Writing a travel blog can be a bit annoying at times. You need to be inspired to write down your thoughts and feelings but you need to be motivated to get out there and have experiences worth writing about. Sometimes it’s hard to find the balance between soaking up the atmosphere and getting to know a place whilst trying to get to the highlights and capture that great shot because without that selfie to prove it, were you even there?
We hit a wall in Minsk, whether that was because of us or because of Minsk or both. It was very hard to get out and be inspired by the place and find something that would be worth trying to capture in a creative way. We weren’t originally planning to visit Belarus but with the change in plans due to the Russian visa saga and a new 5 day visa free period we thought well why not, let’s give it a go.
We ventured into town on what happened to be Victory over the Nazis day. So the people were out and about in the city celebrating, the old soviet flags were quite prominent, people were hustling to get photos with men in military uniforms. Our walking tour took us through the main sights, within the main old town it was quite pretty with the town hall and churches, it’s a little disappointing though when you find out that the town hall was built only 13 years ago, even though it looks like it’s much older. The soviet architecture is still very prominent, large grotesque buildings with minimal detail, very wide footpaths and streets, all with the purpose of making the people feel very small compared to the state. There’s also a KGB office and still a very large Lenin monument in Lenin Square.
Having gone straight from Ukraine to Belarus you can start to appreciate the difference in the mindset between the two countries. In Ukraine, the country went through a decommunisation phase where they removed all remnants left behind from the soviet era, the only Stalin monument in the country is found in Chernobyl. In Belarus the people are so sick and tired of war that they just want peace and they will tolerate whatever political system is thrust upon them and won’t complain, as long as people don’t have to go to war, stark contrast to Ukraine.
Beyond the walking tour we didn’t do a whole lot, everything was very far away from where we were staying. The government has set up the 5 day visa period to entice tourists to visit but to be frank, the infrastructure isn’t there and there’s also not that many things worth doing in Minsk. We tried to organise a day trip to visit 2 different castles which are about 100km from Minsk and about 25km from each other but it was way too expensive for us to justify, it also didn’t include lunch or ticket costs for entry to the castles. You can’t visit both either on your own as there is no bus connecting the two, you have to visit one, then return to Minsk to then visit the other. They supposedly have a good Patriotic War museum but after visiting the one in Kyiv and reading that there aren’t any english descriptions, it would have been a waste of time.
From Minsk we jumped on a plane to Stockholm, our time in Stockholm and subsequently Helsinki was very short and convenient for us until we did our St Petersburg tour from Helsinki. It was a refreshing change to get to Stockholm; on our first night we caught up with Rob, an old friend of Lachie’s. It was the first time we’ve seen someone we know from back home since we left Ruth and Tash in Tanzania in February so it was good to see a friendly face. It also helped that Rob knew the bartender so we ended up with a few free shots, which when you know how much everything costs in Sweden is a huge win. We were very lucky with the weather while we were there, the city was stunning in the spring sunshine.
The must thing to do in Stockholm is a visit to the Vasa Musuem. The Vasa is an old ship that sunk in the 1600s in the Stockholm harbour, 20 minutes into its maiden voyage. It was found in the 1960s pretty much fully intact, they restored it and put it in a museum. It was a pretty impressive site, its easy to see looking at it why it sunk so quickly due to its design.
The changing of the guard happens at the Royal Palace every day at some point between 12 and 1, while it was very popular it was a little lame to be honest. We did try some pretty decent Swedish meatballs and had a very nice charcuterie and cheese platter at the old food hall, which is currently in a temporary building while the old building is being renovated. To mix things up a little bit we spent an afternoon at the photography museum.
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