Minsk(Минск) Belarus 2001-2011
There are only a view train connection between Vilnius and Minsk I found out. I figured out the busses from Vilnius to Minsk and decided for the one departing at 15:50. For about 25 LTL I purchased a ticket in the bus. The trip suppose to take three hours. It is to late for the apartment today I thought and I could try stay a night in the Sputnik Hotel. The bus had seen better days but OK for me - it always arrived. That was in 2002. In 2007 better busses are in service.
At around 20:00 h we arrive at the central station. I am searching where I could do a telephone call. I line up and wait half an hour to buy a telephone card. The unfriendly lady does not even look up to me and ask "Which ?" in Russian and does not look interested further. No idea! But with the help of other customers I get by accident the right one. I reach Irina to organize the apartment for tomorrow, but Irina insists to try to find something for today. Next day Irina did a great job to organize something nice (for Belarus).
The busses from Vilnius to Minsk depart from the bus station next to train station at 1:20, 5:50, 9:00, 12:50, 14:00, 15:50, 17:00 and 18:05 (September 2007) and take 3 to 5 hours depending on border crossing. In Vilnius the ticket cost 34 LTL (9.84 EUR, Sep. 2007) and can be board in the bus. Also in Minsk busses depart normaly from the bus station next to train station. But till April 2008 busses to Vilnius deparrtt from the eastern bus station. There is for example a bus at 7:30 and 11:00. Here you get the ticket at the ticket office in the bus station and you pay 29570 BYR (9.85 EUR, Sep 2007 ) .
Since I came here for the first time 6 years ago much was modernized. Streets, squares and buildings. So is the place of independence (nezavisimosti,Независимости) is no more and ugly parking place but a modern shopping center. Even today the streetscape is dominated by German cars. But in contrast to years back today these are new cars. In fact, there are, of course, far eastern brands in the streets. This is the result of a government decree to reduce the environmental impact of cars. But Minsk, like so many other city, has not lost it's face. Minsk is still Minsk. Everything is still in its place: the palace of the Republic, the Central Department Store Universam Mir, the metro, which was supplemented by a further stations, the central food market. What is missing are the women that sell stuff in the streets to make some extra money.
Following a statement of the Belarusian Embassy one must buy health insurance at the border, as travel health insurance is not accepted. But nobody bothered at the border about this and there was no possibility to buy one. And here is a translation of the custom declaration form. There a insurance offices before the passport control when one enters Belarus by Minsk airport. One must buy insurance . I paid 2 USD for a insurance . In September 2007 the entry document was in Russian and English as well.
In 2009 the trend continues to more western appearance. People dress more casual and sporty and even more casual then in western cities. So you see even mid-age and older people going out in Jeans and t-shirt. Also it is common to have prints like England or Italy. Now a days you see only new cars rather then the second hand cars that used to be seen , and even motorbikes and mid age man riding bicycles for fun. The people are friendly. At the border we must leave the bus for the exit procedure in Lithuania. Stamping the passports takes 35 minutes. Then we proceed to the Belarussian side. Someone imports two Enduros. The friendly customs officers enter the bus and collect the passports to stamp them and the visa. This happens in a record breaking 7 minutes. We do not have to fill in the usual custom declaration. For the Custom procedure we have to leave the bus and our baggage is x-rayed. The officer has a short glance in my laptop bag and I can leave.
To go by Metro is fast and very easy: You buy a giton near the entrance barriers, insert it an pass the barrier. You can go where you like. The trains go often - during the day every 2 minutes to 1:00 a.m. were they go every 8 minutes. The are 2 lines, one from east to west and one from north to south. There meet at the center at station Kupalovskaja. In the beginning one has problems to identify the station names, that are announced and written in Russian only, but it gets easier after some time. A giton costs 600 BYR in 2007
I watched a little confused how people watched a Top and Jerry Film at Metro-Station Pl. Nesavicimocti on a large station screen. I can not image a bigger contrast: The Belarusian people next to the Lenin memorial stare at the the screen that watching these questionable symbols of capitalism. The Festival if friendship between Minsk and Moscow took place at the river at the Prospect Masharova street. A rock concert took place in a pleasant and friendly atmosphere followed by fireworks at this Friday evening. The under-path of the 1999 stumpage was blocked by dozens of police man. The streets look pretty familiar to me as 60 % of the cars are of German make and 35 % a Russian brand. Far-Eastern brands and other nearly do not exist.
In 2007 people switched to mobile phones of on of the 4 operators: MTS, Velcom, Best Roaming with with west European operators is not always possible - especially for prepaid numbers. But there are still many public phones that work with telephone cards. I you call an mobil number you have to dial the prefix 80 - 80-29-6541234 for 6541234. If you call from public phone you wait until the other party picks up and then press the button. Time will be charged from this moment.
Minsk has been destroyed completely during WW2. One intuitively realizes that Minsk is artificial build a example of soviet planing. On the Place of the Republic there is a mile stone with distances and direction of other European cites. Often it is claimed that this is center of Minsk or Belarus. But this is not true - it is the point zero or reference point of the city planers of Minsk. In one direction there is the park and the residence of the president. In the other end is the Palace of culture and Art the museum of "the great patriotic war". The metro lines cross here at Aktjabrvskan (Октябрвскан) station and the great supermarket "Universe" is located here. The 23 km long main and business street Franciska Skorini (Франциска Скорины) that was renamed in 2005 to Nezalezhnaszi (Незалежнасци) Street, passed this point. Outside the center Minsk is made up of rather nasty batteries of housing blocks. But these are supplemented with parks.
