Gozo, Island of Wonders. Pt 1

I was so excited to visit Gozo, it’s the second largest island in Malta and is known for it’s more rural lifestyle and scenic hills. We flew in to Malta airport, and easily found the bus that would take us all the way to the ferry on the North coast.

It took us around 2 hours to get there, the scenery was amazing, and the route travels all along the super pretty coast.Once at the ferry terminal it was an easy 30 minutes to cross over to Gozo and it only cost 5E, we celebrated with a can of Cisk, the local Maltese beer.

Leaving the ferry terminal on the other side at Mgarr, we were swarmed by taxi drivers, and the taxis here cost a lot, I think we were quoted about 25euro for a 10 minute journey.

After a quick google I figured out the bus route, and next thing we knew we were in Nadur, our home for the next 5 days. I had found a cute little room with a kitchenette in an old farmhouse called In-Nuffara guest house.

It was nice with a lovely breakfast included every morning but the rooms wasn’t serviced well and it got very damp in the day time. The room wasn’t ready when we arrived so we left our bags and went to explore the local town.

It was ssssooooo pretty! The limestone really gives the buildings a beautiful honey hue, walking up we found the main square, with an amazing church dominating the area. This seemed the liveliest place in a very quiet town, Gozo is very laid back, quiet and peaceful.

After wandering around most of the town, we stopped at the square and got a very cheap beer, I think it was just over a euro! I was very happy with this pricing. It was lovely enjoying the sunshine sat out on the square, we hadn’t eaten much through the day and the lady we were staying with had recommended a bakery called Mekren.

We stopped at a supermarket and picked up the essentials such as wine, cheese and beer and grabbed a pizza from the bakery. The best thing about the apartment was the view from just across the road. There’s a gorgeous terrace overlooking half of Gozo, so we sat with our legs dangling over the wall eating our pizza.

It was still a lovely warm evening so we walked over to Ta’Kenuna Tower, originally built by the British in 1848 as a telegram tower, it is now used as a lighthouse. The views here were stunning, I love the Maltese countryside, all hilltop towns and fields.

We spent the rest of the evening drinking tasty red wine on the terrace watching the sunset, before retiring to our room to snack on cheese and bread. Malta is famous for it’s sheep cheese, particularly ones studded with peppercorns.

The next day we got up early, breakfast was continental with lovely fresh bread delivered to our door, homemade jam and cheese. We were going to rent bikes, the owner had said she’d sort some for us but in the end we were happy she didn’t. It’s a really hilly island and in the heat we think it would get a little annoying after a while.

So off we went to walk around the island, we walked down to Ramla bay a beach that’s covered in red sand, but we were in adventure mode, not beach mode so we climbed up the cliffs on the left hand side to explore an abandoned mansion. There are caves on the right hand side of the beach to explore too.

There’s meant to be some caves up past the mansion too, but they were closed when we walked past, there was a cool natural platform to look out over the bay from though. From here it took us around 45 minutes to walk down into Xaghra, the next town. There are buses that are usually every hour to take you between each town, but we enjoy the walking.

Xaghra is home to Ggantija, one of the world’s oldest monuments, much older than the pyramids! They were built during the Neolithic period and are over 5500 years old. It was pretty amazing that they’re still standing and the buildings themselves were really impressive, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site and there’s a small museum where you can learn a little more.

There’s an old windmill nearby which, although not a must see place was fun to look around and cheap to go in. You can climb up to the top and enjoy the views, and each room has a little info about what life in the 1700s was like in Gozo. We stopped at the square for a slice of cake and a beer while we planned our next move.

Craig wanted to check out St John Baptist Church across the valley in Xewkija, unfortunately we had just missed the bus, so we decided to walk over again, it took just under an hour and we passed some lovely golden corn fields, an interesting cemetery before we got to the church.

It’s one of the largest buildings on the island and it dominates the skyline, the inside was really beautiful with marble floors and gorgeous paintings. You can go right up to the rooftop and even climb the steps up to the bell tower. I got to the top and marvelled at how far I could see, and even the view of the church was wonderful.

