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A Summer's Birthday

Honeymoon - Barbados

all seasons in one day 29 °C
View Honeymoon on kmmk17's travel map.


Having a birthday in February has never been overly exciting, but spending my 30th in a lockdown, not being allowed to go anywhere or really see anyone was a particular low point. This year things had improved and we had ended up booking our honeymoon over my birthday, and so for the first time in my life I could wear shorts on it!

Today was our last full day on board, and a sea day as we headed back to Barbados. As usual we had breakfast, nabbed ourselves some sun loungers and joined in the quizzes. Sitting in the sun and around the pool, I was able to enjoy a summer's birthday for once!

Shorts in February

Shorts in February

After a lovely last day on deck, when we got back to the room I found a card from the captain wishing me a happy birthday. However the imminent end to the trip was lingering, and as the UK's Passenger Locator forms had not yet been abandoned, we were required to fill one, and given guidance of how to complete them as we were in the middle of nowhere. It was one of the few websites the on board Wi-Fi allowed access to - because of course, even in 2022, free Wi-Fi doesn't exist when cruising - no wonder there so few under 50s on board.

Birthday Cards

Birthday Cards

After having dinner, I decided to go for a wander around the ship for a final exploration. Even after two weeks on board there were still parts of the ship I hadn't seen. I went to the back of the ship, but coming across the Covid Isolation cabins, I made a quick dash.

Isolation Cabins

Isolation Cabins

Walking around the highest parts of the ship, there was a section that looked down on the pools covered in AstroTurf. In the night-time darkness I could see something odd and tried to focus my eyes on what looked like a dog!? Then I heard a noise, and realised to my horror, it was actually a couple trying to enjoy some private time.... I made another quick dash and headed back down towards the cabin. There'd been enough shocks for one night!

Up On Deck

Up On Deck

It had been a nice day, and certainly a lot better than last year, however in hindsight I'm not sure I really enjoyed it. There was no internet so I didn't get any birthday greetings, I had few cards as we'd needed to receive them a fortnight in advance to take them with us, I had no birthday cake, and it quite frankly just didn't feel like my birthday - it was like summer! It had felt like I'd missed it, just as we'd missed Easter 2018 when we'd visited Japan over the whole thing.

For half the ship, this was their last night on board, and so to enable this huge logistical challenge to run smoothly, we were required to leave our suitcases outside the cabin by 10pm that night.

Although the flights were not until the evening, and our pick up was not until 2pm, we had to vacate the cabin by 9am. We were allowed to leave the ship, but as additional Covid testing would be required at a charge, and as we had already seen what we wanted of Barbados on our first day, we decided to remain on board for this last day.

We had our breakfast and then went back to the room to collect our last bits. Then at ten to 9 a knock on the door from the maid - "you need to leave the room, it has been booked out from 9:30!". Well, we have until 9 I thought to myself. The door was propped open and we were being chased to leave.

Why should I care if someone has booked out the room for the day - we have it until 9, and why has an occupied room been booked out when half the ship is empty?! Yet another irritation...

We headed up to the pool to enjoy the last bit of heat. However it was an iffy day, and after three rainstorms we gave up trying to sunbathe. Unlike every other day, today we had not been given the newspaper telling us what was going on during the day, but it appeared there was nothing going on anyway. Quite ridiculous when today is the one day everyone was definitely out on deck.

One of the sunny intervals

One of the sunny intervals

At home, Storm Eunice, one of the strongest storms since 1987 was wreaking havoc, and like the St Jude Storm back in 2013, I was instead sunning myself in the Caribbean. The irony of missing hurricane force winds by being in the Caribbean instead...

However we soon got wind of just how much it would still affect us, as the flights this afternoon were all returns of those leaving the UK this morning, which had been affected. Two of the three flights were delayed, whilst the third (to Bournemouth) had been postponed until tomorrow. They would get a £25 onboard voucher, but would not receive their suitcases back despite the overnight delay - I'd rather have gone home!

As we had a long wait until our dinner on the plane and nothing better to do, we decided to head to the fancy restaurant for a final posh lunch. We were given a seat by the window and ordered a tikka buffet. Next thing a nearby table was occupied by another British couple who started chatting to us. They loved cruising, with her loving the ambience, whilst him liking the variety. Azura was nice, but apparently it was nothing like Cunard, with the white gloves!

