The problem (or is it benefit?) with having visited most countries in Europe and still having a desire to visit new ones is that it forces you to go to countries that make your friends and family ask why? Or, in the case of Belarus, where?
Those who asked where (I'm looking at you, Mum) were pointed in the direction of an atlas. But, amongst those who asked why were the Belarus border guards. I know my passport photo isn't brilliant, but I'm not sure that it required three separate guards and five minutes to verify that it really was me.
The reason why was two-fold. First, I've never been there. Second, there was some decent ice hockey to be watched. So, Belarussian bureaucracy out of the way, it was a taxi to the fantastic Hotel Belarus and my 12th floor bedroom.
It was late by the time I'd checked in, so only had time for a quick walk along the riverside to get my bearings before trying to find somewhere to eat. To my shame, I have to confess that was done in TGI Fridays due to difficulties in finding somewhere open this late at night.
The next morning was damp and misty, but gave Minsk a softer feel. The harshness that I expected given the country's reputation was noticeably absent. Instead, Minsk was filled with wide boulevards and a riverside that was a joy to walk along.
The next morning, those in the "why" camp may have had a point. The end of November is not the most obvious time of the year to visit Belarus. This was suitably demonstrated by the carpet of snow that presented itself as I pulled back the curtains in my hotel room.
More walking around the riverside, the western side of the city this time. The -4ºC wind chill factor made it a bit fresher than the day before and sadly the coffee shops were notable by their absence on this side of the city.
© Flyfifer Photography