Wednesday  Dateicon  25.7.2018  Tigericon  0km  Feeticon  13.34km Total:109,81km  Weathericon

Hotel Yubileiny is like a time capsule from the early 80s, every thing is in dark colours or at best dark orange.
But they've at least kept up with the times in that the hotel is now smoke-free but the only thing they've actually done is put up the signs stating the fact.
With nothing else being done and people puffing away like smoke stacks during 2/3 of the hotel's existence I wonder how they thought it would work?
Every surface in the hotel still smell like walking into a speakeasy in a gangster movie from the thirties, you feel the smog even though you can't see it.
Every floor has large communal areas where guests can socialize which is pretty typical of communist architecture.
When I go to reception after breakfast to get my passport back (they need to register my presence with big brother) the receptionist which is an elderly babushka when I ask for it says that Yes, you may have it in such a patronising tone that I almost felt should express some sort of gratitude towards the grand gesture or oven gratitude for the fact that she's letting me live... for now.

I leave the hotel and go to the Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum.
They don't call it the second world war her but the great patriotic war.
It was as nice an experience it could have been considering the topic and unlike in Russia everything had signed in English as well.
Afterwards I go for a walk in the neighbouring park where there's some kind of monument that's judging by the description is supposed to symbolize all sorts of things but either it was never finished or some parts are missing because it's like the plaque was for an entirely different monument.

From here I go to the The Pit, a Jewish monument built to honour the 5000 people shot by nazis there on march 2nd 1942.
In total 246 000 out of 375 000 jews in the country where murdered during the war so they suffered greatly during the occupation and the Jewish population in the entire country is now only 13 000 people.
A chilling monument of human cruelty with people standing in line waiting to be executed.
Unfortunately it has fallen into disrepair as it has become a bit overgrown.

I go for a city walk past the art museum and down to the train station to look at the Minsk gates.
From here I go through a few parks to city hall, the Holy spirit cathedral and to the Island of tears also called the Island of sorrow.
It's monument honouring the Belarusian soldiers who fell or where wounded in the war in Afghanistan in the late 70s and through the 80s.
In the middle of the island is a chapel with the names of the almost 800 soldiers who dies and towards the city centre there's a bronze statue of a crying angel whos tears slowly trickle down its cheek for the sorrow of not being able to save the fallen soldiers.
You can of course have different views about the politics behind the whole thing but the statue itself was very tastefully done.

I take a detour through some of the citys shopping malls back to the hotel.

Fun fact: In 2015 Belarus was officially declared the drunkest nation on earth with the largest alcohol consumption per capita in the known universe.
The Belarusian strenuously denied the "award" and claimed that the method used by WHO to determine the result was flawed as it failed to take infants and children into account.

 

Patriotic war museum

I've been in plenty of war museums but I've never seen a gas mask for a horse before.



In a museum about the second world war I guess the old mass murderer isn't entirly out of place.

...who was so genorous to his people.
(Daily bread ration in the beseiged Leningrad.)

Hall of Victory

The monument in victory park with the heavily flawed desciptive plaque.

The Pit

The main post office of Minsk

Minsks old city gates
The tower on the left has a clock which is the clock the show on TV on new years eve, the tower on the right is the crest of the Soviet Republic of Belarus.

Girl with umbrella in Mikhaylovsky Public Garden

City hall

Katedralen

The island of tears

Thursday  Dateicon  26.7.2018  Tigericon  0km  Feeticon  9.67km Total:119.48km  Weathericon

There isn't a lot to see here when it comes to sightseeing so I'll try and book a guided tour to a couple of the most famous castles in the country Mir and Nesvizh Castle.
Turns out it can be arranged and Tatyana the guide will pick me up tomorrow morning, if we have time to spare we'll also go to Stalin Line, a military theme park for the whole family.
I really hope we make it because it seems absolutely absurd, I have to see it for myself.
It takes a bit of  time setting it all up so I don't leave the hotels dark wooden interior behind until sometime in the early afternoon.

The first destination was entirely practical, I need a couple of new headlight bulbs for the bike and I've googled an auto parts store within walking distance.
It was a bit tricky finding it but once I'd done that there weren't any problems, 2 Osram H4:s where purchased at €2 a piece.
I just hope it isn't anything more complicated because I still think it's a bit weird that both bulbs fried at the exact same time.

From here I wander around pretty aimlessly, the obvious sightseeing destinations where quite easily done in a day.
They have a bit of work to do I've they want to rake in the tourist rubles.
Talking about Rubles the (state run) guide company wanted payment in Euros which was all the more strange as the ATM at the hotel had two currencies, Rubles and US dollars.
I ended up getting a ridiculous wad of Belarussian rubles which I exchanged for Euros in the hotel (which had its own currency exchange service).

I get down to Independance square, the House of representatives and the church of Saints Simon and Helena aka the red church.