Lunch Time

Lunch Time

She was lovely, but very very chatty. They asked where we were from, and when we said Luton, she told us she was originally from Hemel Hempstead - coincidently the town where I work. It all now started to make sense... she then proceeded to tell me all about Hemel in the 80s before she had left, like the Butcher's on The Ramp and asked me if I was in "the Hemel FB group". Of course I wasn't - I just work there.

After a lovely last meal on board, we headed back to the pool for a last bit of sun, and dipped our feet in the pool. We said goodbye to our Quiz friend, and then headed down to the other restaurant where everyone on our flight was waiting for the airport transfer.

Before long we were leaving the ship, getting on coaches and making our way across the island to the airport. Only this time we'd actually be heading inside the terminal building. After being wished that my birthday yesterday was nice at passport control, we were soon inside the terminal and before long sitting at the gate waiting to board. By now it was exhausting. It had been a long day, and our flight was still a few hours from leaving.

Goodbye Summer

Goodbye Summer

After a change in gate, we eventually managed to board the plane, and with many Grannies on board, for the first time ever we ended up being the first people to board the plane. After the drama of the flight tickets, we found our new seats were actually Premium Economy, and were reclining seats! When boarding was finished, surprise surprise, there were tonnes of free seats, including the entire row behind us, and several others in the vicinity. An absolute joke considering the aggro we'd been through a few days ago.

Annoyingly, the first round of service on board was for a glass of champagne, and so by the time the actual dinner came round I was too exhausted to eat. They asked if I as ok, to which Chris responded, "he's just shattered". The flight was only 8 hours and so overnight was tough going. It was now midnight Barbados time, and so 4am UK time.

I don't do well on overnight flights, struggling to sleep, and so by the time the 'breakfast' came round a few hours later, I was awake and ended up being one of the few on board who actually took it - at last my jet lag was sorted! Not long later we were landing at Gatwick, and after two weeks of acclimatised Caribbean heat it was freezing! We collected our suitcases and noticed that if we hurried, we could make the next fast train back to Luton.

We ran with the suitcases, made the next shuttle to the other terminal and arrived at the train station with a few minutes to spare before the next train. And then we waited... with there being a lot of damage from yesterday's storm there were knock on effects still, including our train being late. When it eventually did turn up it was decided that the train would in fact now stop at most of the stations it was planning to whizz through. In the end, we eventually arrived back in Luton around 45 minutes later than planned, and so by the time we got back home I only just about made it to bed for a nap before I collapsed... what a long journey...

It had been amazing to finally get on our honeymoon, and amazingly it had all gone to plan. I wasn't a cruise convert - I would go on one again, but equally I'd also go on a normal fly/hotel holiday too. It's just a shame that P&O were unable to provide a good quality holiday for us. I'm sure it was mostly because of Covid, but equally we had paid a lot of money and not received as good service as we should have. Maybe in a year or so when things are more settled they'd provide a better service.

Posted by kmmk17 16:47 Archived in Barbados Tagged airport sun caribbean birthday plane covid Comments (0)

Return to Maho

Honeymoon - St. Maarten

all seasons in one day 28 °C
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Most of this trip was to new places, however St. Maarten would be a return. I previously spent 10 days of my round the world trip here, and loved it. So much to see and do for a small tropical island, so it was great to make a return. Despite 8 and a half years and a devastating hurricane since, it was pretty much the same as before.

We arrived as usual before breakfast, waking to find ourselves in a new port. This was a pretty busy one, and there were 6 ships in today!

Busy Port Day

Busy Port Day

The port itself is located just out of town, and so we had to walk for around 15 minutes to get there. Once there the town was pretty busy, and I guess this is how most port towns would usually have been before the pandemic!

Having been here before I knew how to get around, and we headed straight to catch one of the cheap minibuses to take us over to the west side of the island. Surprisingly, even after 8 years, the prices hadn't increased, and it was a bargain $2 to take us on the 45 minute journey. However his made up for being stuck with a bunch of Americans on the whole route who just wouldn't stop talking to us!

