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planquadrat
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Discussion Starter #1
Why Minsk? It happens that my home city Vilnius is located just some 30 kilometers from the border with Belarus. Yet I have never even thought of visiting it.

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This year while looking for some interesting European destinations for my annual Euro holiday I had a hard time choosing. And from the back of my head I pulled that somewhat unexpected and not so often heard name - Minsk, the capital of Belarus. It is certainly one of the least mentioned countries and cities in Europe when it comes to tourism destinations and it somewhat added to the curiosity and excitement.

So here we go. I'm going to Minsk. :)

First, however, it's worth noting that EU nationals will need a visa to be allowed into Belarus. Embassy websites give somewhat odd and complicated explanation of visa procedure which is confusing and certainly not very inviting. Which is why I decided to try some travel agency specializing in Belarus visas. There are a few agencies in London (where I live) but none of them seemed any good. They charge alot, take too long and their own rules seem no less complicated than those set by the embassy.

My friends suggested that I should sort it in Lithuania where it's supposed to be easier and less hassle. So I decided to give it a go and it worked: my visa was sorted in a day. All you need is to have a hotel (or hostel) booking. The agency will take care of the rest (travel insurance, 'invitation letters' and other stuff). If you fill your application in the morning you'll probably have it done the following day.

The trip starts in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania which is less than 200km away from Minsk and has direct railway service to Minsk.

Vilnius Railway Station which is our starting point of the journey


The Polish-made PESA diesel train which will take us to Minsk. The journey takes 2 hours and 30 minutes. Currently work is underway to electrify the entire Vilnius-Minsk route which will cut travel time to 2 hours next year. However even at the moment the service is comfortable and smooth. The border check is performed in the railway station on Lithuanian side and en-route between two intermediate stations on Belarusian side so effectively avoiding any delay due to border control and customs. Railway passenger traffic between Lithuania and Belarus has increased significantly over the past few years along with considerable service improvements which included cutting journey times and new rolling stock with further improvements underway


Arriving at Minsk Railway Station
 

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planquadrat
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Discussion Starter #2
Minsk

The sights right outside the Central railway station. While railway station areas in many European cities are often a matter of concern it doesn't seem to be the case in Minsk. It seems to be clean and safe with some impressive Stalin era buildings along with newly built developments


Iconic Stalinist buildings facing the Railway Station square


Government House which contrary to what I thought is not a post-WW2 structure. It's built in 1934. Designed by Iosif Langbard


Area around Independence Square. By now you might have noticed that Minsk looks very clean and tidy. It doesn't apply only to main central areas but very much so to the entire city. In fact it must be one of the cleanest and tidiest cities I have ever been to. In this respect I would compare it to places like Singapore or Helsinki
 

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planquadrat
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Discussion Starter #3
Minsk

Independence Avenue. This must be the main street of Minsk




KGB Headquarters. Yep, it's still named the KGB in Belarus. Along with statues of Lenin and all the Soviet street names. Most street names in central part of Minsk carry some sort of reference to the Soviet history


Monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky. Best known for being the guy who created the KGB
 

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planquadrat
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Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
Minsk

More snapshots of buildings and surroundings of Independence Avenue





Underground pedestrian crossings are very common in Minsk. Overall the city is very well planned with adequate facilities for both pedestrians and cars. One could instantly tell that Minsk is putting serious amounts of money into infrastructure development


Lenin Street. Note the size of the pedestrian walkway. This seems rather typical for Minsk. Massive avenues lined by no less massive pedestrian spaces. I like that
 

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planquadrat
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Discussion Starter #8
Public bus. Public transport in Minsk is generally very good and adequate. And cheap too. A single bus, trolleybus, tram or metro ride costs under €0.3. Bus in the photo is locally-produced MAZ equipped with a Mercedes-Benz engine




Inside the inner-yard of some random building in the downtown


Buildings on Internatsyanalnaya Street
 

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Épater la Bourgeoisie
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I think people will be pleasantly surprised, many would probably expect a tired and decrepit place and yet the city looks clean, orderly, spacious and very liveable. In terms of architecture and planning it resembles Moscow but with a touch of Germany here and there. Impressive stuff. Please continue!
 

