If you would like to find the general statements about today’s Belarus, you would probably resort to the following saying: ”Country that is much better than its reputation“. And in fact, it seems quite often as if Belarus would still search for its identity, frequently would get lost on its way to the goal and still remain instead in the dark questionable political processes and relations. Constrained and circumcised freedom of the press, muzzled opposition and dictatorial government of the country contributed a lot to the appearance of practically exclusively negative headlines in the Western media. The country, full of pretty apocalyptic events alone in the 20 century, challenges all the stereotypes and proves to the travelers to be a true treasure trove of long-forgotten states and traditions, a corner, which makes most destinations in Europe retreat from its spontaneity and unexpectedness. Welcome to the largest landlocked country in Europe. Around noon your plane lands at the airport in Minsk. After usual formalities you will be warmly welcomed at the airport by our guide, who will stand by you during the whole your trip. Afterwards, you check in at the hotel, have a little time to have a rest and to refresh and then make your first acquaintance with the Belarusian Capital. We will start our sightseeing tour in the old part of the city (in the former Upper Town), then we will see the lower town, the building of the National Library and the Orthodox Holy Spirit Cathedral. The architecture is quite unfamiliar for the western eye. The city was destroyed by the bombs during the Second World War to 90% and was rebuilt afterwards in its extravagantly monumental ‘wedding cake style’. Worth seeing is the old Bernardine Monastery from 1628 as well as the Minsk City Hall, reconstructed according to the historical design. Right on the banks of the Svislach River there is situated the Traezkae suburb – a reconstructed old-town quarter of the 19th century. On the river itself you can see the Island of Tears with the memorial to all the Belarusians who fell throughout the wars. Palace of the Republic is another sight of the Belarusian Capital that we will visit. While enjoying your dinner in a cozy restaurant, share your first impressions of the trip.
We set off relatively early for a long-day trip that awaits us on this day. We will drive north-eastward to the two oldest cities in Belarus – Vitebsk and Polotsk. On our way, we will make sure in fairly good condition of the Belarusian highways, which is not necessarily the case in Eastern Europe. Around noon we reach the cultural Capital of the country – Vitebsk. This title is justly deserved, and not only because of numerous art events that take place here every year, but also thanks to the parents’ home of the Russian-Jewish painter and print-maker Marc Chagall and the country house of the Russian painter Ilya Ryepin that are situated in Vitebsk. The childhood home of Marc Chagall was turned into a museum and the Marc Chagall Art Center is proud to exhibit many of his lithographs. In the time of Chagall, Vitebsk was a true laboratory of modernity, where numerous significant representatives of the European avantgarde freely experimented. The city was badly damaged during World War II, only a few buildings have been preserved and, of course, none of 70 former synagogues. It is hard to imagine that the history of the city spanned over one thousand years. We will visit the old city hall and the Governor ’s Palace from the 18th century, the Kazan Church and the Annunciation Church of the 12th century.
Right after breakfast, we drive to Polotsk – the oldest city in the country. Ramparts and walls of the city are the evidence of its eventful history. The Primary Chronicle listed Polotsk in as early as 862. Between the 10th and 12th centuries, the Principality of Polotsk emerged as the dominant center of power that is now Belarusian territory. It repeatedly asserted its sovereignty in relation to other centers of Kievan Rus, becoming a political capital, the episcopal see and the controller of vassal territories among Balts in the west. Moreover, many important personalities are closely associated with Polotsk. Then we visit the Cathedral of Saint Sophia of the 11th century, which churches of the same name are situated in Novgorod and Kiev. Cultural achievements of the city include also works of the nun Euphrosyne, who lived here in the 12th century, built monasteries, translated books, promoted literacy and sponsored art. Thus, worth visiting is the Convent of Saint Euphrosyne that still preserves components from the 12th century as well as the bones of the nun, who is believed to be the Patron Saint of Belarusians.
The East Slavic Gutenberg – Francysk Skaryna – was also born in Polotsk. We will visit the Museum of Printing Art in the city.
After lunch, we drive back to Minsk and visit on our way the town Budslau. Worth visiting here is the Bernardine monastery of the 16th century. The majestic building still houses a relic – a wonder-working icon of the Virgin Mary, which was presented to the monastery in 1588 by Pope Clement VIII. In the monastery chapel we can admire the Wooden altar from the 17th century. Not far from Minsk, we make a stop to enjoy the specialties of Belarusian cuisine in a rustic restaurant. Overnight stay in Minsk.