Bus trips during Covid

Bus trips during Covid

They were the bad stereotypes, comparing everything to their state, and asking stupid questions to anyone they could catch hold of... when we told them we were from England they thought we'd sailed across the Atlantic, and couldn't understand that we'd flown to Barbados... Thankfully a local who worked at the airport got on board, but the poor guy was then subjected to questions about what the local fish was(?). When he didn't get the question it was repeated at him three times before he just picked a random one to shut the guy up!

Eventually after crossing the beautiful hills, we made it to Maho Beach. This is the famous beach directly at the end of the runway, and the huge planes come in to land right above the sunbathing public.

Even mid morning, it was pretty busy... but we did eventually find a nice spot in the middle of the beach. We set ourselves up and within 10 minutes we got our first taste of what was the come - a small plane coming in from St. Barths that looked like it was about to crash onto us! Of course it didn't, but it was certainly exciting!

On Maho Beach

On Maho Beach

I kept an eye on the schedules to see when the bigger ones would come in. Since my last time here, the huge jumbo jet from Amsterdam had been cancelled, and due to the pandemic there were a lot less mid-size planes from Europe and North America coming in than there would usually have been.

As one of the larger planes was due imminently, I left Chris to mind the bags, whilst I went off to get a side angle shot. However there was a bit of a delay, and some of the planes already at the airport were about to take off. These take offs are a very different experience, as this is when the thrust kicks in.

No one cares though

No one cares though

Despite the signs saying the opposite, people will stand right behind the barrier fence to feel the full force of a plane taking off. I knew what to expect, but Chris and many of those there did not. As the engines got stronger and stronger, the thrust threw up all the lose stones and sand on the beach. From a distance it looked like a sandstorm encompassing the whole of the middle of the beach!

Plane landing

Plane landing

After finally seeing the large plane from New York coming in to land directly over the beach I headed back to find all our stuff covered in sand, and people still looking around for their sunglasses and other lost items! I then got in the sea and had a swim, whilst more planes came in to land - including one that was so low I'm surprised it managed to clear the airport's fence!

After having spent a few hours here, we headed back to the capital, Philipsburg. After a drive back across the island we had a little wander around the shops before waling back to the port.

Philipsburg Courthouse

Philipsburg Courthouse

After another afternoon of sitting around the pool, we went back to the room and got ready for the evening. However even after showering, Chris still had sand lodged in his back - such was the force of the thrust at Maho beach!

For the first time in the trip, we decided to go and watch the evening entertainment in the theatre. As we had been a bit concerned about picking up Covid we didn't dare go during the first few nights, but as tonight there was an 80's inspired music extravaganza on offer we decided to risk it!

Having booked our slots, after dinner we went to go and watch, and luckily found it wasn't too busy so there was plenty of space to feel comfortable watching. As we left the auditorium after the show ended, we walked past a crowd of fumigators ready to sanitise for the next show! If you've ever seen Monsters, Inc. - it looked like the bit where one of the monsters arrives back contaminated by a kid's mislaid sock!

Next door there was a pub quiz about to start, but as we entered the room we realised there were now no spare seats! As they had cordoned off all the stools by the bar it left us with nowhere to sit, and so not only did we lose, but we also had to stand up for the entirety of it!

The following day was another sea day, as we made our way further west, and into the Bermuda Triangle.

Inside the Bermuda Triangle

Inside the Bermuda Triangle

Like on the other sea days we grabbed some spots around the pool and waited for the quizzes to start. However today the weather was a bit iffy. After grabbing a nice slot in the shade it then started to rain. We pulled our sunbeds under the shelter and waited five minutes whilst the rain soaked the entire area! The poor lady next to us who had gone for a swim came back to find all her items were now soaked.

Rain

Rain

We then got chatting to her and she told us all about her trip so far. Then when the quiz started she was helping us with our answers and it turned out she was quite knowledgeable! Even so it still wasn't enough to win...

And sun

And sun

The weather later that day brightened up and once again we got quite hot and sweaty. By the time the mid afternoon quizzes ended we had had enough of the heat for the day and so headed back to freshen up for the ship's second black tie night.

