Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Belarus days four and five - Adventuring!

We let ourselves sleep in a little later on Saturday morning, knowing that we would be up all night.  After checking out of the hostel we went to the post office to buy and send a few postcards and then checked out a few other sites in that part of the city.

Main post office in Minsk

National Pedagogical University

Lenin Square

Church near Lenin Square

Fountain in Lenin Square

Lenin statue and government building

The boys hanging out with Lenni

After grabbing an ice cream on the square we were off to Vitebsk in the northeast of Belarus, the fourth largest city in the country.  Once we had arrived and found a place to park the first priority was finding something to eat.  We found a nice outdoor place to eat shashlik and then spent a couple of hours roaming the streets to get a good impression of the city.

On the road!

First impressions of Vitebsk!


This street reminded me of Andriyivskyy in Kiev

View of Vitebsk

Main square across from the WWII memorial and near the children's park
Next we set off on a little "extreme" tourism.  We may or may not have found ourselves on a certain unmarked and unguarded border ;)

En route back to Minsk we stopped in the city of Orsha to eat some dinner.  Not finding much of anything open we ended up eating at "Funny Chicken".  The food wasn't anything special, but at least we had a little something in our stomachs.

Once we got back to Minsk there was a little bit of fiasco with returning the rental car and making sure we had enough cash for the taxi to the airport, but all in all everything worked out just fine...it always does, doesn't it?

In the airport the boys bought some Belarusian vodka to take back as a souvenir and Mario and I all but slept through boarding (good thing Markus was there!) and off we were back to Germany!

Traveling to Belarus I didn't quite know what to expect from the country.  It's not exactly a country with a booming tourist industry, but  I could tell that the Belarusians took great pride in the fact that more people than ever were visiting their country thanks to the relaxed visa policies during the ice hockey championships. I'm eagerly awaiting the day when Belarus' complex and expensive visa regime is done away with and I can get back there to explore more of the country.  If you haven't been to Belarus yet - go! You're missing out on something spectacular!

Belarus day three - rental car and hockey games!

Friday morning we were up early to rent a car in order to drive to the city of Mir to see a castle. The company we rented from is called Auto Sale and if you ever find yourself in Minsk I highly recommend them! The service was excellent and the price for rental with full insurance and unlimited millage was extremely reasonable. An overall win! On the way to the castle we ate at a cute little roadside cafe that most certainly sees little to no foreigners and were greeted with exceptionally friendly service (well at least for Belarus standards) and darn close to a homecooked meal.

First up was Borshch, of course!
The castle itself was nice, but not a destination one needs a ton of time for. Just fine for us though because we had hockey games to get to back in Minsk!


Small church in the castle complex

Just having some fun in the old castle prison :)

Minsk sign

School bus near the castle

As we entered the stadium, me proudly wearing my American flag T-shirt, it was pretty clear that the majority of the crowd was cheering for Kazakhstan. That, however, did stop me from cheering wholeheartedly for team USA. The group of (probably drunk) Belarusians next to us were obviously cheering for Kazakhstan, yelling things such as "USA go home!", "F***ing Americans!"(was that really necessary??), and "USA get out of Kazakhstan!" (what does that even mean???). I think that they were kind of trying to pick a fight, but we just ignored them. As the end of the game drew near, tied at 3-3, I was bursting with excitement! So as the overtime clock ticked down and team USA took a shot that landed that puck right in the goal, you better believe I was out of my seat cheering, clapping, and chanting "USA! USA!".  It was such a high and so incredibly exciting.  As the American flag was raised and the national another played, Mario and I weren't shy to sing along.  In that moment it sure felt good to be an American!
Thumbs up for team USA!

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Start of the game

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Players on the ice - our seats were kind of high, but the view was great!
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Final score! YAY!!!!

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The next game was to be played a couple hours after the first, but we had tickets to that as well, so we spent the time in between taking in the atmosphere of the fan zone outside of the stadium.  

Photo bombing the Fins

Swiss fans
The next game was Finland vs Switzerland and we were team Finland all the way.  Of course, it turned out again that most of the stadium was for Switzerland.  Probably because there were so many Belarusians in the crowd and Finland had beaten Belarus the day before. Well, the game certainly didn't disappoint and it took a double overtime shoot-out to finally bring victory to Finland.  We were 2 for 2 on hockey victories!!!

That night we hung out some more in the hospitality area by the river and ate blini before calling it a night. What a fun day!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Belarus day two - exploring Minsk

Needless to say we slept in a little bit on Thursday after that late night the night before. But once we were out and about we spent the day eagerly exploring Minsk. I'll let the pictures do the talking!

Mascot for the international ice hockey tournament 
Republic Square
Views of the city as we rode the Ferris Wheel
More views of Minsk
Ferris Wheel
We were happy to find a nice Belarusian flag to take a picture with!

Central Children's Park
Military exercises on the square
WWII Memorial and Eternal Flame
A church we happened upon while (unsuccessfully) searching for a car rental company

In the evening we checked out the fan zone outside of the arena and then went back to the hospitality area to watch Belarus play Finland (on the TV only) but unfortunately Belarus lost. We ended up taking a little walk after leaving the hospitality area and ended up sitting on the steps of the Ballet and Opera Theatre, watching the fountain and talking for a while. Eventually we headed back to the hostel, a bit earlier than the night before, hoping to wake up early the next morning.
Outside of the arena with our Belarusian flag!

Ice hockey arena

Our little Belarusian!

Opera and Ballet Theatre

Belarus, first impressions

After spending a nice Tuesday night in Hilpoltstein it was off to Frankfurt airport Wednesday afternoon to catch our Lufthansa city line direct flight to Minsk. As we approached our destination we were awestruck at the beautiful countryside landscapes of Belarus seen out of the airplane window. Our impressions of Belarus were already quite high in those first moments. 

Having landed and gone through passport control I began leafing through my passport to take a look at my newest stamp, only to discover that it was nowhere to be found! My immigration card had a stamp, but not my passport! I caught the attention of a border guard who had left his post for a moment and after verifying that the stamp really wasn't there he got my stamp and then made a general statement to all of the guards "Passports must be stamped!" 

Not having to wait for baggage we were quickly outside and eager for our first photos on Belarusian soil.

On the bus ride into the city we chatted with an older woman from northern Belarus and had the good fortune of a bus driver who dropped us off at an unofficial stop nearby where we needed to be. 

Once we found our hostel we realized just how perfect our location was. After a quick check-in and registration process we were off to enjoy the so called "hospitality zone", a gathering of food, drink, music, and fun for fans to gather and celebrate. No sooner had we gotten in line for a drink when two Belarusians, intrigued by the boys' German, invited us to join them and their friends. We, of course, agreed and thus began a long night of laughing with new friends, bridging language and cultural barriers at our cozy gathering of four nations.