Thursday, November 13, 2014

Who wants to be a millionaire

...should come to Belarus. I am currently on a business trip in Minsk and feeling very rich indeed:
The 400K of Belarus Roubles amount to less than EUR 30, just in case you were wondering. Other than that, I have been pleasantly surprised. Knowing that I would probably get to see less of the city than on most of my business destinations and that my local colleague would have everything organised, such as pickup from the airport, I have rarely been so badly prepared in the sense of not doing any "homework". I pretty much came with a neutral, or open mind and didn't have any expectations, really. I sort of expected people to walk around wearing fur coats and fur hats, but it is either not cold enough or Belarusians are not in the habit of doing so. 
My impressions: friendly people, wide boulevards, good food. The old town is clean and like Warsaw has been rebuilt after being bombed in WW2.
It obviously helps if you are hosted by someone who is a native speaker of Russian and has lived in Minsk for 3 years. My colleague took us to some cool places and I can wholeheartedly recommend them. For local food and a more rustic feel (to a soundtrack of A-HA and Adriano Celentano...) with lots of meat: Staromestny Pivovar. For a nice ambience and good French cuisine (and drinks) at almost Parisian prices: Café de Paris. For a cool hipster atmosphere: Cherdak (which apparently means "attic" and is housed in...taDAH... an attic).
From my limited experience I can say that service is a bit hit-and-miss with some communist "speed" (or rather the complete lack therof) being the USP of our otherwise very nice hotel (loved he pool!), the Renaissance Hotel. Food in their "Arborea" restaurant was really excellent, both lunch and breakfast (priced at a hefty USD 40 for the buffet), but service was so fricking L-E-T-H-A-R-G-I-C we were joking that they obviously represented the militant wing of the slow food movement. We had to cancel an order twice as the food didn't arrive on time for our meetings. Staff at the restaurant and bar could teach the notoriously slow checkout people at French supermarkets a lesson in slowness...
I shall probably be back in a few months and am really looking forward to seeing more of Minsk. Oh, and Kazakhstan might be on the agenda soon, too. Watch out, Borat!

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