Paddling the Nile
The first ever paddle down the Blue Nile from source to sea. 5,000km through wild rapids, war zones, crocodile and hippo infested waters, disease, terrorists, guns, arrests; the works...
Newly married amongst the neon glow and dumpling vendors as we bumble our way trying to figure out the world's most populous nation at this exciting time in it's history...
The Great Canadian Bike Trek
23 years old and naive, I set off in the middle of Canada's barbaric winter perched on a woolskin seat-cover peddling solo from one side of Canada to the other...
Belarus is famous for three things:
1. It is full of supermodels
2. It received the lion's share of radioactive leakage from Chernobyl leaving a large part of the country toxic (hopefully that didn't affect 1 above)
3. It's clinging onto its Soviet past and is one of few places where the KGB is still active, tapping phones, etc. It is said to be in a communist time capsule and remains more like the former USSR than anywhere else.
The three things fascinated me, but unfortunately as visas for Belarus are a mission to get, I only ended up staying in the capital city Minsk. I didn't seeing if those two-headed, six-legged cows actually exist close to Chernobyl and everything else I saw of Belarus was flashing by from a train.
Minsk itself is really interesting, for being what it is. The city was mostly flattened in World War II when the German's invaded. Everything that was left standing was almost all demoed when Stalin's Red Army charged through and pushed the Germans out. It was rebuilt in grand Stalinist style after the war, with wide boulevards lined with ornate Stalin-style buildings and adorned with the hammer and sickle. It was also the city where Lee Harvey Oswald, the sniper accused of assasinating JFK lived in the early 60s after defecting from the US Marines.
The city seems fine on the surface aside from being a little subdued. The Government-run department stores that hold true to the original scantly-stocked and poorly displayed communist stores. The streets are clean, the subway runs efficiently, a fair standard of cars drive on the streets and the thick hot chocolates are some of the best I've ever had, but in addition to the usual surliness of many former Soviet states, there is a feeling of oppression that is hard to put a finger on.
I found the people friendly, with a few of those who could speak English not shy about talking to me and sharing their thoughts, especially about their country. Apparently young people, a similar age to myself, with few strings tying them to Belarus, find it almost impossible to get authorization to leave the country. It's usually only the older people with good jobs, families, etc who get issued visas. But there are stories of men with senior management jobs, nice houses to live in, nice car, etc, leaving it all to flip burger patties at McDonalds just to get out and live in the west.
Minsk's city planners seem proud of their Soviet roots with many sculptures and monuments around the city celebrating the Red army for liberating them from the Germans - there are tanks on pedestals, statues of soldiers and all sorts of strange memorabilia from the period.
Overall, I didn't see or hear of many big-hitting tourist attractions in Belarus, but given its 20th century history and how things have continued since the Soviet Union disbanded, I found it an incredibly interesting place to visit.
A fine piece of Communist architecture in Minsk
Me outside one of the beauties in Downtown Minsk
Various hammer and sickle adornments on many downtown Minsk buildings
I think this is the front door to the Belarus KGB Headquarters
Some of the reconstructed old buildings in Minsk, Belarus
An old reconstructed church in Minsk, Belarus
Creepy statues in Minsk, Belarus
A fine example of Belarussian architecture, Stalin-style
A main road in Minsk lined with Stalinist architecture
Minsk Architecture - Stalin style
One of the many weird soldier scultpures in Minsk, Belarus
Tanks on show at a Minsk museum
A tank celebrating the Red Army and their liberation of Minsk
A communist-era building contrasting with an older one in Minsk, Belarus
The ambitious Minsk library, loathed by many