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Published: October 8th 2019
I had worried that with temperatures below zero, I would get cold in Minsk, so last week I purchased the world’s thickest (well, Primark’s thickest) pyjamas. But the Hotel Minsk isn’t skimping on the heating – last night was like one long hot flush.
We get up and set off for some sightseeing. One of the first things you notice about Belarus – jaywalking is not a thing. You stand and wait for the light to go green, even if this means waiting for hours when there isn’t a car in sight. Then, when the light finally does go green, still nobody moves. This is either because they’ve been there for so long they’ve forgotten where they’ve going, or because they’ve frozen to the spot and can no longer move.
We start by heading to the old town. There aren’t many buildings of age in Minsk – the city was pretty much destroyed during the war and rebuilt according to Stalin’s taste in the 1950s. We pass some interesting buildings; the Opera, the Island of Sorrow (an Afghan War Memorial) and my favourite - a KFC with a spectacularly carved communist façade – ironic juxtaposition at its finest.
I stop to take a photo of an old Russian Fiat. I ask a Belarusian man if he will take a photo of me, but my phone has died (the old man has wandered off as old men do). Undeterred, the Belarusian takes a photo on his own phone and promises to email it to me, which is very kind. TBH, he doesn’t actually send the photo, but it was a nice gesture.
Our ultimate destination today is the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, which documents World War II from a Belarusian perspective. It’s a fascinating place with plenty of original artefacts. It tells the story not only of the war in general, but with more personal stories – like a tank crewed by 3 Belarusian brothers who were all killed together.
You follow the exhibits up several floors until you reach a huge glass dome at the top; The Dome of Victory is designed to replicate the dome of Reichstag and remembers the almost 3 million Belarusians (a third of the population) who died during the war.
Outside is another memorial; Heroes Square - with a statue of the Mother Motherland and another wonderful carved
We walk back to the hotel for a rest (so far today we have covered 13 miles).
In the evening we go for dinner in a nearby restaurant – Gostinyy Dvor. The food is OK; the old man has borsch, potato pancakes and beer and I have mushrooms in cream, potato pancakes and wine. The restaurant is completely empty. We wonder vaguely why there are neither locals nor other tourists there. The bill arrives - it’s a lot more than expected. I have drunk 2 glasses of wine and been charged for 8 wines. When I query it, the waiter points out that the price on the menu is per 50 ml and he put 200 ml in each glass. The old man, being very British, tops this chicanery up with a good tip and spends the the rest of the evening telling anyone who’ll listen that his wife just drank 8 glasses of wine.
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