After a day touring around the Ukrainian capital, I headed back to Kiev Pass to pick up my backpack and went to board train D 86KJ to Minsk Pass. I found the train under a very heavy security control where passports, visa's and travel documentation where being checked and checked again by armed Ukrainian soldiers! The area all around Kiev Pass station was filled with people in uniform everywhere, with lots of soldiers heading off to the conflict in the Donbas..
I spent the day wondering around the city and seen the huge renovation works under way at the Dynamo Stadium. I visited Trinity Suburb and the Island of Tears across the river, Independence Square, statue of Lenin (where I managed get interrogated by a friendly KGB man!), and the Supreme Soviet building and government quarter. I had a look around the Church of Saints Simon and Helena, otherwise known as the little Red Church on the square, which is a stunning building and well worth taking the time to visit if you find yourself in Minsk. Fans of Stalinist architecture will be in heaven in the city as it is just full of it, as they say that Belarus is the country that forgot that the USSR is no-more you certainly do get a feel of this wondering around its capital, red stars, hammers and sickles and statues of Lenin are plentiful as well as huge banners and billboards with phrases of: "glory to our republic" etc. It has to be said though that all of this is a rather strange in contrast alongside McDonalds, Starbucks and other western brands and advertising, which reminds you again that you are still in the 21st centaury and not in some open air soviet museum of a city like Tiraspol.
Of course a must see was KGB HQ! I was a bit apprehensive about trying to photograph this building after my previous encounter at the square but I was getting used to the various games with the authorities in the east by this point so undeterred I did go and have a look and got some pictures as well without further incident.
Church of Saints Simon and Helena..
On my way back out I seen the Asian boys were experiencing the same Belarussian hospitality I had from the older aggressive officer, they spoke very little English and as far as I noticed no Russian so were clearly going to have some fun, I did not attempt to get involved as it would likely not end well for any of us...
I headed to the station buffet which is hidden in the maze of tunnels under the station, it is not well highlighted at all and you would really need to know exactly where it is to find it, but it was well worth the hunt in the end.
Main meals were extremely cheap, I forget exactly how much as it was before the currency changed to the new Ruble last year but to give a rough idea, the equivalent of a few euro for a nice potato (the Belarussians just love their potatoes!) based dish with beef. I tried various different small (again potato based!) snacks, “Draniki” which was rather tasty! As well as some dumplings and pancakes, all of which were delicious and cost very little. To wash it down I sampled quite a few shots of various different Belarussian vodka’s , the lady behind the bar was very keen for me to try all the local varieties rather than the familiar Russian stuff.
To sum up, Belarus may not be on your average Interrailer’s to do list and certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you like to head off the beaten track and go where the tourists don’t and get a unique experience of ’’old Europe’’ then your certainly looking in the right direction. If you want everything spoon fed to you and everyone to speak English then stay in the west and go to Paris!