I recently spent a few days exploring Minsk and the nearby countryside. This city of 2 million+ people is at the same time spread out yet rather compact. The city features an interesting mix of noticeable architectural styles mostly dating from post World War II. Unlike a number of Western European countries, Belarus does not yet seem to be on the tourist route. Prices are fairly reasonable and it is easy to get around the historical core of the city on foot (a metro also provides extended coverage to other parts of the city).
Here are 10 things I learned during my stay in Minsk.
– Minsk has a cat museum! For the price of admission, one can spend up to an hour getting to know the cats and exploring a variety of cat artifacts and memorabilia. Make yourself a cup of tea in the tea room while cats walk in and out.
– Casinos are a big thing here! Nearly all of the billboards on the way from the airport to downtown advertise casinos.
– Much of Minsk was destroyed in WW II. As a result most of the city dates from the 1950’s to the present including the famous 4km stretch of Praspyekt Nyezalyezhnastsi (sometimes used as a set in Russian movies to simulate the look of old Moscow). A few years back un-exploded ordinance from WWII was discovered in one of the city’s public buildings. The oldest building in Minsk is St. Peter and St. Paul’s church, dating from 1612.
– Lee Harvey Oswald. Yes, that infamous assassin of American president John F Kennedy lived in Minsk for 2.5 years, worked in a factory and married a Russian woman living in Minsk. One can visit the outside of the apartment complex where he lived.
– When Albert Einstein decided to leave Berlin in 1931 he was invited to come to Minsk by his assistant Jakov Grommer who was born in Belarus, but Stalin blocked Einstein’s pending move to Minsk – hence Einstein moved to the USA.
– The streets are incredibly clean and homelessness seems to be non existent.
– Impressive Sports Complexes – as in Minsk has a number of these including the recently restored Dinamo Stadium (opened in 1934) and Minsk Arena (home to ice hockey events and a venue for numerous performances by internationally well-known singers.
– The National Library of Belarus is a rhombicuboctahedron (look that one up!). Arguably, from an exterior viewpoint, this is one of Minsk’s most intriguing buildings. It is the largest library in the country. Sadaam Hussein even donated money towards its construction.
– It can rain during the summer months. Not every day but often every week – bring an umbrella.
– Kyle Le was here before me.