We started off the evening by heading to the first performance of the evening entertainment in the theatre - which tonight would be Britain's Got Talent 2014 finalist, impressionist John Clegg. Some of his act was actually really funny, however in what seemed like an intention to entertain the general demographic of the cruise, some of his 'jokes' were quite old school so I didn't end up enjoying it quite as much as I was hoping to.

Entertainment with John Clegg

Entertainment with John Clegg

Nevertheless it was something different to enjoy. After this ended, and much later than we would usually have done we finally went for dinner. It had been a lovely evening once again and we were excited for another port day tomorrow.

Posted by kmmk17 14:58 Archived in Sint Maarten Tagged planes sea rain beach airport sun port caribbean swimming entertainment Comments (0)

Unlucky by the Lochs

Lochaber, Cairngorms & Inverness - Highlands

semi-overcast 16 °C
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As we continued towards Fort William, our next base, we kept a keen eye on the developing crack. After stopping just outside Spean Bridge we realised the crack was worsening, and with another 3 days and 200 miles still to drive, this problem needed fixing. But with no Internet we had little choice but to continue on our 3 hour journey to Fort William.

Once we arrived we discussed our options, and realised our only option was to swap the car, but with no Avis base in Fort William, all we could do was drive back to Inverness Airport which was 2 hours away. En route we tried to call them to check this was possible, but being on hold with a dodgy signal meant this was not very successful.

Eventually, at around 4pm we arrived back at the airport, where we would be in just a few days time. Thankfully we were able to swap the car but it was now another two hours back to Fort William. Trying to create some sort of silver lining we decided that we would shuffle around our schedule and today would be the Loch Ness day.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

We stopped en route a few times for views of Loch Ness, as well as grabbing some souvenirs. Loch Ness really is huge, and most of the detour to Inverness had meant driving along side it. So much so, that by the end we weren't even interested in it anymore!

As it was a very long day, after eventually getting some dinner we decided tomorrow needed to be much more restful, and so we scrapped our planned visit to Tobermory.

No longer needing to make a ferry, we had a lay in and leisurely made our way over to the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This viaduct was made famous in the Harry Potter films and has great vantage points from the nearby hills.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Glenfinnan Viaduct

As we were walking towards the viaduct itself, we were treated to the sight of a local train crossing it. Although sadly we were a few minutes too late to see it from the better vantage point.

Walking underneath, and then climbing up the hill beside the viaduct, we got a beautiful vantage point of the embankment and the adjacent valley whilst getting attacked by midges. I walked a little bit further along for a view of the nearby loch, before we turned back and walked down to the loch itself.

Loch Shiel

Loch Shiel

Beside Loch Shiel is a monument commemorating the location of the beginning of the Jacobite rising, from where Bonnie Prince Charlie attempted to regain the British crown.

We then popped into the giftshop to get a few souvenirs when we heard a sound... I ran outside and saw a steam rain making its way around the hill side. Sadly we had missed seeing it in all it's glory crossing the viaduct, but at least we had seen this.

A few minutes up the road from here was the station itself, where there is a small museum detailing the extension of the railway line to the coast. We took a look inside before continuing further west to Loch Eilt, which is the setting for the island of Dumbledore's Grave in the Harry Potter Films.

Loch Eilt

Loch Eilt

From here, we would have continued on a long winding road down to Kilochan Port, but after yesterday's drama this was the furthest we were now going. So instead, we turned back and headed to the Neptune's Staircase, made up of eight adjacent lochs - the longest staircase loch in Britain.

Neptune's Staircase

Neptune's Staircase

From here it was only a 5 minute drive to the hotel and being almost check in time we decided to head straight there. This was the nicest room we had had so far, and we had a view overlooking The Parade - a lovely garden in the centre of town.

As it was still only mid afternoon, we then headed out towards Glen Coe, where we had initially planned to visit the previous afternoon. Although we had seen hundreds of valleys by now, this did live up the hype and was certainly one of the most beautiful. Even despite the miserable weather.

Glen Coe

Glen Coe

It had been a long day by now and so we wouldn't venture too far for the rest of today. We went back to the hotel, dropped our stuff and then went for a quick wander around the town.