After so much walking we were finally ready for beach time, so we jumped on a bus from Xewkija which took us all the way to Ramla bay! We got some tasty orange juice and found a spot on the beach. I had been carrying a little picnic around in a cooler, we demolished the cheese and bread we’d brought.

After a couple of beers and a dip in the beautifully clear but cold waters (it warms up later in the Summer, we visited in May) it was time to leave before the sun set, I got an amazing ice cream from one of the little shops that line the path from the beach. The queue for the bus was quite big but we were one of the first stops, I just imagine in Summer it could be pretty crazy.

Our night was spent in a little bar watching the football, with cheap tasty pizza and even cheaper tasty beer! The people working there were so friendly, making sure the right football was on and moving people if they stood in our way!

We couldn’t wait to explore more of Gozo, and even after two days we were already enamoured with the whole place.

The Silent City of Mdina, Malta

After exploring much of Valletta, we decided to take a trip over to Mdina, a historic fortified City in Malta. Mdina was founded in the 8th century by the Phoenicians, and served as the capital of Malta until 1530. There are only 300 inhabitants inside the city walls, it’s seen Roman, Byzantine and Arab rulers come and go and still stands today.

I had read that the bus system on Malta was really good, so we decided to travel that way.It would take us two buses to get there and after possibly the worst buffet breakfast I’ve ever seen, we were off! We were staying in Sliema just over the water from Valletta and luckily could take a bus from right outside our hotel!

The first bus took us to Tad-Daqqaq, only when we tried to catch the next bus, it was full and drove right past us! Not to be deterred we tried another bus stop and had the same problem and again and again. Luckily we spotted this amazing looking church at the end of the street we were waiting on and decided to go check it out. Lucky we did as it started to pour down with rain!

We just made it and found out the church was the Mosta Rotunda, a beautiful 17th century church set in a lovely square with cute shops and restaurants around it. Upon entering we found out an amazing story of a WW2 bomb that came through the roof of the church but didn’t explode! You can see a replica of the bomb in a small museum at the back of the building.

The inside was really pretty too, and there’s a small air raid shelter you can check out just in front of the main entranceway. After looking around the rain had stopped and the sun started to come out, after waiting for another two buses that were both full we decided to walk to Mdina as it was only an hour away.

The countryside was beautiful to walk through and the roads weren’t very busy so it felt pretty safe, and then Mdina came into view and it was breath taking. Sat up on a plateau, the walls are made of a lovely honey colour brick. It was a bit of a slog up the steep hill to Mdina, but it’s even more spectacular up close.

We entered through Mdina gate and were immediately on architecture and travel heaven. There are cute churches, alleyways and squares to discover, along with amazing old doorways and steps.

The views from the terrace by Fontanella tea rooms are gorgeous. We were going to stop and have a drink there but it was pretty busy. So we carried on wandering and found this amazing place called Coogis.

We were sat in the courtyard, looking around thinking how pretty it was when the waiter came over and asked if we’d rather sit on the rooftop. Of course we jumped at the chance, it was super pretty up there and we enjoyed a nice Cisk, the tasty local lager while we marvelled at the countryside spread out before us. We had some salad and pizza which was really good.

Nice and satisfied we headed outside of the walls and into Rabat, the surrounding town. I had read about some cute churches and the possibility of ancient Roman catacombs and in the parish church of St Pauls we found both! The actual church is a beautiful building and the little old lady working there who showed us to the catacombs was so lovely.

We got to go down there by ourselves and even though it was spooky it was so cool, I think there are larger ones nearby but we were happy with our cute little one. So it was time to leave, it had been so much fun and luckily this time the bus would take us all the way to Valletta. In Valletta we stopped off at one of the many bars that you can find on the stairways and had a drink. Then it was time to say goodbye!

We got the taxi-boat across to Sliema and grabbed a couple of huge slices of pizza, following it up with our daily dose of gelato. We finished the day sat on our little balcony at the bayview hotel, drinking Cisk and reflecting on Malta being the perfect holiday destination.

What to do in Helsinki, Finland.

