new because the city was levelled in WWII and then bombings happened again about
  8. Belarus is excellent doing some country hopping : Belarus borders five countries: Latvia to the north, Lithuania to the northwest, Poland to the west, Russia to the north and the east, and Ukraine to the south.
  9. I didn’t notice any police in Minsk ,whereas in Moscow police often stop people (locals and foreigners alike), asking to see their documents, I was told in Minsk that never happens in Belarus. People I talked to said that generally feels quite free to come and go as they want, which even includes studying in a foreign university.
  10. As a foreigner, I never felt uncomfortable and I definitely didn’t feel the anxiety of having white power nationalists next to us like in Lviv. In fact, I walked everywhere I could within reason

  11. The restaurant scene wasn’t for me because Eastern European food isn’t for me … but like all through this Easter European trip … there were some amazing themed bars. They really know how to drink in style here and drinking is definitely cheap … unless you’re ordering higher end booze – although not as cheap as Lviv.
  12. Minsk may not have the same charm as the capitals of nearby Latvia and Lithuania, but the city itself is attractive, with clean, wide sidewalks made of colored brick, a river running through the center, and parks and monuments scattered throughout the city.  While lacking English explanations, the Museum of the Great Patriotic War (the Soviet name for World War II) makes for an interesting stop with several rooms full of sometimes graphic displays.

About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at [email protected]