JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH MARIA CHASHEY FROM MINSK, BELARUS!
Maria Chashey is a Belarusian who fondly enjoys opera music, art and literature. She teaches German to senior citizens of Minsk as a volunteer and can speak 4 languages (Russian, Belarusian, English and German). She moved to Minsk from her hometown 10 years ago and since then has been passionately travelling both around Belarus and abroad. To fuel her passion she works for an IT company in Minsk.
Special thanks to photographer Misha Peshekhonov for providing us amazing pictures of Belarus.
Belarus is situated on the east of Europe and is called the “Silicon Valley” of Eastern Europe. It shares its border with many countries, one among them is Latvia.
Minsk, the capital and largest city of Republic of Belarus, is a very European, cosy and modern city but at the same time has its own unmistakable personality. It has a population of almost 2 million people, who are very hospitable and friendly. Minsk has everything it takes to be a perfect tourist destination: good transportation system, lots of parks and greenery, museums and art places, night life and historical sights.
What is the best time to visit Minsk?
I would say it depends on what you are looking for. If you want to feel real winter, you should come in January/February – plenty of snow, freezing weather, different winter activities. If you don’t like cold, July/August would be best – not so much rainfall, comfortable summer weather.
Autumn is nice because of all the colours, Belarusian nature in autumn is amazing. And if you are lucky, you’ll get to see the most fantastic fogs although the weather might not be very good.
Spring is not the best time; it’s either wet and muddy or raining and cold. Good spring days are really hard to predict, most probably May, but weather in spring is unstable.
Which is the most convenient and favored transport of Minsk?
My favourite way of transport in the city is metro (subway) – it is fast and convenient. You don’t even have to buy tickets – it is possible to pay by Visa contactless cards to pay trips when entering. There are only two metro lines and 29 stations, so it’s easy to navigate and you can get by metro to almost all the interesting places. For basic info, prices and time table check out the manual at [https://minsknotdead.com/post/minsk-metro]
Minsk also boasts one of the most modern railway stations in whole of Europe. All trains passing from Moscow from Paris and Berlin pass through Minsk.
If you are travelling to other cities in Belarus, get information on various kind of available transports here.
From the airport to the city you can get by train, bus, minibus and taxi. Trains are only 5 times a day or so and they are slow. I would prefer either minibus or taxi. They are the most convenient and fast. Make sure you call taxi via app. If that’s not possible ask people at the airport for operators who offer fixed price for the ride between airport and the city. I would advise against taking random taxi from outside the airport who might charge ridiculously high amount of money from foreigners. It’s very rare but still could happen.
What are the top three must visit places in Minsk?
It’s really hard to name 3 places, maybe, I could cheat a little and name 3 groups of places?
Feel the city’s character. Discover the popular sights, places and avenues, find an observation deck, all by walking. There are two walking routes to explore the center of Minsk. The Independence Avenue is a 15 km long stretch where you will find several museums, theatres and other attractions. There are many old churches, some of them hidden from main streets. Independence avenue crosses five different squares on its path. They are Kalinin Square, Yakub Kolas Square, Victory Square, October Square and Independence Square. I believe the city should really be walked for hours before you really feel its character.
Museums. I love National Art Museum, it’s so full of light, peaceful and stylish. Museum Strana Mini is a must. You’ll see small replicas of all the most interesting places in Belarus, learn some history from nice guides and fall in love with this country! Foreigners are often interested in Belarusian Great Patriotic War Museum.There are a number of small unusual museums as well: outdoors Museums of Stones, private Museum of Money, Beer Museum, Museum of Carriages, Museum of old Photo cameras and so on.
Parks. If you are a nature lover, soak yourself in the green and beautiful parks of Minsk. The city has it in plenty. I love Botanical Garden, Vikory park and Loshitsa Park. Gorky and Cheluskintsev Parks are nice as well. Zaslavl reservoir, also known as Minsk sea is a great place – it is located 17 km from the city but can be easily reached by electric train. There’s also a small Sendai Park, that looks like a tiny Japan.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Minsk?
Here is a list of seven most beautiful castles in Belarus, but I would definitely recommend Mir and Nyasvizh castle. One because they are the two most famous castles in Belarus, both are on UNESCO World Heritage Site list and also because they lie so close to the capital. Both are less than 2 hour drive from Minsk (Mir – 95 km, Nyasvizh – 120 km).
Mir castle is a fairy tale castle and one of the main attractions of Belarus. It is a piece of military architecture in the Grodno region. The castle was built by the Ilinich family to withstand attacks of the Crimean Tatars and has five towers of brick and boulders. It is only 95 km south- west from Minsk and can be reached within an hour by taking the country’s main highway going to Brest.
Nesvizh Castle is only 35 kms away from Mir castle and can be reached within half an hour. Many people do those two in one day, although I wouldn’t recommend it. It is a residential castle of the Radziwiłł family in Niasviž. It was destroyed a number of times in the war but restored again. It is a real pearl of Belarusian architecture. You can picnic, ride bicycle, stroll through the garden and even stay inside the hotel of the castle.
If you are interested in how people used to live here ages ago you might visit Belarusian State Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Lifestyle 4 km away from Minsk.
Another place would be Zaslawye town founded by Vladimir the Great, the prince of Novgorod, one of the oldest cities in Russia. It’s 20 km north-west from Minsk, you can get there by train or bus in half an hour or so. It’s one of the oldest towns in Belarus (dates back to 985) and has a number of interesting sights all incorporated into a big History and Culture museum-reserve. There are two old churches, two sights of old towns with remnants of fortifications, ethnographic complex “Mlyn” (includes traditional wooden tavern, smithy, storehouse and steam mill) and three more museums.