HELSINKI

Helsinki is the capital of Finland, it’s the world’s coldest capital with an average yearly temperature that doesn’t go past 0°c! The tap water comes from mountain springs and is such high quality that it’s exported to other countries! It arrives via the longest water tunnel in the world, the päijänne tunnel. Central Helsinki has heated sidewalks to keep them clear from snow in winter!

I was super excited to visit in January, I loved the idea of wandering through the snow in mainland Europe’s most Northern capital City. Only beaten by Reykjavik in Iceland. The tram and ferry system was so good when I was there, it meant that staying a little out of the City centre was much easier than I thought it might be. My top cost saving tip is for Helsinki is to eat at RAX, an all you can eat buffet restaurant that was sooo tasty and only 11E!!

What to do in Helsinki

Check out the amazing architecture

There are some incredible feats of architecture in Helsinki, Temppeliaukion church is built directly into a rock face and the skylight lets in amazing natural sunlight, the acoustics are so good that it’s also used as a concert venue.

It would be such a cool venue, the outside was covered with snow so I couldn’t get a good idea of how it looks but the inside was fabulous. I even found a sled nearby and had a little toboggan session!

Uspenski cathedral is near the sky wheel and Allas sauna, you can’t miss it up on it’s small hill. It’s free to enter, built in 1862 and was designed by a russian architect. The red brick and golden spires are beautiful.

A major landmark of the City is the neoclassical Helsinki Cathedral, this was completed in 1852 and dominates senate square where it’s located.

It’s plan is based on a Greek cross which makes it symmetrical in all directions. Senate Square and it’s surrounding area is the oldest part of Helsinki and you can find the Government Palace and Main building of Helsinki University here. There are also some lovely little streets running off from it to explore.

The train station is also a sublime and impressive piece of architecture, and railway square had ice rinks and fun winter stuff when I visited. The streets surrounding it are full of restaurants shops and bars. If you want something a little more modern, head up Finlandia hall and National opera and ballet house.

The Kallion Kirkko with it’s imposing tower is worth a visit if you’re in the Kallio area, it’s one of the more bohemian places in Helsinki with some cool alternative bars and not far from where I was staying.

Apparently you can see the Estonian coastline from the tower of the church. The walk from Kallio into Helsinki centre across the Pitkasilta bridge was really pretty.

Try out the traditional sauna

Saunas were invented in Finland and are a huge part of life and culture here. One of the first texts regarding sauna was written in 1112, they have a saying that they believe that you should act the same in a sauna as in church. Saunas are supposed to have many health benefits such as soothing tired muscles, relieves tension and stress and helps condition the heart amongst many others.

So I checked out a couple of saunas in Helsinki, my absolute favourite was the Allas sea pool, it’s located on Katajanokka island which is pretty nice to walk around, you can do a full circuit along the coast and there are some nice restaurants around that area too. It cost 14E for sauna and access to the sea pool at Allas, and it was such an amazing experience.

There are mixed, male, and female sauna, so you heat up, sweat it out, then head outside to the sea pool. In January it was 3°c! I jumped in and immediately lost my breath, it was so cold! There’s always a lifeguard to watch out for any problems so don’t be too scared to try it. I loved it so much I went for a repeat experience. There was also a nicely heated outdoor pool which was nice with the snow falling down around me as I swam.

Loyly was the other sauna I visited, it’s on the other side of the bay to Allas, in the Munkisaari district. I walked there in a huge snowstorm, even my beard froze! It was pretty exciting though, and I had about 8 layers on.

I did a 2 hour sauna that cost 19E and this included towels and shower products. This was a little more classy than Allas but instead of a sea pool you can just jump directly into the sea! It was really rough because of the blizzard so I opted not to try it for fear of being washed away, but I think it would be amazing in Summer.

There is also the infamous Burger King sauna in Helsinki, I didn’t visit it but you can book out the whole sauna with 48″ TV, playstation 4 and obviously access to Burger Kings full menu. Definitely an interesting choice of venue!

Visit the fortress of Suomenlinna

This UNESCO heritage site was built in the 18th century when Finland was part of Sweden to protect it from Russian advances, it’s built over 8 islands just 4km away from Helsinki City Centre. You take a short ferry ride to get there, when I visited in January the boat ploughed through the frozen sea which was cool. The ferry departs just opposite the presidential palace and is pretty frequent.

