Belarus (Minsk & Vitebsk) – September/October 2016
I entered Belarus from Latvia by train and while the trip was predominantly a railway trip there was some downtime for a spot of sightseeing along the way with a day in Minsk and some time in Vitebsk. Below are extracts from the greater trip spiel only for the two days of sightseeing.
Vitebsk – Vitebsk Hotel – about 1km away from the station it’s sign on the roof was visible from the station front. The walk to it took about 10 minutes and once on the bridge over the river I could see exactly where I was going when I figured out the neon lights were atop of the Hotel Vitebsk; obviously in Russian. The hotel is pretty imposing from the outside and has a massive foyer to boot. The receptionist seemed to be expecting me, so maybe she’d been the one that I’d made the booking with via e-mail? Thankfully she spoke good English and I was soon going through the process of being checked in. She needed a scan of my passport and visa and then had to stamp the back of my departure card and fill in the date of my arrival and departure at the hotel. I had to pay in full before going up to my room and paying with a card was no issue at all and took seconds. While the hotel has WiFi I had to pay for a scratch card, which gave me a login & password, which were thankfully numerical and not in Russian. The girl at reception showed me how to get connected, just in case I had issues with the Russian on the screen but once I’d managed to get my phone to connect to the modem in my room it was a breeze as there was an option for English the moment the browser is opened to login; 1 hour of WiFi cost me BYN1.05.
Mogilev – Hotel Metropol – 3.5km from Mogilev 1 station and 2.5km from Mogilev 2 station; 40 & 30 minutes’ walk respectively or approx. BYN3-4 in a taxi. I was very pleased with my room, which while it was very clean and well-presented it was also very basic and had nothing more than the bed a desk and a TV on the wall in the main area. In the small lobby area, there was a wardrobe and access to the bathroom, which was spotless, had piping hot water and all the toiletries you’d need to survive the night if you’d not brought any of your own. Breakfast was included in the room rate but didn’t start until 0700, by which time I’d be gone, and the free WiFi was very good even though the signal in my room was poor.
All purchased through respective railway websites in advance and printed at home, with local tickets bought at stations when required. Accounts need to be set up for Belarus & Ukraine but they’re very easy to use once done.
Latvia – http://www.ldz.lv/en
Friday 30th September 2016 (Grodno to Vitebsk via Minsk for sightseeing)
Arrival into Minsk fro Grodno was spot on time at 1129. With that being that I went in search of the left luggage lockers to store my bag for the day while I had a look around Minsk. I’d been reading in my Lonely Planet on the train journey in, which is an extract form a dated Eastern Europe version, that you have to exchange money for tokens to use the lockers, which are still from the old Soviet era and are only operated by old Soviet coins; which are the tokens! I was considering exchanging more than I needed to, to keep some of the coins but my plan was scuppered when I found a nice new left luggage room, manned by people who neatly stacked luggage on shelves and gave you a token to represent where it had been stored. Before handing luggage over though you must pay BYN1.00 at the cash counter and hand the receipt over with your baggage to prove you’ve paid. It’s a bit like the Indian Railways cloak rooms but with less bureaucracy and a little more efficient; but not as cheap! At about 80p it was still about 7 times dearer to store your bag at Minsk station than it is at Delhi Junction!
Big bag out of the way I was free to do some wandering. I’d had to use both my Lonely planet and E Maps app in conjunction to figure out where I wanted to go as the ME Maps app only shows most places written in the Belarussian alphabet so I couldn’t search for anything. Still I got there in the end and had everything bookmarked. The furthest I got from Minsk Pas. station was about 1.5km and my meanderings took me into Pl. Nezalezhnastsi, where the very prominent Belarusian Government building was lit up well in the late morning sunshine and the red bricks of the Church of Saints Simon & Elena reached out above the trees that surround it. The whole square is very clean and well maintained and people were all over it tending to flowers and plants as I wandered through it to head down the main street of Pr. Nezalezhnastsi towards Oktyabrrskaya Pl. On the way there I passed by the impressive KGB building, which still exists in Belarus and was never disbanded after the USSR collapsed.