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planquadrat
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Discussion Starter #10
I think people will be pleasantly surprised, many would probably expect a tired and decrepit place and yet the city looks clean, orderly, spacious and very liveable. In terms of architecture and planning it resembles Moscow but with a touch of Germany here and there. Impressive stuff. Please continue!
I could imagine some will not appreciate the 'commieblock' architecture which dominates Minsk but you're spot on on the rest: it's a very liveable, spacious and cozy city. To my taste at least.
 

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I am indeed pleasantly surprised! The city looks really nice and grand. In an another photo thread of Minsk in this forum I was commenting, that it was a "butt-ugly" city. I guess, I have to apologize and take my rash and harsh judgement back. :)

In terms of architecture and planning it resembles Moscow but with a touch of Germany here and there.
In what regard do you see a touch of Germany?
 

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planquadrat
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Discussion Starter #12
I am indeed pleasantly surprised! The city looks really nice and grand. In an another photo thread of Minsk in this forum I was commenting, that it was a "butt-ugly" city. I guess, I have to apologize and take my rash and harsh judgement back. :)
Lol, I did see your comment. I would disagree but of course everyone's got a view. Architecture is always a subject to discussions.

Mind you central areas of Minsk are actually quite beautiful in the traditional European sense: grand avenues lined by some impressive buildings (mostly Stalin era but some others too) which are restored and lit up by night. I mean something like this.

The modern part of Minsk (outside the center) is perhaps more of a subject to discussion but I would invite to follow this thread till the end because I believe I managed to pay visits to a number of different areas which should give a good idea what Minsk looks like overall i.e. not just center or not just one particular area which I liked.
 

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planquadrat
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Discussion Starter #13
Continued

Square next to the Holy Spirit Cathedral with highrise quarter in a not so far distance


Minsk old town is very compact as a result of extensive WW2 destruction which ruined most of the city. At present there is a number of dining and nightlife establishments in the area. A number of construction/renovation sites are busy in the area which seems to be turning into one of the central dining/entertainment areas of the city




 

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planquadrat
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Discussion Starter #15
Volat, the official mascot of the Ice Hockey Championship


A big fountain next to the river


Belarus Hotel. It seems to be one of the few Soviet highrise landmarks in central Minsk. I checked booking.com and it has a very good rating (8.3). I guess it's worth staying in a place like that just for the atmosphere. There is a big public park in the area along the river. Overall Minsk did a good job with parks and open public spaces


Minsk - hero city. A Soviet era slogan which represents a honorary title given by the USSR to 12 cities in the aftermath of WW2 for outstanding heroism during the war


Apartments along Masherava Avenue
 

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Épater la Bourgeoisie
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I could imagine some will not appreciate the 'commieblock' architecture which dominates Minsk but you're spot on on the rest: it's a very liveable, spacious and cozy city. To my taste at least.
Yeah but commie blocks are everywhere these days...

In what regard do you see a touch of Germany?
Karl Marx street could easily be in Cologne or even Berlin IMO.
 

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planquadrat
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Discussion Starter #18
Just in case someone started to think that this thread is going to get a yet another boring city thread with all those streets, cars and buildings, fear not.

There is another side to Minsk which is very far from boring.

It has to be said that girls in Minsk are not just pretty but it won't be an exaggeration to say that in this respect it must be one of the most exciting cities on earth. It may be partially due to hot weather but girls in Minsk certainly know how to dress properly (i.e. to my taste) :D

(Karl Marx street)


There will be more if you'll be patient enough :)
 

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planquadrat
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Discussion Starter #20
Lidskoe is a popular beer brand in Belarus. It's quite good too




Bicycle path along Pyeramozhtsav Avenue. Minsk has perfect landscape and urban layout for cycling however cycling infrastructure seems pretty limited. I saw a few newly built paths but clearly not enough. There were very few cyclists on the streets too compared to neighboring major cities (Vilnius, Warsaw, Wroclaw). Most cycling activity also seemed to do with leisure rather than commute. Overall Minsk has a great potential to become a cycling city (there is lost of space to build bicycle paths or dedicated lanes) but it doesn't seem to be the case at the present


Parushttp://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=1151347, a 133m tall highrise which will be Minsk's tallest for the time being
 
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