I end up down by the railway station again and notice one of the typical city tour buses.
It was a reasonable fee of 30BYN (~€13) so I hopped on.
It was actually worth the money if not for the sights for the fact that the commentary was so amazingly over the top propaganda that it could have been produced by North Korean state television (or Fox News nowadays really).
After a while I almost expected that when we went over a speed hump I would learn from the commentary that it was the highest and best speed hump in all of Europe, ceremoniously consecrated by the president of the Belarusian republic in glory of all its citizens.

With everything spread out all over town the tour was almost two hours and I don't really know how it ended as the guide only spoke Russian but since we'd all been given bracelets with 10% discount written on them I assumed it was a exit through the giftshop kind of thing so I just walked off and left the Russian speakers to their fate.

I walked back to the hotel, did what needed to be done with the bike and took an early evening considering it would be an early start tomorrow.

 

On the way to the auto parts store I came across one of very few two wheeler I saw in Minsk.

Citywalk

Independence square and the house of representatives. The tour bus commentary claimed the latter have been built entirely by hand by I've not found any information to back up that claim.

Red church

Onboard the tour bus, first off we do a drive by of the State Security Comittee of the Republic of Belarus. Considerably more known under its abbreviation, KGB.
Judging by the size of the building there are quite a large number of employees.

Victory Square

The National library, a fascinating building.

And if the national library is fascinating it's nothing compared to this.
Komarovskiy market, I can't be the only who notes the resemblance to a storm trooper helmet?

Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God

Independance palace

Friday  Dateicon  27.7.2018  Tigericon  0km  Feeticon  5.5km Total:204.98km  Weathericon

I'm picked up by my guide Tatyana at 9AM.
In contrast to the heavily accented propaganda on the tour bus Tatayana speaks English with just a slight accent.
I consider myself pretty fluent but her language skills where better than mine.
Thus we made conversation all the way to Nesvizh castle about everything and nothing.
The propaganda was entirely left out of the conversation all though in my ignorant opinion she in some parts gave a somewhat overflattering image of the state of the country but then again she is employed by the state herself.

The castle is very impressing and has been in the Radziwiłł family's possession from the time it was built at the end of the 1500s up until 1939 when they where thrown out by the invading red army.
During the Soviet era the castle was used as a sanatorium but in 1994 it was declared a Unesco world heritage.
An interesting fact from a Swedish perspective is that the army of Charles XII looted the castle and destroyed the fortifications during the great Nordic war in the early 1700s.
According to Tatyana there are canons from Nesvizh in Swedish museums.

From here we drive to Mir Castle, also a striking building but a bit more worse for ware than Nesvizh.
Bbut then again the Nesvizh renovation have been criticised for not being true to the era so I didn't consider it a bad thing at all.
This castle too has been in the Radziwiłł family's possession who renovated the castle and used it as a summer home (Tatyana used the word datja).
Throughout the very competent guiding the Radziwiłł name featured on numerous occasions in all parts of the countries history so my conclusion is that at the height of the family's power it must have been in control of most of the country.
The castle was originally surrounded by forest but the current owner decided that he wanted a lake by the caste (and not a moat which would have been more typical) so he ordered the villagers to cut down the trees and start digging (by hand obviously as there where no other options at that time).
Legend has it that the villagers where so maddened by the decision that the village witch cast a spell over the Radziwiłł family that they would suffer a death for every tree cut down in the forest.
It could not have been a very powerful witch as the Radziwiłł's are still with us to this day which is an achievement seeing that survivability among royalty within the Soviet union wasn't particularly high but apparently they managed to survive by turning spies for the communists.

We end the day by taking a detour back to Minsk by Stalin Line.
That they kept a fortification since the second world war isn't all that strange as there are many other scattered around Europe but the fact that they've turned it into a family theme park is actually rather bizarre.
It was fairly obvious that this was not Tatyanas area of expertise but she did offer some insight that would otherwise have been lost to me as everything here was in Russian and the local guides dressed in WW2 soldiers uniforms spoke Russian only.
I would have been forced to use one of those Russian guides had I not had my own so even though this excursion was pretty expensive it definitely had some perks.
The Soviet marching music blaring through the speakers while families and their kids walked around tanks, artillery and pretty much any military vehicle known to man was pretty absurd.
I really didn't get a lot of Soviet vibe in Belarus and in Minsk that I had thought beforehand as they haven't kept more relics from that time than in the Russian parts I visited (apart from some absolutely epic mullets in Minsk) but here it was pretty obvious that the legacy is strong.

An epic outing that unfortunately ended in migraine by the time we got back to the hotel.

 

Nesvizh castle










Mir castle




It must have been tough growing up in those days because that armour is not made for a small man.




The stairs leading up into the towers where a bit claustrophobic.




The castle church, The Church of the holy trinity.

Stalin Line





The whole complex was enormous.

Everything on display was obviously not WWII era, there where a lot more modern equipment.




There was opportunity to fire guns with blanks which didn't tempt me at all but you could also ride in a T-34 tank at a pretty steep cost.
Even though it was wildly expensive I do regret not doing it because when in hell am I ever going to get another chance at that?

The MI-24 "Hind" helicopter which reaped havoc on the Afghans in the 80s. If the Americans hadn't supplied the mujahadin with stinger missiles I'm pretty sure this would have decided the outcome.