Oktyabrrskaya Pl. is supposedly the main square in Minsk but for me it’s less impressive than Pl. Nezalezhnastsi but houses the impressive concert hall known as the Palace of the Republic and the Trade Unions Culture Palace, two buildings which contrast in both size, shape and perspective. As I walked further down Pr. Nezalezhnastsi I passed by the Belarusian State Circus building on my way to National Academic Grand Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Republic of Belarus; I’m sure Grand Opera House would have been easier to say or write! Still, as with most buildings I’d already seen, it was impressive and the sun made its white façade stand out while I pointed my camera at it.
Finally, I headed back across the river and to Pl. Svabody where the impressive Holy Spirit Cathedral stands tall, having been there since 1642. Alongside which is the former Bernadine Church, that now houses city archives and on the square, is the Town Hall. Right at the side of the square was a word written on the side of a building that I recognized, “pizza”! Planet Pizza rustled up a very good pizza in no time and even had a fully English menu. There were even 4 different local beers on tap so it would have been rude not to try the Zatecky Gus Dark. My pint and pizza came to BYN13.51 which is about £6. After which I took a steady walk back to Minsk Pas. station as it had clouded over and become a little cooler.
The stock for my 704b 1642 Minsk Pas. – Vitebsk Pas. non-stop service was in by 1615. My coach, coach number 5, was full and was an open two tier sleeping berth coach. There was still plenty of room to move though once everyone had sorted themselves out.
704b must have been some sort of premium service as tea cost BYN0.75 and not BYN0.50 as it had done on every other train thus far, it also came in a polystyrene cup and not a glass mug; but I’ll let them off as it had the BCh logo and a picture of a VL80 on it so it went into the depths of my bag for safe keeping. Needless to say, it didn’t even make it to the hotel in Vitebsk in one piece!
I’d half expected some sort of stop at Orsha Central anyway, or to go via one of the avoiding routes to avoid Central station completely and I was glued to ME Maps while we approached, staggered through the station and out onto the main line at the other side of Orsha; without even so much as a minor deviation off the main route and just as 2023 clicked over on the clock on my phone we came to a stand in the platform at Vitebsk. Without any sack in the schedule TEP70BS-107 had done exactly what 704b 1642 Minsk – Vitebsk should do and run non-stop all the way; which was pretty impressive to say the least.
Vitebsk station front was lively, well-lit and there were even a few taxis waiting in the car park. There were people queuing for buses near the main road and trams were running along the centre of the main road in either direction. I didn’t realise it at the time but while the Hotel Vitebsk was about 1km away from the station and its sign on the roof was visible from the station front. The walk to it took about 10 minutes and once on the bridge over the river I could see exactly where I was going when I figured out the neon lights my eyes were drawn to were atop of the Hotel Vitebsk; obviously in Russian.
The hotel is pretty imposing from the outside and has a massive foyer to boot. The receptionist seemed to be expecting me, so maybe she’d been the one that I’d made the booking with via e-mail? Thankfully she spoke good English and I was soon going through the process of being checked in. She needed a scan of my passport and visa and then had to stamp the back of my departure card and fill in the date of my arrival and departure at the hotel. I had to pay in full before going up to my room and paying with my Supercard Mastercard was no issue at all and took seconds. While the hotel has WiFi I had to pay for a scratch card, which gave me a login & password, which were thankfully numerical and not in Russian. The girl at reception showed me how to get connected, just in case I had issues with the Russian on the screen but once I’d managed to get my phone to connect to the modem in my room it was a breeze as there was an option for English the moment the browser is opened to login; 1 hour of WiFi cost me BYN1.05. There are options for 10 hours and 24 hour as well but as I only needed the time to chat to my wife back home 1 hour was enough; unfortunately, I managed to pick the only time of the week she was out all night to try and contact her!
Photos from Minsk 30th September 2016
Saturday 1st October 2016 (A day around Vitebsk before overnight to Lyntupy)
All the photos I took in Vitebsk were during my various walks to or from the Vitebsk Hotel. Vitebsk was virtually leveled during the 2nd world war but you wouldn’t be able to tell nowadays!
Photos from Vitebsk 1st October 2016