Difference between revisions of "Minsk"
Revision as of 13:35, 15 March 2010
Minsk is the capital and biggest city of Belarus. It is situated on the Svislach and Niamiha rivers. From 1919-1991 it was the capital of the Former Byelorussian SSR. It is also the capital of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
The city was 80% destroyed during World War II and as such was rebuilt in the 1950s to the liking of Stalin. Large Soviet-Bloc style buildings make up a large portion of the city. For this reason Minsk is a wonderful place to visit for those interested in the Soviet Union and are interested in seeing it almost alive.
English is not really spoken, and tourism is not a priority in Minsk. It would be wise to learn some key phrases in Russian (which is the "default" language, Byelorussian may also be spoken/understood).
The width of the train tracks is different in Poland and in Belarus, so if you choose to arrive by train please be prepared for long wheel changing. However, if you are arriving from say, Kiev, Moscow, or Lviv (Lvov) you need not worry about this. Plus as an added bonus, the prices are substantially cheaper from CIS countries.
There is almost always a daily train leaving from Lichtenberg station. It leaves at 13:49 and arrives the next morning at 9:30 or so. Note: This is the train en route to Russia.
There is always a daily train leaving Centralni Bokzal station (at the eponymous metro stop in Kiev). It leaves Kiev at 18:22 and arrives the next morning at around 06:00. A 4 person berth should cost around 12 USD.
From Minsk, train #86 leaves at 20:51, and arrives in Kiev the next morning at around 09:00. A 4 person berth should cost less than 12 USD.
The trip is about 10 hours. There is one train a day that departs from Central Station at 20:35 which arrives in Minsk around 8:00.
From Vilnius, Lithuania, the train takes about 4-5 hours. You will be given a card with two sides to fill out, and the guards at the Belarussian border keep one. You need to keep the other one for your hotel to stamp, and give it back to the guards when you leave Minsk. There are two stops. You should have your insurance and invitation letter (if you're a tourist) out to show the guards. The train from Vilnius is pretty cheap: about $10-15 one way. Also quite comfortable. You can check schedules at www.litrail.lt
There are also trains from Prague and other European cities.
Overnight train leaves Moscow about 23:30 and arrives Minsk about 06:30. No stop at the border for passport checks, so a good nights sleep in the 2 berth cabins.
There are several bus routes from Vilnius central bus station to "Avtovokzal Vostochniy" bus station in Minsk. The Minsk bus station is not very close to downtown, however you can have a taxi ride with 10000 roubles (less than €4). The bus also drops passengers off outside the railway station (look out for two Stalinist towers) in the centre of Minsk before proceeding to the Vostochniy (Eastern) station. The bus service takes up to 5 hours and costs around 36 litas (be prepared to spend more than 1.5 hours at the border). Due to the bad quality of the train service, bus ride should be preferred.
There are flights from Frankfurt but they are quite pricey, $500 or so. There are also flights from Tallinn, Estonia by Estonian airlines , from Riga, Latvia by airBaltic. If you wish to have budget price (80 €) tickets book flight tickets a few months before hand.
Belavia has codeshare flights with many other airlines. Travelling by plane is much easier for getting a Visa as well (price for visa at airport $100 or €65). If your agency organises your travel with a Belarussian Agency everything will be planned for you. Airport personel will meet you just as you come out. They will guide you to the visa office (Just after the exit from the plane), they will help you fill out the form required and pay the Visa fee. Yes, they do speak very good English.
Gomelavia has inland flights to all the major cities and major Western-Russian cities.
The majority of flights arrives at Minsk International 2 Airport, quite far from the city centre. If possible, you should prefer flights to the nearer Minsk International 1 Airport (currently served by Atlant-Soyuz Airlines from Moscow Vnukovo).
Driving in, while possible, requires knowledge of the border system. This is a border of European Union, so control is very strict. Crossing it can take 2 hours. They may check your bags. Without knowledge of Russian, Belarusian or Polish, this can be very hard. There is a very long line of cars at every border crossing. However, if you have passport, VISA and car registration papers prepared, act honest and helpful and arrives as a tourist in a personal car the border crossing can go very smoothly and be over within 45 minutes.
Get around by using bus, tram, or subway or rent a car. First three are cheap and reliable. The subway is noted for being clean and safe. Additionally, each subway station is decorated uniquely. For instance, the station at Oktober Square is decorated in the theme of the Communist Revolution. The station at Victory square is decorated in a victory theme, and the Lenin Station includes a bust of Lenin and a host of Hammer/Sickle reliefs.
A panoramic English-language map of the centre of Minsk that shows every building individually is widely available from bookshops and kiosks for 5,000 roubles. It also has a conventional map showing more of Minsk and some tourist information. It's worth buying a copy as early on in your visit as you can because it makes getting around on foot easy and fun.
The Subway (Minsk Metro) is the most reliable Transport around Minsk. A train every 3 minutes and never late. You can buy tokens at a window inside the station. One ride costs 600BYR, if you don't know any Russian, just give 6000BYR and stick 10 fingers up. Make sure you hold on, because it goes real fast.
Taxis are cheap as well. All Taxis have a base rate of 6000BYR and thats from 0-6km distance. That is the minimal pay. You will notice 6000BYR will already be on the meter.
You may also rent a car to travel around the country. Rates depend on period of hire and start from 20US/day. There are offices of Europcar, Avis, SIXT and other rental companies. You may browse a list of cars and rental companies here 
Regional Trains from the Central Station are also cheap. A trip from Minsk to Gomel (5 hours) with a cabin for 4 cost 20000($10US)and Usually never full.
Local goods are usually bad quality, but there are several things that are worth buying. Some wool and linen clothes - you can get very good stuff for little money. Linen in all forms is a special bargain. Typical is a woven patterned linen tablecloth, excellent quality, 150cm x 300cm (about 5 ft x 10 ft), for 34,280 Belarus rubles, approximately $16.25 US (10.30 euro, 8.25 GB pound) (as of May 2008). Womens underwear "Milavitsa", is widely known across former USSR. This good quality, and cheap as well. Various types of cosmetics - firstly brand-name, are called "O2". Vodka produced by Brest spirit factory, is probably the best in the world. This easily outperforms Stolichnaya, Absolut and Smirnoff. Generally, the Minsk Airport has a very reliable duty free shop with rich choice of fragrances, spirits and souvenirs. There is no sense to get international brands- usually it costs 20-50% more than European average.
Belorussian cuisine is similar to that of the rest of Eastern Europe but particularly Russian and Ukrainian. Generally it features heavy-fat potato dishes, mushrooms, soups and baked meat.
The quality of Western European cuisine (Italian, French...) is not amazing. The average level of cafes and restaurants is low but there are several good places in the center of the city. The price of a meal at these places should cost between 20,000BYR and 40,000BYR. The list of the restaurants -> 
A typical drink is "Kefir", which is a sort of sour milk, similar to yogurt.
On the web you can find a lot of cheap offers to rent a flat. Average price is about 50 USD for the night. There is also a good rental service provided by www.belarusrent.com . They rent rooms in good quality in the center of Minsk. They also provide assistance for Visas.
You might receive a call to your hotel room late at night offering a "massage". To avoid being woken up it is worth unplugging your phone.
Lake Narach is the largest lake in Belarus, located about 160 km north of Minsk.
Brest is a regional capital on the border with Poland and is rich with history from both the Soviet times and before. You can see a Brest Hero Fortress, perhaps the most impressive soviet monument every built. You can get there by train (~20 daily trains running from Minsk) at $5-20USD. It takes 3-4 hrs by train.