There wasn't much to see, but we did stop at the site of old Fort that gave the town it's name, which sits imposingly beside Loch Linnhe.

Fort William Old Fort

Fort William Old Fort

After grabbing dinner at McDonalds, where I went full Scot by ordering an Irn Bru, we settled in for the night. The following morning we had a Full Scottish breakfast (the same thing, just with Haggis and a tattie scone) before checking out and visiting the final sight in this area - Ben Nevis.

We weren't climbing it, but we did get a decent viewpoint at it's base in Glen Nevis, where we managed to upset the local sheep who quickly scarpered as soon as we got out the car.

Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

Having already seen Loch Ness on our unintended diversion back via Inverness, a few days ago we decided to head north on a different route, cutting across the country and stopping in the Cairngorms.

The Cairngorms weren't vastly different from the Highlands, just perhaps with more trees. We drove to Aviemore, and had a wander around the woods outside the town, before driving through it. It really felt like nowhere else in the UK - the town is haven for Winter sports, and felt an alpine village in that aspect, despite being in northern Scotland.

Snow in June

Snow in June

From here it wasn't far to Inverness, where we checked into our final hotel of the trip before driving into the city centre for a quick look around.
After missing the entrance to the car park the first time, we eventually parked and ended up in the middle of the shopping centre.

Inverness wasn't particularly big, and after we walked down the high street for five minutes we arrived at the castle, where there were impressive views from the hill over the river.

Inverness Castle

Inverness Castle

After seeing what the town had to offer, we headed for dinner before chilling for the rest of the evening.

The following morning we checked out of the hotel and headed back to Inverness Airport. Parking up after driving exactly 1000 miles, we saw that our previous hire car hadn't moved from where we'd left it, but the crack had grown even further - a good job we had dropped it back off when we did!

The Crack!

The Crack!

As there was a BA flight back to London around half an hour before ours, the tiny airport was overwhelmed and it took ages to get through security. But there was no real rush, there was little to do in the departure lounge and we had plenty of time.

The flight back home was less comfortable than our outgoing flight, as there were a lot more people on it. We were surrounded by others, and despite wearing face masks we didn't feel overly safe knowing that no one here needed to take any kind of tests to spend over an hour non-socially distanced.

When we landed back in Luton it was like arriving in the Med in summer. Although it hadn't been cold in Inverness, it was around 8C warmer down south and came as a shock to the system after a week in Scotland!

Despite the car drama and the less-than-great weather, it had been a enjoyable trip. Not only as an excuse to get out the house after 15 months of Covid, but also as the scenery was incredible. A hire car is definitely the way to go on a Highland trip!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 14:12 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged lakes snow fort airport island valley castle Comments (0)

A Visit to the Vatican

Rome 2019 - Vatican City

sunny 36 °C
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Our next holiday this year was to Rome, my second time in the city after having previously visited after New Year in 2015. This time however it would be much hotter - by about 30˚C.

My cousin and aunt from New Zealand were also going to be in Rome at the same time, so after checking our plans we decided to head out on the same flight as my aunt, to be there at same time.

After working on Friday morning, we headed up to the airport and met up with my aunt just before security. Heading through and into the departure lounge we had a catch up after having not seen each other for three years.

The weather at home during this weekend was abysmal, and after sitting down in one of the restaurants, where we were joined by my sister who works up the airport and was on her break, we could see (or rather not see) the sheer level of rain hitting the roof window from outside. It was so heavy for so long that eventually one of the seals broke and the water started gushing in like an indoor waterfall. The people sat by the window themselves had to run to escape, leaving their belongings to get soaked, including one woman's entire dinner.

Flooded Airport

Flooded Airport

As we moved away due to the floor flooding, my sister called security to advise them, but they weren't interested - turns out this was by far the only place that had flooded and the whole airport was full of water. Not long after the water had broken through, the rainstorm had ended and the sun was shining again- however the sheer level of water that had entered meant it was going to take a long time to clean up. We could now see just how much rain there had been, as our view that had previously been blocked by water was now clear to see a plane at one of the gates surrounded by fire engines as it's cockpit was on fire! What an experience today!

