Minsk is astoundingly beautiful at first sight. Maybe that’s why they only gave me an 8-day visa.
The night bus was totally lame and I didn’t really sleep so I have arrived in Minsk so tired I could fall asleep standing up.
The hostel reception doesn’t open until 10am so when my bus arrived at the Central Bus Station at 7:15, I headed into the nearest cafe that was open, which happened to be a McDonald’s in the adjoining Galileo shopping centre. I managed ok in Russian and ordered a McMuffin “fresh” which has salad instead of egg, with a cappuccino and then sat down. I was struggling not to fall off my chair so at 9 I started slowly making my way to the metro.
It’s all very straightforward because Soviet metro systems are all the same. I asked for a ticket and could thankfully pay with contactless because I have zero Rubles. I paid 0.67 rubles for a cool pink token to pop into the barrier (which was open). I love the metro architecture but I need to find out if I can take a photo to show you because I nearly got arrested on my first day in Uzbekistan for the same thing…
Two stops and I arrived at Victory Square station. I took an exit as far as I could get from my destination so I got to walk past the monument itself and then use the subway to pop over to it and have a look around.
I had to wait for a while to get into the hostel and thankfully Minsk has plentiful benches. A fellow guest let me in and I found a sunroom upstairs to have an hour nap then I checked in and got a lunch recommendation so my first stop is Cafe Lido.
This place is absolutely nothing like I expected. We would call it a cafeteria and there is an enormous amount of choice. Some self-service and some from behind various counters. Some of it is weighed and a little post-it note is stuck to your plate for the checkout to type in. I helped myself to a drink, some cold beet soup and a cabbage salad and was served a beef burger, a fish and dill patty and some fries. It was a decent amount of food for 10.65 BLN (£4.10). Another great aspect is that it’s traditional Belarusian food and there is just so much to choose from that surely there’s something for everyone.
After lunch I grabbed a coffee at Coffee Joy so I could get photos for my mum, Joy, as she loves that sort of thing. Then I headed across to a park dedicated to a Belarusian writer, Jacob Kolas, who I believe also spent some time in jail here; I will have to do some research. There are monuments either side of his, depicting some of his most famous characters. It’s lovely.
Then I walked to the big produce markets, Komarovskiy Rynok and had a lovely time walking around the open air fruit and vegetable market and then inside around the meat, cheese, nuts, sweets and everything else market. I would recommend a visit for sure. I bought some fruit to enjoy later on.
Outside are some more sculptures. Near the fountain is a wonderful lifesize horse complete with saddle and every time I have seen it, there has been a smiling child on its back. On the other side of the fountain is another cool statue of a photographer and a lady. It’s so nice that they are right in the thick of it.
In front of the market is another great statue to honour small business development – an old woman sitting down and selling grain from a sack.
I saw some great architecture, with flower-shaped residential tower blocks dominating the area. Really interesting.
I was walking south back to the main centre and stopped for a beer. Golden Coffee is a great place for food and drink, operating 24hr as it is right next to a casino! It has two nice terraces and an extensive food and cocktail menu for very reasonable prices. There is a second branch down by the central bus/train station.
The other main thing I wanted to see was the Island of Tears which is connected to the river bank by a pretty bridge. There is an impressive tall monument surrounded by shrouded mourning women and on each of the doors is treating crest of a different Belarusian city, which all look nice.
Further down the island is a statue of a young boy as an angel and the statue is crying. The little drips fall into a pool at his feet. It’s very nice. I hope the walking tour tomorrow goes back there.
I sat on another monument and watched the world go by. There were lots of pedalos out on the river and on the far bank I could see into the basketball arena and there was training going on.
I strolled along the river and spotted a cool area full of bars and restaurants (Zubickaya Vulica), I’ll go there tomorrow I expect. I was headed in a slightly different direction; to the Cat Museum!! It’s open 11am until 8pm every day except Monday. It costs 9 BLN to go and look around but you get free tea and coffee which is nice. This place is mad and I can see why people go so crazy for places like these. There were tame lazy cats lounging everywhere. On all the surfaces including the bookcases. And they were really happy to get attention.
A little girl was making sure they got some exercise by shining a laser pen around and the cats were hilarious jumping all over each other.
There is a gallery of patrons art there too, so you can grab colouring pens and make your own cat-inspired work of art for the gallery. Or, like me, you can just admire both the professional and amateur works of art. I don’t know quite what happened but I fell in love with an artist’s style and I bought four of his pictures. It cost £22 for the whole lot framed but I can barely carry it because the frames are too heavy!
There’s also a Magic Museum in the next door apartment and it’s less impressive but it’s free if you go to the cat museum. Plus the “director”, a cat called Doughnut, was chilling in there so I had to go and say hello.
After that I staggered back to the hostel with my artwork, put a wash on and had a nap while I waited.
The girl working in the hostel wasn’t very knowledgeable about anything that they advertised. Apparently there is a pub crawl starting at 10pm in Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays but she doesn’t know where. I’m too tired anyway I guess but I probably would have gone if anyone else in the hostel was. There’s not much communal area and people seem to keep themselves to themselves or be middle-aged or senior russian women who don’t speak a word of English. So our conversations have been short thus far. I should learn how to ask them to speak slowly!!
The WiFi here is abysmal compared to Estonia and there is no Roam like at home agreement so it’s not as easy to stay connected.
I went out in the evening sunlight to have another stroll and to find a bubble tea place. After a 30 minute walk back to the Galileo shopping centre I was quite miffed to be unable to find the bubble tea place that was on Google and the floorplan. I went out to enjoy the light as the sun set on my way to a restaurant that had been recommended a couple of times, Vasilki. I didn’t know what to expect but I hoped for a roof terrace. No luck but there’s a pavement terrace and it is a really nice place with a good variety of Belarusian food on the menu and it’s reasonably priced. The wait for main dishes was over an hour and the place is clearly very popular. I ordered homemade cheese sticks with spicy sauce and some mushroom dumplings with an Alivaria Belarusian beer. It looks like this would be a great place for a cooked breakfast too with dishes costing less than 7 BLN (£3).
I’m not sure when to mention it so it may as well be now. Almost every sign is in Russian, not Belarusian, I’m not sure why yet. The languages don’t seem too different to me yet except that Belarusian uses A quite often where Russian uses O (making it easier to remember how to pronounce it as it’s normally said like an A anyway) and in the Belarusian alphabet there is an I, where in Russian they use a backwards N.
It’s 10:15pm and I’m starting to flag. I better head back and then get some sleep ready for my walking tour tomorrow. I’m not going to take the metro as I am not sure what it’s like after dark and I have my camera with me. The walk is 25 minutes versus 17 on the metro as I’m half way between two stations. My dinner and beer came to less than 15 BLN, precisely £5.64. Wow.