There’s a wonderful old pink gatehouse which has tourist information next to it, and once through this gate you can wander to your hearts content. In 1808 the Swedish ceded the fortress to Russia, and the following year Finland came under Russian rule, it stayed like that until 1917 when Finland declared independence.

Wrap up warm if you’re going in Winter, it was beautiful with the snow and frost, I visited a couple of the museums on the island including the Suomenlinna museum and the war museum to get a better understanding of Finnish history. Be sure to check opening times for all the main sights as some are seasonal.

As I wandered I passed a cool old submarine that was built in 1933, unfortunately the museum inside was closed when I visited. I continued on to the southernmost point of the islands, and found loads of cool fortifications with artillery pointing out to sea.

The fortress here was amazing, you can walk along the tops of the walls, through some spooky dark corridors and explore the King’s Gate. This was built in the 1700s and the strairs lead out to the water which has amazing views over the archipelago.

You can easily spend a full day exploring here, the 4 main islands are pretty big. There’s still a minimum security labor colony on Suomenlinna whose inmates volunteer to maintain the fortifications and reconstruction! Another fun fact is that George Martin, writer of Game of Thrones wrote a short story about Suomelinna in school!

Immerse yourself in Culture

The birthplace of the Moomins, Death Metal and sauna, the location of lapland and Father Christmas, Finland has a rich history, learn more about it at the National Museum of Finland, it had so many cool interactive exhibits on show, and the building is really pretty. Make sure you check out the stain glassed windows.

The Finnish Museum of Natural History is okay but there was nothing really here that I haven’t seen in other natural history museums around the world. Helsinki computer game museum is definitely only worth it if you’re in the nearby vicinity and really into computer games, but the view from the top of the shopping centre is pretty awesome.

For a real taste of Finland head to Market Square and the Old Market Hall, serving people since the late 1800s. You can find all sorts of traditional food and items here, plus souvenirs. There are a few nice little restaurants that you can sit in. The building itself is really pretty too.

Just wander and explore

It sounds a little morbid but the cemetary on the West side of Helsinki was pretty cool, a little further North is Sibeliusken park which has the impressive Sibelius monument and coastal views. Kaivopuisto park was also fun mainly because the snow was so deep!

I also really liked being able to see out across the bay at all the islands and the sea ice was amazing! I really felt like I was far north with all the snow.

Take a day trip to Tallinn

Take the star ferry over to Estonia for a cheeky extra country while visiting Finland, read all about what to do in Tallinn here. It takes around 2 hours one way on the ferry, with beautiful views over the gulf of Finland. Costs vary from 20E one way to 50E.

Helsinki is such a lovely City, loads of architecture to look at, the sauna is so amazing especially in the colder months, and I didn’t realise how much culture Finland had!

A Winter Wonderland in Tallinn.

Tallinn had always been high on my list of places to visit. Somehow I had made it to the other Baltic nations of Latvia and Lithuania first, mainly because they were both easier to get to.

It’s is the capital of Estonia, it’s located on the North coast directly across the gulf of Finland from Helsinki. It has a rich history, and was occupied between 1940-1991 by the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union again!

52% of the country is covered in forest, and it has one of the lowest populations in Europe at 1.325million.

To reach Estonia we took a flight to Riga and then on to Tallinn from there. It was actually pretty easy and fun because we met up with our friend Amy in Riga airport. It was January so we were hoping for snow and we weren’t disappointed.

We arrived quite late and took a taxi to our cute apartment located right by the old walls of the City. I used Booking.com and we used daily apartments for 7 of us. It was a beautiful space and great location. After a quick change we headed out for dinner.

We ate at a traditional Estonian place where I tried Elk for the first time! It was pretty good and we had a couple of local beers to wash it down, after another beer or two at a nearby pub we walked through the winter wonderland that was the town square with a huge Christmas tree in the center and everything was covered in snow. There’s a big Irish bar situated here and we took the opportunity to try Vana Tallinn, the Cities own personal liquer!