By the time we were boarding the rain had ended and there were no problems, we took off as planned and arrived in Rome's airport a few hours later after having had a nice catch up on the journey over. Using the EU queue at immigration for what might be our last time, we headed for the train station to make our way to our hotel. Saying goodbye to my aunt until the following day in the city we finally arrived at our hotel just before midnight and after quickly settling in, headed to sleep before our next four days in the city.

Our first full day was spent at the Vatican. After breakfast we made our way to the Vatican Museums, waiting outside for my aunt and my cousin to join us. We spent the trip around the museum catching up with my cousin, who is travelling around Europe and who I hadn't seen since 2016.

Vatican Gardens

Vatican Gardens

Starting with the view of the dome and gardens we eventually made it to the highlight of the trip, the Sistine Chapel. After viewing the famous painting by Michelangelo, we headed through the secret entrance for tour groups only, luckily not being stopped and made our way directly to St. Peter's Basilica, saving us 2 hours and a wait in the hot midday sun.

Before entering the cathedral itself we made a trip up to the roof and dome. Getting the lift up, we entered around the inside rim of the dome looking down over the altar.

Inside the Dome

Inside the Dome


Walking up the dome

Walking up the dome

We then climbed up the dome itself, which at times felt like a fairground ride with slanted walls. Little did we realise at the time this is the tallest dome in the world and still meant another 231 steps after taking the lift! Nevertheless at the top the views were stunning and absolutely worth it.

Views from the top of the dome

Views from the top of the dome

After taking in the views, we headed back down to the roof before taking the lift down into the cathedral itself to explore.

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

We then made our way out of the cathedral and into St. Peter's Square crossing the border back into Italy.

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Square

By now it was early afternoon so we headed to a nearby restaurant for some food, which we followed afterwards with gelato. Having now seen the Vatican, and with three more days to explore the city, we left my aunt and cousin and headed back to the hotel via the supermarket to chill for the rest of the day.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 08:30 Archived in Vatican City Tagged rain church airport city cathedral plane border christianity Comments (4)

Off to see the Wrestling

Lithuania & Belarus - Vilnius & Minsk

semi-overcast 27 °C
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After 8 months without any foreign trips, it was finally time for this year's to begin. The first being a trip to Lithuania and Belarus.

We began with an early start to get to Luton Airport for our flight just before 8. Annoyingly however as we waited to board our flight, our aircraft was given to the delayed Warsaw passengers and instead we had to wait two hours for a new aircraft to be flown over to us. This wasn't helped by the fact every morning I'd had terrible stomach pains from a virus I still wasn't over.

Two failed boardings later we eventually made it onto the aircraft. As with my previous flight to Vilnius, I was once again delayed and ended up having to change plans for the day.

Vilnius Town Hall

Vilnius Town Hall

We no longer had all afternoon to explore Vilnius, and instead only a few hours for a quick wander. It also meant that we didn't get chance to visit the KGB museum as this would be closed on our only other opportunity this weekend. A real pity.

Gates of Dawn

Gates of Dawn

The following day - our only full one on this short weekend trip - we made our way to Belarus to watch the wrestling!
I had wanted to visit Belarus for some time, with it being a blank on my map. However normally visas are required (unless flying in and out of Minsk Airport, which has no cheap flights). Meanwhile there are tonnes of convenient cheap flights to Vilnius, just across the border.

Back in 2014 Belarus had temporarily removed their visa requirements for the World Ice Hockey Championships. But as this was right at the time I got my new job I therefore didn't know whether I'd have the time or money to go, and so had missed the opportunity.

This time things were different. Belarus were hosting the European Games, and by purchasing a ticket for £4.60, the whole visa process was unnecessary. We were free and could have a cheap and easy holiday. Looking at the dates we could go and the events that were on so that it would look convincing, the best option was to visit Belarus on Sunday 30th, when the finals of the Wrestling were on for just two hours during the middle of the day. Did I know anything or care about wrestling? No. But it could be fun anyway!

After going through passport control we boarded our train with our breakfast in tow, ready for our two and a half hour train ride to Minsk. After around 45 minutes we reached the border, and Belorussian military-looking border officials boarded inspecting everyone's passports. We gave them our European Games tickets which they inspected, and accepted and not long after we were back on our way through the Belorussian countryside.

