Minsk Travel Blog

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May 9, 2009
Hotel: Hotel Yubileiny, Minsk, $67
Today was Victory Day, celebrated in Russia and some former Soviet countries commemorating the end of WWII.  Minsk and Belarus had suffered greatly so they have more reason to celebrate it seems.  I had an early breakfast at the hotel and headed out.  The weather was cool and sunny today, perfect for walking around.  There were more colored banners and May 9 posters everywhere, hung from buildings, around monuments, etc.  I will say Belarus is big into monuments.  I went by one in Hero City, then across the river to the Island of Tears chapel, dedicated to the widows and orphans of the Russian Afghanistan war.  Several people were here laying wreaths and flowers.

The Lonely Planet mentioned that Lee Harvey Oswald had once lived in Minsk when he had defected to the USSR in the early 60s.. his apartment was labeled on the map.  I started walking towards it when I noticed lots of people headed in that same direction.  A cadre of policemen went by in full uniform, another group of soldiers, and a group of kids holding red and green balloons.  I saw a bunch of street sweepers lined up here and I guessed that they were headed towards the parade route.  I headed that way then until I ran into a wall of security people who said I couldn't go any further.  There were several busloads of people already waiting here, old men with rows of medals, policemen, and security people everywhere.  I walked up to the next block where they had a metal detector setup and they let me pass through after a thorough search of my bag.  

I crossed over the Victory Square where there was a grandstand setup, I assumed all the VIPs would be sitting here.  I tried to get a good spot and had to walk down the road a bit and got on the bridge.  There were security people EVERYWHERE, literally every 2-3 feet along the parade route; not letting anyone cross the street or get too close.  I've never seen so many people wearing shiny suits, sunglasses and earpieces anywhere.  The sun was at the wrong angle here, and still had another hour and half before the parade started, but the streets were filling up and I wanted to get a good view.  I had to go back to the square, go down into the metro station then back out the other side, then walk back down the other side of the street where I was able to find a good vantage point on the bridge.  There were a bunch of schoolkids here, so I was able to see over their heads. [:)]  Everyone was carrying banners or blue ribbons or balloons it seemed; such a splash of color everywhere.

Finally the parade started at noon.  What followed was something straight out of the old Soviet Union, marching band, soldiers carrying the national flag, old men in Soviet jeeps, with CCCP still written on the side.    I half expected to see tanks rolling by with missiles!  But its not that kind of parade.   I saw an older guy with a moustache coming down the street; I assumed it must be El Presidente, Lukashenko and that was confirmed when the security guys made everyone put down their cameras until he had passed!  So one day in Belarus and I get to see the president.  After he passed by came more war veterans, then girls in different traditional costumes.  The parade lasted just over an hour.. then I headed back to the hotel for a nap.

That evening I heard that there were fireworks scheduled all over the city.  Turns out one of the places they were being set off was right in Hero City just down from the hotel.  I walked down from the hotel over to the riverbank, again which was lined with hundreds of young people.  I ended up with the best location at a bend in a river, I was able to get some great fireworks pictures reflected in the water.  The fireworks show lasted 10-20 minutes with lots of red/green/white starbursts.  Amazing show!  I came back to the hotel, then waited a bit too long; by the time I went out to get a bite to eat all the shops and restaurants were already closed.  I went down to the bar and was sitting there eating Pringles and water when one of the 'working' women approached me.. of course I knew what the deal was and declined!  I'd also gotten a call offering 'massage' earlier that evening, heh.

My flight back home left the next morning at 5:30.. so was able to pack and at least get a few hrs sleep in before catching a cab to the airport at 3:30AM!

May 10, 2009
Flight: Minsk (MSQ) to Vienna (VIE), Austrian, Canadair, economy
Flight: Vienna (VIE) to Frankfurt (FRA), Austrian, A319, economy
Flight: Frankfurt (FRA) to Dallas (DFW), 777, economy
Flight: Dallas (DFW) to Waco (ACT), Canadair, economy
The taxi arrived on time.. I think it wasn't a real taxi though just some guy working for the hotel.  I'd kept 100k local currency for the fare ($35) but the driver wanted $40.. at 3AM I didn't have much other choice than to pay the extra $5, hrm.  I got to keep some local currency as a souvenir though.  The ride to the airport was quick; already there were several people there waiting for the checkin desks to open.  I had arrived just in time as the desks were opening though and checking in and immigration were actually quite quick.  There are a couple duty free shops and only a few gates.  There was a Turkish airlines flight leaving shortly after my Austrian flight.. I wandered over to the gate but couldn't stand the smoky smell and retreated back to my gate area.  It was just getting light now and I could see several Belavia planes on the tarmac.  I was supposed to fly Belavia from Kaliningrad until they cancelled my flight.. either due to low booking numbers or I'll bet they needed the plane to fly in some VIPs for the Victory Day celebrations.

The CR7 flight to Vienna was quick and we landed 15 minutes early.. a relief as my scheduled connection time had only been 35 minutes!  My next connecting flight was to Frankfurt; I had to go through the Schengen immigration in Vienna and used my UK passport here.  Rushed to the gate then boarded the next flight to Frankfurt.  I slept most of that flight, we arrived at FRA and proceeded to taxi forever.. on disembarking we boarded a bus then drove what seemed like miles.  I've heard that connecting in FRA can be a pain; I've only flown in and out of here, never connecting.  Turns out we came out in the terminal right next to the AA desks; though I made the mistake of going out through the arrivals doors then had to come back in the terminal when I couldn't get back upstairs again!  

Checkin for AA went fine.. I even had a few minutes left to visit the Admirals club.  The gate was quite a distance though from checkin desks.   The plane wasn't full either, which was nice.  I had booked a seat in the front economy cabin on the 777.. sat down only to find out that my AVOD wasn't working.  The FA at first brought me one of the video players from biz class, but I wasn't able to use it as my seatmate was using the only power outlet under our seats.  I then moved to the middle row which had 3 seats open, where I accidentally dropped the video player :eek: and it stopped working!  Well at least in the center seat the AVOD did work...

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photo by: formicacuriosa