The next day we got up and headed out to explore properly. It’s such a pretty place and the whole old town is UNESCO heritage, we wandered along the old town walls and through a lovely big park at Tower’s square. We stopped at some cute shops along the way and emerged into the town square again.

The town hall is so cute, it was completed in 1404 and is the oldest in the Baltic/Scandinavian region. I loved all the Gothic and Hanseatic architecture, it feels like you’ve gone back in time hundreds of years.

We walked down Viru Tanav which is pretty touristy but not overly busy. It ends at Viru gate, two big towers guarding the way in and out. For €3 you can climb the walls and explore, the views from here of the tiled rooftops covered in snow was amazing.

Tallinn is a great place to wander the little streets and get lost, and that’s just what we did. It felt like a really safe place too. We somehow ended up back in the main square and stopped at another traditional restaurant for lunch, it was pretty expensive so do some research before you go.

Once we were all filled up we decided to head up Toompea hill. It’s a large tableland piece of limestone that sits right in the middle of the City. It’s believed to be the resting place of King Kalev, an important figure in Estonian culture and folklore. Now it holds Toompea castle and the awesome Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, it also houses the Estonian Parliament.

It’s a fun walk up the hill and not too taxing, and once you’re at the top the Cathedral takes centre stage, big and imposing it feels like it sits right in the middle of the hill. It was starting to get dark already due to the time of year and the temperature dropped a bit, luckily we found someone selling mulled wine which was delicious.

There are some gorgeous buildings here, but the main event for me was thge Kohtuotsa viewing platform. This looks out over the whole of the old town, and as night fell twinkling lights began to appear in front of us and it began to snow. It was an amazing spectacle to witness.

We followed a different path down into the town and passed Kiek De Kok which we’d be heading to tomorrow, and freedom square. Freedom square is a big open space which has the cross of liberty as part of Estonia’s memorial to the war of independence.

After a lot of sightseeing we stopped at a bar we noticed along the way, it was called Labor Baar and was totally science themed, you could order test tube shots and cocktails in science beakers and the whole placed was decked out to the max. We stopped to have some food and then walked up to a fun bar that was completely dedicated to Depeche Mode.

After a few beers we realised we didn’t know as many songs as we thought, so off we went to Satumaa karaoke bar! It was a lot of fun and everyone was pretty crazy there, we sang a few songs and somehow managed to wander back to our apartment feeling pretty tipsy.

48 hours in Kiev, Day 2.

Kiev is such a vast City, the day before I had done a good job of walking around a lot of it, but I still had so much more to see. Read about Day 1 in Kiev

I began the day by walking toward Khreschatyk Street, the main street in Kiev, on my way I passed this beautiful old wooden gate called the Golden Gate, it’s a replica of the original gateway built in the 11th century.

The square it’s located in was also really nice, I got a coffee from a vendor to wake up a little and sat watching the world go by while I enjoyed it. I decided to go into the gate, it only cost 50p and it had lots of history info inside, but the views from the top, looking out over the City made it really worth it.

Afterwards I walked over to St Sophia’s Cathedral, an Orthodox church founded in 1037. It’s an absolutely beautiful building with amazing turrets covered in green and gold.

Entry was super cheap and it was just as lovely inside as out, make sure you climb the bell tower! From here you can walk around the cute Sophia Square, make sure you check out the Bohdan Khmelnytsky Monument, dedicated to the man who led a revolt against the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom in 1648.

Directly across the square is another amazing religious building, St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. Originally built between 1108 and 1113 it was demolished by the Soviets in the 1930s but rebuilt in 1999 following Ukrainian independance.

It’s free to go inside, look out for the statue of archangel michael and the refectory. Also just watch out for people trying to dress you up and hold animals for pictures, in the square they were pretty aggressive to some tourists. Just be firm from the get go if you don’t want a picture.

On my way to the next sight, I passed another Monument to the victims of famine in 1933 and a monument to Princess Olga who acted as a regent for her son between 945 and 960ad.

This area was really pretty with some gorgeous looking buildings. I was heading towards the National History Museum of Ukraine but I got a little side tracked at a booze festival in the Arthall D12 building. It was incredible, I had some mulled wine and tried a couple of local beers, it was really interesting wandering around and checking out the different stalls. I even tried these garlicky blue cheese snails!

