Mystical Minsk

Belarus gets a bad rap in the Western media. Our governments call its leader, Alexander Lukashenko, the last dictators in Europe. In fact, following contested presidential elections this month, the government harshly cracked-down on protestors, beating and arresting scores of people including the losing opposition candidates right on the main squares in the capital of Minsk.

But the Minsk I saw a few days earlier was something completely different. First, the background: one of our friends needed to drive his car out of Russia and back for customs-related reasons, and decided to make a run to Minsk. Six of us decided to join him for the weekend, some for the car ride but most of us flying in and meeting them there.

Minsk is exactly what you'd imagine a large Soviet city to be. Rebuilt after essentially being razed during World War II, it is a picturesque city of broad avenues and grand Stalin-era architecture. It is clean. It is orderly. The people are generally friendly and the prices are cheap. More surprisingly, despite its perceived isolation from Europe, it is strangely cosmopolitan, from the Turks populating its top nightclub to the Italian chefs at its top restaurants. Despite that feeling that not much has changed since the fall of the U.S.S.R., there was also a certain modernity to the place.

There aren't a lot of sights to see in the city aside from walking down the aforementioned avenues and enjoying the view, so most of the rest of our time was spent eating great meals or sampling the city's somewhat-entertaining nightlife. In that way, it was much a 48-hour endurance test, but a fun one at that.

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