A Tour Around Minsk in Belarus

For my birthday trip in August, we visited Belarus! You can now visit visa-free for five days. I will explain how in an other post, for now, let’s see the sights!

When you leave the main train station, you are greeted by the sight of the looming city gates. Minsk is a really clean city and you don’t see litter anywhere, not even in litter bins! The buildings look very pristine also, almost as if they have also been cleaned.

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Minsk City Gates

It’s worth mentioning that there are not too many maps, and I didn’t have roaming data on my phone so its hard to navigate. Although the taxi drivers don’t receive many tourists, apart from Russians, they still know how to overcharge. I think there will soon be more tourists now that visa requirements have relaxed.

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Hotel Belarus

We stayed in Hotel Belarus for one night, which as you can see, is very Soviet-looking. The lifts tended to stop at all the different floors which was very annoying. It overlooked the city and the river. The lovely river was one of my favourite things about this city.

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Minsk building

I’m not entirely sure what this office building was, but it was very imposing. There were ‘to let’ signs in the window as I’m sure it is hard to fill. These ladies are taking selfies on their pedalo, outdoor activities are big in a city with a large river and wide streets, as well as countless parks.

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Island of Tears

On our second night we stayed in the riverside hostel, also known as Hostel Trinity, and we faced the Island of Tears. This angel statues cries tears all day. The island pays tribute to Belarusian soldiers who died in the war with Afghanistan.

I like my city tours to show a bit of street life, so here is a street!

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There are not as many shops and restaurants as you would normally see in a city. The restaurants generally sell local food as well as pizza and pasta. As a vegetarian, I ate a lot of pizza when I was there. Right now, it is not a city to visit for gastronomy, but it is worth sampling the local delights.

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Here you can see a KFC under a Soviet building, capitalism and communism combined.

Modern Belarus is a relaxed place and the people are friendly, due to a lack of outside influence, less people speak English than the rest of Europe. It’s well worth learning some Russian words as you will certainly get to use it.

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Holy Spirit Cathedral

This is one of the old parts of town that looks over the river. Here you will find tourists – and maps – both of which are harder to find elsewhere in Minsk. There are also quite a few restaurants here, but they are more overpriced than the rest of town. I recommend the national dish of potato pancakes with sour cream.

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Republic Palace

I wanted to show an example of Brutalist architecture so here it is, the Republic Palace which is guarded by soldiers. I was afraid that I would be told off for taking a photo of the building, but in fact it wasn’t a problem at all.

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Minsk Circus

Next to the park is the circus building, surrounded by statues showing scenes from the circus. This acrobat is on a horse, I saw kids loving the animal statues that guard the entrances. We also saw an old women urinating behind the gatehouse which we didn’t expect – and apparently neither did she!

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Independence Square

Independence square is a huge square surrounded by big buildings just like elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Here you can see one of the buildings peeking out from behind the Belarusian flag.

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Minsk Wheel

We strolled around one of the lovely parks, Minsk is a really green city. It’s botanical garden is one of the biggest in the world. I love a ferris wheel and there was a whole fairground to go with it. I was also surprised by a woman holding a python which the kids loved. She also had a parrot and rabbits to be photographed with, I’m not sure how much fun that was for the animals.

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I’ll leave you with this image of Minsk as the sun was setting after a hot day. Many building line the river to create a modern cityscape. There are loads of attractive people strolling by, getting dressed up is definitely a right-of-passage here. Many people hire bikes to navigate the massive boulevards. I have to say it was nice to be somewhere so spacious. The population of the whole country is not huge so you are rarely in anyone’s way.

I liked Minsk more than I thought I would, then again I had no expectations as there is not too much information about it compared with other cities. Considering that they’ve only just allowed visa-free entry, its a wonder why, as really they’re just hiding a nice city. It’s really cheap and laid back and the residents are not sick of tourists…yet.

 

A stroll through the street art of Dublin

Dublin is a creative city where writing in all its forms, be it song lyrics, a play or poetry are greatly celebrated.

I am going to celebrate street art in gallery, in all its various forms!

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Spliff-smoking smiley face.

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The scrawled-upon leprechaun.

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A bust filled with triangles.

