Minsk in october
In 2011 I was not a student any more but an ordinary employee. So I decided to go for shorter trips but make in exchange some more of them.
In thinking about where to go next, I took Minsk into consideration. Cos after travelling in Ukraine in 2005 and extensively in the Russian Federation for 3 months in 2010 I missed one more of the „core“ countries of the „slavic group“ within the Soviet Union, apart the Baltic region and the Central Asian republics. You could argue here now if Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan count as an own region and/or culture or not. I have to apologise in case I’m too generalising and/or mixing this specific region with CA, but I haven’t been there yet so I have no experience about people, country and culture of the Caucasus region (and indeed, I have and want to go there too).
However, as I already have been in Kiev and Moscow, I decided to go to Minsk for a longer weekend and look for similarities and/or differences to the just mentioned capitals. Beside the fact that Belarus and its capital was (and still is) a blank spot in Europe, what allured me in addition. In October I was going to Minsk but the more weird way. There is a direct connection from Vienna to Minsk but it in comparison to (I dare to say) all other cities in Europe it was quite expensive. And Aeroflot back then was offering a connection with a stop-over in Moscow. And even though this are 2 flights and you needed an additional (transit) visa for Russia, it was still (much) cheaper than the direct flight…
Initially I only wanted to go to Minsk once but because of a circumstance I travelled to Belarus three times. When I was applying each time for a transit visa the personnel in the Russian Embassy was surprised in going from Vienna all the way to Moscow just to fly back half way to reach Minsk. To have an idea about distances you can see at the map below Vienna on the left lower and Minsk on the top right corner. What I have seen in Belarus in 2011 (with a stay for NYE to January 2012) was Minsk to Mir (Nesvizh was planned and I was there but it was closed so I could not go inside and just wandered around outside) and Belovezhskaya Pushsha right before reaching Brest:
When I arrived I could enjoy great autumn weather as the sun was shining all along. There are couple of fotos where I realize that at the time I took them some buildings did not exist yet respectively were about to be finished or had to be finished in the future. Locals will recognize which ones ;)
Regarding Vienna I like to call Prague and Budapest sister cities, even though not in its original meaning being back-to-back neighbouring cities but cities sharing periods in the past and therefore share similarities you can see and also feel somehow - and the same applies for Minsk, Kiev and Moscow. However, if asked which of these I prefer most it was from the beginning Minsk. Moscow is without doubts interesting but in the end of the day in my personal opinion too big and "annoying" when you want to get from A to B and need 5 hours... And Kiev has also its sights and spots but I cannot explain why it could not leave such an impression like Moscow or Minsk. And Minsk had and has the right size (like Vienna) and the appearance I liked from the beginning.
Mir (and Nesvizh)
At my second visit around November I joined a tour from Minsk first to Mir castle (about 100 km from Minsk) and was renovated neatly (fotos below). It was also planned to go to Nesvizh castle at the same day but I could only remember that it was closed. I'm not sure if we were late or if it was generally closed (for renovations?), anyway, we were going around as the landscape is nice and quite there.
I can still remember that we were looking for an accommodation there what was some kind of challenge as tourism at that time was a bit uncommon. And checking in (spontaneously) - and especially with me as a foreigner - I would not call it suspiciousness but aroused some surprise? I think according to law at that time I should have also registered officially at some office there but as it was already evening it was not possible and that was maybe also why the old lady at the reception desk was not really happy :)
Belavezhskaya Pushsha - Brest
On my third and last visit in Belarus I visited some historical places. First I had a stop-over in Belovezhskaya Pushsha, a national park on the border to Poland. In addition, Ded Moroz (Väterchen Frost), the eastern equivalent to Santa Clause, can be visited there together with Snegurochka. To see the park and Ded Moroz with Snegurochka was nice and funny, even though at that year the snow was missing too (like in 2019/20).
What hardly anybody knows is that in the beginning of December 1991 the presidents of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (under Boris Yelzin), the Belorussian Socialist Soviet Republic and the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic signed there the declaration to dissolve the USSR! The Baltic countries were already out but the remaining republics were not asked any more. It is legend that Gorbatchev had to resign couple of weeks later and end of December the USSR ceased to exist.
Then I continued to Brest which is a pretty historic city too, connected with the treaty of Brest-Litovsk ending the war in the east for Austria/Germany and Soviet-Russia 1918 and getting a Hero City due to fierce battles during WW2. Therefore a touching commemorating site was created:
NYE and the last days I spent in Minsk. In Belovezhskaya Pushsha and Brest the snow was missing but in January it finally began to snow. Looking back at the fotos, it is funny to see that I took some which "affect" me now. Especially the foto saying "Partizansky Rayon" which is now the area where I'm living at the moment.
What still amazes me is how fast the weather changes in Minsk. Within an hour I experienced everything, from blue sky to cloudy and raining/(slightly) snowing and back. When it comes to the actual part and fotos of Minsk, you can compare some fotos I took then and how it looks now.