Feeling a little tipsy I finally headed over to the Museum and learned a bit more about the Crimean annexation by Russia and a little bit more of the history between the two countries.

It was certainly an eye opener and there was also loads of information about Ukraine’s history. There’s a cute little Tithe Church in the same square as the museum and you get some great views of another big orthodox place, St Andrew’s Church.

I honestly don’t think I would get bored of looking at these, the architecture is amazing.

If you want souvenirs then walk down Andriivs’kyi descent, it’s filled with hawkers selling all sorts of local wares, stop for a coffee and enjoy the vibe. I was pretty hungry so I wandered past Kontraktova Square and the Monument Petra Sagaidachnogo and found myself on a street of the same name.

There were loads of restaurants to choose from but I ended up in Star Burger and it was so tasty. I got the bacon cheddar with fries and coleslaw, delicious!

Powered up I went to explore the Ukrainian Chernobyl Museum to learn a little more about the nuclear disaster before heading there myself the next day, you can read all about that adventure here.

There’s a huge monument to Volodymyr the Great who brought christianity to Ukraine and solidified it as an empire by 980ad back past the Star Burger, and you can wander around Volodymyr Hill one of many green spaces in the City. I did a little wandering around before taking the funicular back up the hill.

It was getting towards evening at this point, so I wandered back towards the national museum and checked out the Park Landscape Alley and Peizazhna Alley to look at some random quirky pieces of art, the missile half buried was a particular highlight! I found some cool pieces of street art around this area too, and loads of cool bars.

So I picked one and spent a couple of hours watching the football and chatting to the locals about current events in Kiev which was awesome. They even pushed me to try pigs ear after I told them my horror story of trying it in Lithuania and it was delicious, it was everything I thought it was going to be the first time.

It was getting late now, and I had to be up really early for my Chernobyl tour, so I half walked half staggered back to my hotel, stopping off at Veterano pizza again before going past the Red House on the way through Taras Shevchenko Park.

Kiev has truly been a complete surprise at how much I’ve loved it, there is so much to see and do and such a rich history. The architecture is unreal, the food and drink good and the people are really open and friendly. There is loads more I saw and did that I can’t even fit into the blog posts, so many cool statues and monuments, parks and the underground/tram systems are cool too.

48 Hours in Minsk.

Entry to Belarus

Belarus is the forgotten child of Europe, more closely linked with Russia than any other nation, it’s only recently changed the rules for entry. When I visited I had just started applying for the visa, but stopped after they allowed 30 days entry through Minsk airport.

I flew through Vilnius in Lithuania as I couldn’t find any direct flights from the UK to Minsk, and my plan was to take a train to the Ukrainian City of Lviv. Unfortunately I didn’t read the fine print, which stated you had to leave through Minsk airport!

After a 3 hour train journey to the border, I was taken off the train and given a stern telling off and questioned by Belarusian border guards, made to sleep in an abandoned train overnight and shipped back to Minsk where I had to book a flight out to Kiev. I was lucky that one of the guards seemed to feel sorry for me, and came and got me in the morning before giving me instructions on how to get back to Minsk.

Belarus

While this was all a big hassle and meant I missed out on visiting Lviv it was certainly an adventure! I also really enjoyed my time in Minsk, it was such a different place to anywhere I had ever been before and I found it quite charming.

Located as far East in Europe as you can get before hitting Russia. Belarus shares a border with Poland and Ukraine and is the 13th largest country in Europe. 40% of it’s area is forested, making it one of the greenest countries in Europe. I had 48 hours to explore Minsk, the capital. A City that has reportedly been destroyed and rebuilt 8 times!

Minsk

I was visiting in November so it was pretty cold, but i was hoping for some snow to add to the beauty of the place. I arrived mid-afternoon and took a bus from the airport to the City centre which was around 45 minutes.

I decided to walk in the cold evening air to my hotel and enjoy some sights.I was staying at the Yubileiny Hotel which was near to a few of the things I wanted to see. It was very soviet, much like a lot of the City and a little old fashioned, but it was cheap, comfy and staff were very friendly.