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Daffodils in a window.

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Prison shutters.

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Blue people.

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Nintendo flowers.

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Riding a cow.

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A free-for-all.

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Pac-man.

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Reflections of the seafront.

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Off surfing.

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The starfish in a light.

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The abandoned building.

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A stripy box.

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Filled with sequins,

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Mice on parade.

These are only a random selection of some of the lowbrow and highbrow art that you can see all over the city. Look closely and Dublin’s hidden art will open a whole new world.

A journey around Iceland’s Phallogical Museum in Reykjavik

You may or not know that Iceland has a penis museum. Or the Icelandic Phallogical Museum to be exact. The manager, Hjortur Sigurdsson said that it started off as a laugh when his father started collecting penises and then he opened the museum.

The hoard is growing and boasts a human penis amongst the two hundred strong collection of animal penises. They are all the creatures that live in and around the island which accounts for where there are so many giant whale penises.

The purpose of the museum is scientific, dedicated to the field of phallology as opposed to eroticism. It isn’t a particularly erotic place as you can see from the picture below.

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It is essentially only a couple of rooms big and many penis themed items are also on display. Like this phone.

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A pickled penis.

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More specimens.

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Jars of penises, ranging from a tiny mouse to a mighty whale.

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There are 93 different species of animal represented in total.

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Two of the museums 55 whale penises with a wooden penis in the background.

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Some metal penises.

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The toilets.

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Penises in jars and mounted to the walls.

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A penis that looks like a horn.

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I’m not sure whether the low lighting is to protect the penises or just for atmosphere. Either way I enjoyed my time in this museum borne from an eccentric passion for biology, nature and the penis. I loved that it was done in such a scandi sort of way and is a great excursion when its dark outside and you haven’t seen the Northern Lights or any whales. Despite seeing no whales in the sea, at least I can say I’ve seen the pickled penises of 16 of them.

My favourite part was when we handed over our money and the man took out his penis shaped wooden cash box and tucked it inside.

Let me know if you visit or have visited – or if you can identify any of the penises!

A stroll through Sigulda’s Gauja National Park in Latvia

When I travelled the Baltics I stayed in Latvia’s capital, Riga. From Riga I took a day trip to Sigulda by train and then walked to the national park. I got a bit confused by the ski resort as there is a cable car and I wasn’t sure how to get to the bridge to cross the river. I legged it down the bank and found my way to the bridge but I would advise trying to find a path!

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This is the bridge that goes to the woods to cross the river.

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This is the cable car if you fancy a view from above.

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A sure sign of the beaver gnawing the trees! This incredible animal is most active at dawn and dusk so keep your eyes peeled!

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This quaint wooden bridge crosses the ditch. The pathways are well trodden by visitors but I did not see many people.

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The trees are tall and the light sprinkles through them.

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I came across this toad so it is well worth keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife along the paths.

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You can see there is a bird box for water birds to live in!

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There are thick grasses below the forest canopy.

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There are many signs of people in this contained wilderness. The softness of several of the exposed rock walls have been carved into by various implements over the years.

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There are ruined buildings.

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And tree roots fighting through the etchings looking for water.

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It is impossible to separate human beings from nature, as Gauja National Park shows. Sigulda’s gem and a sanctuary from the city. Take advantage of this accessible wilderness, complete with its beavers, birds, amphibians and neanderthal graffiti.

Never has a national park in Europe been so easy to discover.

 

Tower blocks of Tirana in Albania

After the fall of communism in Tirana, a slapdash approach to city expansion came about and things were built but not fixed.

Unconventional mayor Edi Rama gave the place a facelift, repairing roads and sewage systems but also employing artists to give the place a lick of paint.

These are the results, as his legacy is everywhere. This is a fairly conventional tower block in Tirana.

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Artists went wavy with the stripes on this one.

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Geometric shapes with added to this one.

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These poles look like marshmallow sweets.

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This one looks like a paint colour chart.

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And this one is covered in pants! Amongst other things…

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Not to mention the Tirana pyramid, this was taken when Bush was in power…

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This is the main park area, where many Albanians spent the evening.

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Cafe culture is strong in Tirana.

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There are many more painted buildings, if you look around side streets.

