Day 3: More marvellous Minsk
After walking the main street Frantsisk Skorina Avenue the day before it was time to see some of the other highlights of Minsk on our second full day in the Belarusian capital. The main sites planned to visit this day were Masherov Avenue, 8th of may square, Nemiga street, the museum of the great patriotic war, Dynamo stadium, Gorky park and much more.
Soviet street new style: Masherov avenue
After gasping at the splendour of classical social realist Stalinist architecture of Frantsisk Skorina Avenue the previous day was it was now time to see a bid more modern Soviet architecture on Mashrov Avenue. We walked through the park around the Belarus hotel and started our site seeing walk half way the avenue at the Obelisk to the Hero City Minsk. The giant obelisk flanked by a lady with a trumpet commemorates the Hero city award that Minsk received for it’s bravery during the Great Patriotic war. From the Obelisk we walked north east (out of the centre) towards the Minsk Exhibition centre.
Square: Around 8th of march square
Our walk of Mashrov avenue ends at the 8th of March square where Mashrov Avenue, Nemiga street, Lenin street and Maxim Bogdanovich street come together. Absolute highlight on the 8th of may square is the giant work of art on the front of a shop on the corner of Nemiga street and Masherov avenue. Other sights on the square are the St. Peter and Paul church from 1613, the 17th century holy spirit Cathedral and Nemiga metro station where 53 people died in a stampede in 1999. The only old parts of the Minsk city centre that have survived World War 2 or were rebuild after the war are all situated around 8th of may square. Troitskoye, the trinity and Rakov suburbs are old renovated residential area’s. A view churches, monasteries and the old town hall are situated around Svobody (freedom) square. From the square the large warehouse’s of Nemiga street, the Afghanistan war memorial, the Bolshoi theatre of theatre and opera, Frantsisk Skorina Avenue and October square are all very close. We had lunch on a terrace in Nemiga and then walked to the Museum of the great Patriotic war.
Museum: The Belarusian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War
A visit to a capital of a former Soviet state is never complete without a visit of the local museum of the Great Patriotic War. The people of the Soviet Union suffered unlike any other (apart from the Jews) in World War 2. Almost everybody has lost one or more family members during the war. The Belarusian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War is a typical Soviet style museum. It is packet with thousands of photographs, documents, maps diorama’s and all the explanation text is in Russian. Military equipment is displayed through whole exposition (seemingly ad random) and suspiciously looking museum staff are watching your every move. Via a view doors we managed to get in the courtyard with World War 2 tanks, aircraft and artillery displayed. This turned out to be a mistake as we were chased away by a museum guard. We probably should have bought a separate ticket for the outside exhibition at the entrance.
Park’s: Yanka Kupala and Gorky Park
From the Museum of the Great Patriotic War we walked to the nearby Yanka Kupala park. The park has a fountain named "Kupalye" (bathing), a statue and a Museum dedicated to Yanka Kupala the greatest Belarusian writer together with Yakub Kolas. Yanka Kupala’s State Literary Museum was build on the original location of Kupala’s house. The museum displays autographs, books, photographs and personal belongings of the poet. The park lies on the Svisloch river where rowing boat’s can be hired. You only have to cross Frantsisk Skorina Avenue to get from Yaka Kupala Park to Gorky park Gorky Park like Moscow’s most famous park is named after the Russian writer Maxim Gorky (1868 - 1936). It was build at the end of the 18th century as the Governor’s garden and renamed Gorky Park in the 1960’s. Minsk’s Gorky park has a permanent fun fair with many children’s attraction like Gorky Park in Moscow. It is not half as big but it is a pleasant park to walk around in the summer. No beer is sold in the park or allowed to be consumed.
Stadium: Dynamo Stadium
From Gorky park we walked to the Dynamo football stadium to have a look if we could see anything of the stadium. This was certainly the case, a market is held around it and we could find some open gates that allowed us to slip in. The stadium was rebuild in 1954 in monumental Soviet style. Many decorations and works of art make it a top facility. Olympic football games were played here in 1980. The market around the stadium is not very interesting for tourist, most goods for sale are day to day items like cheap clothes, shampoo, cd’s and sun glasses.
The end of day 3: Island of tears and a view beers
After a long day of walking we decided to go back to the hotel and eat and drink something on the river side near the hotel. There was one monument we had not visited yet but seen a view times already, the Island of Tears. The monument from 1988 build on an island dedicated to the Belarusian soldiers that died during the Afghan War. The monument is very impressive and many mothers still come here to morn their son’s. We had some food and cold beers at one of the tent’s on the river bank and went back to the hotel. Later we went to the nightclub that is part of the Belarus Hotel. It is a round building "called the hockey puck by locals" connected with a bridge to the hotel. Our visit was motivated by curiosity rather then the wish to have a view beers in a nice bar. It turned out to be exactly what we expected it to be, a club with expensive prostitutes, local mobsters and dubious foreign business men. After half an our we decided to go back to the hotel and go to bed. The next day we would live for Kiev.
Day 4: Shopping and by train to Minsk
Day 4 of our 3 week holiday would be the last day in Belarus and we decided to do some souvenir shopping before we would take an evening train to Kiev.
Shopping: Scoring some good souvenirs
After breakfast in the Belarus hotel we decided that we would spend the last day in Minsk trying to find some nice souvenirs. We are always on the lookout for interesting Soviet memorabilia and hoped to find some in Minsk. The problem is that there are not many tourists and locals do not really care for these items, they probably have lot’s of it stowed away in the attic. We already looked in Gum and Tsum during our walk of Frantsisk Skorina Avenue and did not find many there. The big warehouse Souvenir Lavka at Nemiga street proved to have some nice items for sale however. We bought some really cheap locally fabricated digital watches with Soviet brand names. Also did we find a plate with flags from all the former Soviet states. We were pretty sure this was produced before the fall of the USSR and for sale because it was still on stock. The best buy however was the Belarus sports outfit we bought at the sports department. Very cheap locally produced training suits with Belarus on the back and a are for sail in many different varieties. We managed to buy some great modern day propaganda books in a bookshop at Masherov avenue. We also wanted to bring some Lukashenko posters home and managed to find some in a stationary store. We still had two and a half week of travelling ahead so decided not to buy any local alcohol.
Train journey: Minsk - Kiev
We initially wanted to fly from Minsk to Kiev just so we could fly a Belavia Antonov. This turned out the be a to expensive plus did not match our travel schedule. Travelling by night train is comfortable and affordable in the former Soviet Union so not a bad alternative at all! We bought the tickets the previous day at the international train office on the right side of the main train station. Our train departed at 16.00 and we shared our carriage with a professor in Belarusian and Ukrainian history. Our visa ended the day of our denature but we crossed the border after 24.00. The border guard did give us a tirade but he did not speak any English so decided to let us of the hook.