The common sense of some people is the is must be very dangerous traveling there. The fact is the it is one of the safest palaces to go since it is well controlled and watched. Mafia rules rather in the wild west. Carjacking is pickpocketing you find in fact rather in New York, Italy or Amsterdam.
There are supermarkets, daily markets and kiosks throughout the city center and in the residential areas. These have a wide range of Western and Russian products. The most goods come directly or indirectly from Germany. You get Salamander shoe cream, Schauma shampoo etc. to say 2/3 to 1/1 the price as we in the west or cheap Russian products. Bread and milk are under price control of the government and are very cheap. Meat and cold cuts costs between EUR 1.5 to 6. The beer is from 0.375 EUR 0.5 liter bottle, for the very desperate, there are 1.5 liter bottles. The prices are the same everywhere no matter if one buys at the kiosk, Super or daily market. I was surprised of the wide range and 1a fruit and vegetables imported from the west via Germany, and at the same prices is available. And it is purchased from the broad mass of the locals - because tourists are missing almost completely.
|Bread (1 kg)||500 (0.20 - 0.35)||580-895||470||660||1664||2466|
|Butter (0.2 kg)||1420||1610||1800||1480|
|Meat and Coldcut/kg||2500 - 8000 BYR||9000-25000|
|Milk (1 liter 1.5%)||235 (0.14)||1690||1530 (3.5%)|
|Tea (100 pads/130g)||2560||4180 (50g Lipton)|
|Bottle Vodka / 0.5 l||2000 (1.30)||12600||6000|
|Tooth paste (Russian)||700(0.45)||1350|
|Beer (0.5 liter )||450 - 1000||850 - 1850||1150 - 1870||1280 - 2050||1640|
|Light bulb 75W||1100(0.70)||4800|
|Books||2000 - 9000||10'000 - 30'000|
|Metro ticket||120( 0.075)||260||360||400||600||650|
|Stamp for postcard to Europe||110||440|
That raises the question of the income distribution. A medium income is approximately 150 to 200 euros. Pensions are very low with 40 to 50 Euros. On the one hand, the basic costs are very low - an apartment costs approx. EUR 15 - and, on the other hand, the cohesion of the family is better. In general, children, parents, grandparents live together in an apartment. That leaves some money for an individual that he can spend. It is usual that you as a student with friends out on a regular basis and a pizza with beer for 3 EUR and I also know simple students save a lot for 850 USD two weeks holiday and the "Costa del Sol" in Spain. . Everyone buys according to his possibilities. l The structure of the expenditure is another: while in the west the basic cost almost devour the content (e.g. in Munich 1000 EUR plus car hire, insurance, mobile phone etc.) are food, consumer and luxury goods very cheap.
Shops are opened from Monday to Saturday from 9:00 h to 21:00 h and Sundays from 10:00 to 18:00h. New supermarkets are called but supermarket but at soviet times they where called Universam. The central supermarket has the longest opening times. In many shops one must pay in advanced and then pick up the goods - a relict of soviet times. Ice cream seems to be a favourite in winter even if it is as cold as -10°C. I see a teenage girl buying ice-cream on a a kiosk.
In 2002 US Dollar, and increasingly the Euro, that is called JEFRO and written EVRO, seems to be the local Currency. Since you can not pay in USD but in BYR people change it forth and back on one of the many official exchange kiosk to cope inflation. The difference between buying and selling is about 1 %. Since approx. 2004 the Belarusian Ruble and the US dollar are linked de facto at a price of about 2100 rubles for a dollar. There are also ATMs everywhere today and you can pay with a credit or debit card, the exchange rates are approximately the same everywhere and it is illegal to exchange money for private persons. Private persons offering to exchange money are mostly from the police.
I was looking for a Bank where you can get credit-card cash advance. The Belarusian Bank on Franciska Skorini (Франциска Скорины) has a Mastercard and Visa symbol on. So I enter and ask with my phrase book and i some pointing if I could get a and cash advance. The friendly lady says Нет but writes down an address where I should succeed. I passed some ATMs where you could get Rubles. At the exchange kiosk at Volodarskogo street 21 (Володарского 21) it was indeed possible to get USD cash advance also they charge 4% for it. This is also one of the view places where you can change all kind of currencies, including my Lithuanian money.
A Russian told me that she once once did accept and offer and the man showed a police Id and she had to come to the office and pay a fine.
Greetings from Minsk
Near the Red Church we went to is the Pizza Kipriana, at Bersona 14 (Пицца Киприана) where student go out some time. Although not the most exclusive place, I like it very much. Karchma (Карчма) is a nice little restaurant in the old town (Starovilenskaya 2) The meal was really delicious and we would have paid 21000 BYR (13 EUR) for two if there would not be the exorbitant wine price on listed the bill. I ask the waiter "Why are there 8 glasses of wine on the bill we only had two?". Well says the waiter "The price listed on the menu is for 50 ml so a glass of wine is 4 times that price". So we ended up paying 18800 BYR (12 EUR) for two glasses of wine.
Fuel prices in BYR(EUR,USD)/Liter in Minsk as below:
|95(unleaded)||670 (0.43,0.39)||1390 (0.53||2310||2530|
|92(unleaded)||590 (0.37,0.34)||1210 (0.46||2020||2220|
|76/80||475 (0.30,0.28)||975 (0.37,0.45)||1600||1760|
|Diesel||465 (0.29,0.27)||975 (0.37,0.45)||1610||2020|
|LPG||330 (0.21,0.19)||560 (0.21,0.26)||880||1300|