The main boulevard is a bright parade which you may love or loathe, but it is certainly different.

A camel trip through the Sahara desert in Tunisia

First of all, you get on the camel.

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And hope it doesn’t dislike you too much.

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You never know who you’ll meet along the way.

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But you’ll need someone to guide you.

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As you walk past abandoned buildings.

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They’re be other riders in front and behind you.

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As you head towards the sunset.

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You can walk your shadows get long.

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Or short.

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You can see your camel’s hoof prints in the sand.

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You will pass more trees than you think.

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Even your camel will look to the sunset.

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After you dismount.

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And leave your desert companion behind.

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See the moon over the desert.

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As you drive home through roads lined with sand.

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Knowing that you followed in the footsteps of so many people, mesmerised by dancing sands and watching the sun disappear behind a dune at the end of a long journey.

7 Reasons to visit Colombia

  1. The El Totumo Mud Volcano

This is not the only mud volcano in the world but you can get in it! It is not very high and contains mud instead of lava. It feels pretty unique to bathe in mud but there is a man in there who tries to massage you – you have been warned!

He massaged me and I hated it so just say no! Once you have covered yourself in mud you jump in the lake where women wash the mud off you – including your boobs. Again, you have been warned and you’ll have to tip them afterwards.

The volcano is easily reached from Cartagena from hostel transfer or via taxi.

 

2. Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park is beautiful and these pictures do not do it justice. If you go for walks you can see wildlife like monkeys and agoutis.

To save money you can bring your own food as there isn’t many places to buy it and it is more expensive. You can rent a tent or hammock. I stayed in a hammock and I loved swinging in the sea breeze.

It really is like being in paradise, see for yourself! Always check when it is open as it now closes for one month of the year as the request of the people who call Tayrona home.

 

3. The Lost City (Ciudad Perdida)

It’s a six day trek at a pretty low difficulty level – although it does get sweaty and you do cross rivers. They do sell sugary drinks at intervals if you really struggle.

You get to see beautiful countryside and amazing history that knowledgeable guides will tell you all about.

Be warned as it can get crowded, make sure your company is reputable as you tread a path through people’s villages and it is important to be mindful of that. It also has soldiers guarding it.

Don’t forget to look up as I saw parrots in the trees and look out for creepy crawlies like scorpions on the ground as we saw one. You can either photograph it or run away depending on how deadly you think it is!

 

4. Cartagena

Cartagena is a lovely city next to the sea. It has beautiful buildings, paintings and places to eat. You can even see dolphins from the old city walls.

It is a great jumping off point for boats to Panama and you can easily get to the mud volcano on a day trip.

 

5. The cafe district

Zona Cafetera is beautiful and there are many places you can stay as a jumping off point for the region.

I stayed in Manizales and it was only two short journeys to get to a coffee farm. Every journey you go on in this area is incredibly beautiful and you can learn about coffee to boot!

The tours cover all aspects of coffee production and if that makes you tired then you get to drink coffee at the end as an added bonus.

Ask at your hostel or hotel for recommendations for nearly coffee fincas.

 

6. San Agustin UNESCO Heritage Site

The village of San Agustin can be reached by bus from Popayan, it is a bumpy journey but well worth the ride.

The archaeology park is a 20 minute walk from the village and I stayed in a yurt on a lovely farm that had great breakfasts.

There are more statues than you can shake a stick at, and you can see them on various trails. When I visited there wasn’t that much information but you could always earwig an official tour (or join one).

As well as the park, there is another site you can visit by tour, which is a smaller site containing similar relics, they also take you to a waterfall and show the processes of making sugar.

Tours can be booked from the tourist office in San Agustin.

 

7. Tierradentro

As you may gather from the title, Tierradentro are underground burial chambers that have been painted as you can see from these dark pictures!

There are many sites to be seen on various trails around the village of San Andres. Bring a torch as not many are lit.

Tierradentro can be reached from Popayan or from San Agustin if you change buses.

 

Colombia is rapidly getting more touristy due to its safety and all these incredible sites. I know more and more people that are visiting and I’m glad that people love the place. As ever I hope that the people and the environment are treated with the respect they deserve.

Happy travels!