Eventually after a slightly rough train ride (which didn't help my stomach) we made it to sunny Minsk. We had several hours to explore the city before the Wrestling began - which we decided we should watch just in case we were checked on the way home.

After changing €40 into Belorussian Roubles, we headed into the city - beginning at the Gates of Minsk opposite the station, two Stalinist towers marking the entrance to the centre of Minsk.

Gates of Minsk

Gates of Minsk

[We then headed over towards Independence Square, home of the parliament and the city's iconic Roman Catholic church, where there were lots of flags and banners for both the European Games and the upcoming 30th anniversary of Belorussian independence.

Independence Square

Independence Square


Victory Square

Victory Square

After then taking the metro across the city towards Victory Square, dedicated to Minsk's time through the Second World War, we then headed down Independence Avenue towards the Palace of the Republic.

Having seen much of the city's Stalinist architecture, we were now headed into the old part of the city, which had more of a feel of Poland and Lithuania.

The Orthodox Cathedral

The Orthodox Cathedral

Stopping off for souvenirs by the town hall, we then walked past the city's Orthodox Cathedral, towards the Opera and Ballet Theatre.

Opera Theatre

Opera Theatre


Trinity District

Trinity District

Beside the beautifully meandering river, with it's parkland banks is the oldest part of the city, the Trinity District, with small old winding streets and houses that have mostly been converted into shops and restaurants. On the opposite side of the river is the Sports Palace where we were headed to for the Wrestling, as well as an open air fan zone with local entertainment, food, souvenirs and photoshoots with the Fox mascot - Lesik.

Local Entertainment

Local Entertainment

By now we were on track and the event was starting in just half an hour, so we entered the Arena and found our seats watching the build up before the event itself started. I had no idea what was going on, but nevertheless the chance to enjoy an international event, and mix up the long day in the city was actually pretty enjoyable.

Inside the Wrestling

Inside the Wrestling

Thomas Bach awarding the medalists

Thomas Bach awarding the medalists

After the event ended, we walked past Thomas Bach, head of the Olympics, who was attneding the event also, and headed out of the city towards Victory Park, where there is a more modern and grand monument to the city following it's awarding as "Hero City" following it's occupation during the Second World War.

Victory Park

Victory Park

The parkland beside the river was a pleasant place to spend time cooling down from the heat of the summer sunshine, and we walked further north towards the Palace of Independence, Expo Centre and Flag Square.

Palace of Independence

Palace of Independence

After a lot of walking we decided to take the bus back into the city. However despite my best efforts we still could not work out how to buy a ticket! Apparently we could buy one from the driver, but as he was in the front compartment we didn't pass him to buy one. After then abandoning the first bus ride we hovered around thinking whether to walk (but ruled out as being too far and too hot), or ride illegally (it was only 4 stops). Maybe we could just hop on and off the next few stops so we wouldn't be arrested! I mean we had the money anyway - maybe could we play at being stupid foreigners?

And then we saw it, a different bus passed by, and someone reached into the hatch and bought tickets from the driver! So there we were, let's take the next bus and ride properly. However when we got on it was packed and we couldn't reach the driver. Debating whether to get off at the next stop and board a quieter bus or push our way through, we arrived at the next stop when a local woman boarded and pushed her way through. We followed her and then managed to buy our own tickets! What a stressful experience!

Not long later we arrived back in the city centre. After buying some souvenirs we then headed back towards the station to grab some snacks and have dinner. After a long hot day of sightseeing we were ready to go home. Changing our money back and getting €35 returned, we waited for the train to turn up and board back to Lithuania. Three hours later we were finally back from our busy, but interesting day trip to Belarus.

It was a surprising experience, I had few visions of this generally forgotten part of Europe, and had expected it to be a tragic dump, but actually it was very beautiful, clean and green, and I would really recommend it to anyone who can be bothered to go through the process of getting a visa!

Posted by kmmk17 03:58 Archived in Belarus Tagged park airport river sport city old plane border sickness lithuaniabelarus Comments (2)

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