Let's not Minsk words....

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August 5th 2015
Published: April 17th 2018
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The break-up of the former Soviet Union somehow allowed certain regions of the world to showcase their set of credentials under an independent monicker, and Belarus being one of them, it still remains something of a mystery as to why this is one of Europe's least-acknowledged nations. This might well have something to do with the fact that, strictly-speaking, Belarus is Europe's last-surviving dictatorship, a factor which very much sets it apart from the rest of the pack. All factors considered, it is probably better to judge Minsk and indeed the rest of Belarus on its own individual merits, and as a 3-day city break here went to prove, if you dig deep enough, you should be able to unearth a few vital treasures which you can call your very own discovery process. Central Minsk remains the peak of the city's aesthetic appeal, and the city's premiermost thoroughfare, Independence Avenue, traverses two squares of note, namely Independence Square and Victory Square. Churches of glorious artistic appeal are scattered here and there, and the gold onion dome roof is a fairly common feature of churches throughout Belarus, and a feature which stands out at a distance to an eye-catching extent. The church of Saint Simon and Helena is a different affair, a redbrick building which lures visitors in for them to decide whether the interior design is as striking at the exterior allure. Beyond the context of its striking churches, Minsk also impresses with its considerable range of parklands, some central, others in outlying areas, but all of them being tailor-made for casual and enjoyable strolls. In order to provide proof of their appeal, then look no further than Victory Park, which is a grassland area set around a body of water replete with fountain, and a couple of features which would attract visitors to the area, the neighbouring symbolic structure that is the Victory Monument, for one. Shopping in Minsk more than likely used to be a dour and joyless affair, but thankfully, the best of the former shopping institutions have remained (see Gum and Tsum department stores), to be joined by shiny new state-of-the-art shopping plazas, and the Minsk institution which is the Zhdanovichi market, located in an outlying area, but by no means out of reach, in a city whose status lies midway between a sprawl and a compact urban hub. Nearby, you'll find the Aquapark, which is so immensely well patronized that queueing is the order of the day, both for admission and for individual waterslides, but there are other bathing options in this city, perhaps stemming from the country's history of spa resorts, mostly in the format of sanatoria. Sport plays a major role in the intended development of the country's youth, and the president has decreed that every Belarussian urban area of any considerable size must be well-equipped with the level of sporting facilities which will aid youngsters to grow up in athletic and fitness-oriented ways. Leaving Minsk, the obvious choice for a day out is the combination of castle visits located in the towns of Mir and Nesvizh, both being a mere 30 minutes drive apart. Despite limited scope for exploration beyond the nation's capital city, background reading will serve to point out that Belarussian towns are attractive enough destinations in their own right, each one having a few standout features which attract a visitor's attention. The dining scene in Minsk seems to have developed alongside the rest of the city's growth, and in order to mingle with the elite, look no further than the Taj Indian restaurant, a pricey but splendid venue, both in terms of decor and gourmet appeal. Belarus may well take a visitor by surprise, and you might well leave the country with a few quizzical looks as to why the place is such a low-profile European nation, but if you're prepared to oversee whatever shallow meaning a low set of incoming tourist figures might apply to Belarus, then your trip to this former Soviet Union nation might just yield the kind of positive substance which you've been craving.


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