Minsk, Belarus - Stein Travel
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Minsk

Dating back to the 10th century, Minsk, capital of Belarus, is one of Europe's oldest cities, but it presents a surprisingly modern aspect today, most of its historic buildings having been flattened during World War II. After the war, during the 1950s, Minsk was rebuilt as a showpiece Soviet city, and little has changed since then. Scrupulously neat wide boulevards and squares lined with grandiose block-style buildings, interspersed with looming statues of Lenin, war memorials and Soviet symbols, set the backdrop for this city which is home to almost two-million people, on the banks of the Svisloch River.

Visitors to Minsk will find it hard not to be struck by the simple pride and joy the local citizens take in their city, where the interiors and style are a somewhat 'over-the-top' and often kitsch attempt at modern sophistication. There are nightclubs and casinos full of mirrors and lights; restaurants with steel and glass levels; theatres oozing baroque both on and off-stage; and a variety of incredibly themed health spas (called 'saunas') where waterfalls cascade into indoor pools. It all adds up to a fascinating experience, which visitors either love or hate, but cannot fail to appreciate.

The present in Minsk is interesting, but so is the past. Because of its central eastern location between Poland and Ukraine, this city has been a European battleground over the centuries, suffering at the hands off the Russian Tsar's troops in the 1600s, Peter the Great and Sweden in the 1700s, Napoleon and then Hitler. Perhaps it is not surprising that the city is seemingly content under communism-inspired rule after all it endured with imperialism.

Information & Facts

Climate

This humid, damp city has precipitation on most days of the year, with wet summers and snowy winters. The climate in Minsk is, however, moderate with an average January temperature of 21°F (-6°C) and an average July temperature of 64°F (18°C). Winters are mild, with snow, while summers are warm and usually damp; two thirds of the annual precipitation falls during the summer months. May to September is the warmest time of year. Fog is common during the autumn and spring.

Getting Around

The best way to get around Minsk is on the fast, efficient and extremely clean Metro system. It does tend to be very crowded however. To access places not served by the Metro there is a good system of trams, buses and trolley buses, which run from 5.30am to after midnight every day. It is wise to avoid peak hours. Taxis tend to be expensive, and should be booked by telephone from reliable, official operators. Taxis flagged in the street tend to be private and may rip off unsuspecting visitors. State taxis are yellow, and are metered. Ensure meters are turned on when departing. Drivers prefer to negotiate fares before you board.

Language

Russian and Belarussian are both official languages, with the majority speaking Russian.

Money

The currency is the Belarussian ruble (BYR), which is equal to 100 kopeks. There are no coins in circulation (plastic cards and tokens are used for the metro and public telephones). Currency and travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks and official bureaux de changes in Minsk and the larger towns. US Dollars and Euros are preferred and some currencies may not be accepted. Exchange offices may reject old/damaged notes and it is advisable to keep all receipts for exchange transactions as these may be required on departure, or when re-converting your leftover rubles. Mastercard and Visa are accepted at the larger hotels and tourist restaurants, but American Express and Discovery cards are not accepted at all. ATMs are widely accessible in major towns and banking hours are weekdays from 9am to 5pm.

Time

Local time is GMT +2. (GMT +3 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).

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