May 31, 2012

My wonderful Belorussian guides.

In late May of 2012, I began travels around four countries that were all former Soviet Socialist Republics and are all now ruled rather strongly by "presidents for life." The first stop was Belarus where the visa process for Americans requires various arrangements be made in advance.

For Belarus, I used MIR, a phenomenal travel company with its headquarters in Seattle. I wish I'd discovered MIR years ago. MIR tailored everything meticulously, with excellent private guides and drivers, and created a short but thoroughly enjoyable swing around the highlights of Minsk and Brest.

These places where "Western" tourists rarely go are often the most fascinating to explore and Belarus was no exception.

Guidebooks often make Minsk (pop. nearly 2 million) sound as if it consists of endless blocks of ugly Soviet buildings, so I was pleasantly surprised to find an attractive, uncluttered, tree-filled city with wide avenues.

Yes, Minsk!  Looking from an island in the river back at old churches near Plaza Svabody.

Lenin's still stands in front of the central Belarus government building
"for historical reasons." Ironically, Lenin looks out over the big three-story
subterranean shopping center situated underneath Nezalezhnastsi Plaza.

Church of Saints Simon & Elana (not far from Lenin)
with my Minsk Hotel beyond on the right.

A moving memorial at Khatyn, one of 183 villages totally destroyed by the Nazis.
Chimney's remain for each destroyed house.

New but old-style Orthodox church at the Dudutki folklife village.

OK, there were some "Soviet-style" apartment buildings.
These were photographed from my train going from Minsk to Brest.

A ceremony of army/militia officers being held at the Brest Fortress.

Changing of the guard at the Brest Fortress, where the Germans
and the Soviets fought their first major battle of World War II.

Brest (pop. 310,000) is the second-largest city in Belarus
and a few miles from the Polish border so it has changed
hands often over the centuries.  (Another excellent MIR guide.)