My Top Sights

Number one on my list was the Museum of the Great Patriotic War otherwise known as WWII. We get a lot of Western history around the war, but I always fin dit interesting to see what happened in other parts of Europe and the World and the fact that they call it a completely different name intrigued me. So this was the first sight I wanted to look at. It’s also hard to miss, located on a hill in a huge green slice of land called Victory Park.

It’s amazing architecturally looking very modern but also with a hint of soviet in there. I had a wander around the park and then found an amazing statue of a soldier and his wife. It really spoke to me and I thought it was beautiful.

The museum itself is so interesting, loads of good information and everything had English alongside the Belarusian. The final memorial hall is also a must see, towering above you it’s a truly stunning place.

The next place on my itinerary was Minsk Old Town on Trinity Hill. I followed the river South for about 1km and had great views across to the cute traditional houses. Don’t forget to stop at the small island in front and check out the awe inspiring Sons of the Fatherland monument and the crying angel statue.

The old town has a few traditional shops and the cobbled street and pastel houses are nice to see. This area was actually built in the 1980s to show visitors a small slice of old Minsk as over 80% of the City was destroyed in WWII.

Crossing the river takes you over to more of the old town, with a cool statue of citizens using measuring scales, with a beautiful church in the background with it’s distinctive Eastern orthodox architecture.

In fact Minsk seemed to have hundreds of amazing statues dotted across the City. You can also find the Palace of the Republic here with it’s dominating architecture and the Palace of Culture.

I continued my journey down Praspiekt Niezalieznasci to the Belarusian State Circus, another grand old soviet building, you can come here to watch some interesting acts. Though I’m not sure what the animal welfare situation is like so I chose not to go to a show. There are a couple of funny statues just outside too, and Janki Kupaly Park is just across the road. I love how every park has to have some sort of statue mounted in it.

I decided to check out Gorky Park as well, which was just a little further up the road and across the river. There are so many green spaces in the City it’s brilliant, this one is home to an old fashioned ferris wheel and the planetarium.

It was a cold day and suddenly little snowflakes started falling as I walked through the park. It was beautiful so I sat for a moment to enjoy the scenery.

I also realised that Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assasinated John F Kennedy had lived right around the corner from here, so I had to go check it out. I walked around the apartment block but couldn’t really find or see any evidence that he lived there but it’s a cool slice of history hidden away here.

I stopped at the National Art Museum to check out a exhibition on Lenin, the former head of Soviet russia and a revolutionary. This was interesting and apparently there are over 400 Lenin statues in Belarus alone. I love the soviet imagery, it’s so grand and imposing. The City really started to come alive as the sun went down and I headed back out into the streets.

I walked back towards the old town and stopped off at the State Opera house, I tried to buy a ticket but unfortunately the show for that night had sold out so get there early to buy your tickets.

I watched the sunset behind the little houses of the old town and walked back towards Praspiekt Niezalieznasci and Oktoberpl station, nearby is a little pyramid which shows the true centre of Minsk that all roads in Belarus lead to called Kilometre zero.

I walked straight down the street, passing lots of restaurants and shops to see the statue of the Archangel Michael, and a monument to the victims of nuclear war. Further down however was the main reason I wanted to walk all this way.

The statue of Lenin surrounded by these huge domineering communist era buildings. It was all very imposing and I visited in the day time too so I could get the contrast.

My last stop were the Gates of Minsk these resemble two castle towers. I had read that it was impressive at night and it certainly was, the towers are 11 storeys high and the clock weighs 300 kilos! They were built in 1953 at the height of soviet imperialism. I thought it was ironic that there is now a Mcdonald right next to it.

The Statues and monuments in Minsk are really cool, because of my border debacle I had to come back to Minsk and felt like I had seen a lot. So after a quick google I found this website http://tobelarus.com/minsk/64-sculptures.html and decided to do my own little tour. It was really fun and walking around I got to see a lot more of the City and the bas-reliefs are really impressive the best one can be found on Niamiha St.

I really enjoyed Minsk, I hope with the new tourist visas more people opt to come and explore this underrated City.