Which is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Minsk?
I would say that May 9th and July 3rd are the days when you see most people in the street. May 9th is Victory day, that celebrates the end of 2nd World War. July 3rd is when Minsk was liberated during WWII, it is Independence Day of Belarus. Both days are state holidays, most people do not work. When they are near weekend, there are 3-4 days of in a row. People just have fun, walk in the streets, sit in the parks etc. Most years, they have a parade in the morning and fireworks in the evening on both days.
For most people New Year would be the most celebrated holiday, when people give presents and visit each other. Many celebrate religious holidays such as Easter and Radunitsa. Also ‘gender’ holidays are very popular here.
Belarus is an orthodox country and celebrates Christmas according to Julian calendar. Hence we celebrate it twice a year – December 25th (Catholic) and January 7th (Orthodox) ! Like Georgia, Ukraine and many other countries.
All these holidays are officially off days.
What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Minsk?
Variety of restaurants make Minsk a gastronomically diverse city. Everyone will find something to their liking even vegetarians. Belarus national cuisine is a mix of simple peasant recipes and a sophisticated cuisine of the nobility. Most famous dishes would be draniki and babka (made of potatoes), nalistniki (stuffed pankakes), machanka, borshch, khaladnik (varieties of soup). Many national dishes include mushrooms and lard. Traditional desserts are kissel, apple pies, kulaga, baked apples and pears. There’re quite a few local alcoholic beverages too. There are some quite unique things like zefir, pryaniki, cranberries in sugar powder, condensed milk, birch sap etc.
Are there any popular markets in Minsk which tourists must visit?
Galleria and Galileo malls are quite famous in Minsk for high-end shopping. Here is a list of malls in Minsk. GUM, departmental store, is a great place to do some shopping for local products like clothes, cosmetics, food or even carpets. It is located on the Nezavisimosti Avenue and still looks like in Soviet times. I would also recommend visiting local designer stores and show rooms. There are a lot of amazing and unique designer things and prices aren’t so high. You can also visit the multistoried Central Department Store called TsUM which lies next to the metro “Ploshchad Yakuba Kolasa” exit.
The most popular food market is Komarovka market in the city centre. Some ‘Top’ lists even recommend it as tourist attraction. Might be fun to go there. There’s a night book fair every week too (Friday evening – Saturday morning).
The only flea market I know was Zhdanovichi market. However, when you read this it will be either closed or soon to become so. Flea markets aren’t very popular here. However, you might often see elderly people selling fruit, vegetables and flowers from their gardens near metro stations (Pushkinskaya, Kamennaya Horka).
Which is the local craft or souvenir of Minsk?
Belarus is famous for its flax.
Flax flowers are on our coat-of-arms and are sort of unofficial symbol of the country. One can see them on Belavia plains for example. There’s a great variety of thins made from flax – linen clothes, bed linens, tablecloths with embroidery and exquisite decor, napkins, towels and much more. Many people like traditional folk souvenirs from straw, ceramics and wood while some buy sweets and liquors, however I would recommend visiting Vialiki Dziakuj, a souvenir shop in Minsk which specializes cool gifts that represent Belarus: from gingerbread with murals of Kastryčnickaja Street to designer clothes.
Which are the best streets of your city worthy of taking a stroll on?
I would recommend Nezavisimosti or Independence Avenue which houses Soviet architectural ensemble, Lenin statue, Saint Simon and Helena Church, Belarussian State University, Belarusian KGB Headquarters, Palace of Culture of Trade Unions, 3 storey shopping mall, GUM departmental store and much more.
The Upper Town, Trinity Hill, Karl Marx street and Kastrychnitskaya street with its murals is also quite interesting.
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of the city?
To my mind the best places to see Minsk from above are National Library and Ferris wheel in Gorky park. If you’d prefer a table with a view try these restaurants – The View(28th floor), Panorama in Hotel Belarus (22nd floor) and BAR:DOT XX1 bar (21st floor). Here’s a good guide on places to see Minsk from above with pictures.
Would you suggest any shows in Minsk to drama, music or art lovers? Where can one spot street art in Minsk?
Minsk Opera and Ballet theater are very popular, as well as Belarusian State Philharmonic Society. I would recommend going to an organ concert in the Red Church if there’s any while your stay. There are many theaters, but I don’t think any of them perform in English or have subtitles. In summer, usually on Saturday one can see many street performers in the Upper Town and Karl Marx street.
Minsk is famous for its street art. You will find them everywhere you go. However, in Kastryčnickaja street you can find all size murals. It is one of the most popular and trendy streets in Minsk. Check out this guide to know where to find which street art.
How hard is it to travel in Minsk without knowing the local language?
I would say, it’s pretty hard for an English-speaking person. Most people don’t know English or know it poorly. Most writings are in Russian/Belarusian, that have completely different letters. However, people in Belarus are very helpful and friendly. They will try to help you and explain everything as best they could, maybe even stray from their route to take you where you need to go.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in Minsk?
The biggest life hack for Minsk would be to check out tourist card info. It can help you save money on transportation and museum tickets, as well as provide discounts at some restaurants and services.
However, you can check out this awesome guide on useful apps for Minsk and other cities in Belarus.
Maria is passionately in love with her country and if you ever decide to visit Minsk, please feel free to contact her on social media, she would love to answer any of your questions.