Sunday, October 2, 2016

Belarus Trip Summary

Europe is done as I've now visited every single county.  All 50.  By far the most difficult country to cross off the list was Belarus but it certainly was worth it.  Even with the ordeals of sorting out my tourist visa and the travel drama of actually flying here.

For western tourists, Minsk is one of the least visited European capitals.  So I'm pretty happy that I've made it.  Minsk was great!

I really enjoyed just walking around the city and marvelling at the large, Soviet-style architecture.  It really gave me the feel that this is  somewhat how things were like in the Soviet Union.

The city was exceptionally clean.  Of course, everywhere I turned there was someone in a uniform.  I couldn't tell you was a city police officer, metropolitan police, transit police, army, military cadet, young pioneer, etc.  But if having that much security around means that things stay clean then it's worth it.  I only saw tagging once and it was being cleaned off.

Minsk metro map
I did lots of walking but getting around was quite easy.  Public transportation was cheap as chips.  A ride on the metro only costs about 30¢.  I purchased a 10 day transit card, good for up to 42 trips on the bus, trolly, tram or metro, for only $8.

The Minsk metro was the ninth metro system built in the Soviet Union.

At Lenin Station

The metro stations are very clean and all of the Soviet-era symbols are still present.  The metro handles about 800,000 people per day and each station has its own theme.

The only confusing thing was the names of some of the stations.  Many of the stations have two names.  The old Russian name and the new Belarusian name.  Many of the maps or directions that people give you on the street use the old Russian version.  For example, most people call October Square - Площадь Октябрьская (Oktyabrskaya) but it is announced as Плошча Кастрычніцкая (Kastryčnickaja).  But it's fine once you sort out what is what.

The money was a bit interesting.  Before July there were no coins; only paper notes.  The new currency devalued everything by 1,000 and introduced coins.  The old currency is still in use and there are currency posters everywhere.

I paid for a coffee with coins and got my change back (0,20 rubles) back, half in the new coin and half with the old paper bill.

It was funny watching people pay for things because no one knows how to deal with coins.  Most people just put their hand out with the coins and let the cashier take what was needed.  I'm so used to the Czech system where you are supposed to make life easier for the cashiers that when I did it here people were surprised.

I did a number of tours which worked out quite well.  I'm pretty proud of myself for doing all of the tours in Russian.  After the third or fourth day, I found out that some of my fellow travellers actually could speak at least a little English.

The only drawback was that my tour to Grodno was cancelled.  But I finally made it to Brest which was the main reason to visit Belarus.  Overall, it was a great get away.  Definitely worth another visit.

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