5 Star Performance in Minsk

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Belarus 1 v 3 England (15.10.2008)

The early flight to Minsk was so early that we had to spend the whole night at Luton airport as there were no trains that would get us there in time for check in! It’s always nice starting a 3-day England away trip with no sleep and a night in an airport terminal!

When you need a ‘visa’ to get into a country to watch an England away game you know you’re heading somewhere off the beaten track a bit. The trip to Belarus was our 2nd visit to a former Soviet occupied state and one that we had eagerly anticipated.

On arrival at Minsk, there was a delay at border control as passengers from the UK are required to complete a ‘landing form’ that then accompanies your visa. The landing form is a small piece of paper that comes into two parts. If you lose the 2nd part apparently leaving the country becomes slightly problematic! I’m sure it’s designed that way to make it easy to lose!

As I received the 2nd part back from border control, all I was thinking was keep this somewhere safe and don’t give it a chance of appearing whilst under the influence in a Minsk bar.

BELA7The coach transfer to the hotel was smooth enough, but on pulling into the hotel car park we were greeted with a classic Soviet style hotel that resembled a run down council estate block. The ‘Hotel Belarus’ would give the ‘Hotel Inspectors’ a run for their money, and was in desperate need of a facelift. No scrap that, it needed a full refurb! It was like entering a 1950’s throwback, the room was low quality and dirty, complete with crap beds, mustard curtains, the smallest towells ever; and a weird green plastic thing of which we still have no idea of what it was (see other photos from the hotel at bottom of post). 

The place stank of stale smoke so much that when you woke up in the morning you were coughing up brown stuff as if you had a 40-a-day BELA4habit!! Sorry for that last extra bit of detail, but it really was that bad!

Doing my trip advisor bit here the hotel was probably the worst hotel I have ever stayed at; despite good views from the ‘higher’ floors, the rooms are awful and i would advise you not to stay there if your’e heading out to Minsk! Don’t be fooled by the 3 star ratings!

The hotel was situated about a 15 minute walk out of the city centre, near the ‘Park Janki Kupaly’, and was encompassed by blocks of grey high rise flats. The area had that classic ‘post communist’ decay feel about it, which was no doubt extenuated by the grey drab October weather.

Our first night in Minsk was spent with a group of Oxford United fans that were staying in our hotel. One thing that became quite apparent on this trip was the lack of places to go out for a drink. Not that that’s the be all and end all, but there were very few places in the city centre that resembled a bar or a café!

BELA12We identified a ‘bar’ from a web search in the city centre called ‘Drozhzhi United’ – an Irish bar located near Independence Square. Not our usual port of call on an away trip, but in this instance I suppose beggars can’t be choosers, and it provided a decent enough venue for our first night!

Beers and spirits were ridiculously cheap here. To put it into context, Marks normal tipple of choice would be a double vodka and coke; in Minsk it was a bottle of vodka and coke, and that cost about £8!

The Oxford United lads and lasses were good company for the evening; plenty of lower league football chat and banter, and story swapping from various international away trips. At one point I remember one of the ‘overweight’ Oxford lads saying to me: “Ask me why I’m fat? So I duly obliged, “why are you fat? He replied, “Because every time I shag your mum she gives me a pie”!  Not the usual conversation you would have with someone you’d only met for the first time a few hours before, but it probably reflected the way the evening was progressing. Suffice to say that our first night in the Minsk Irish bar ended up a bit Lionel Messi.

Waking up the next morning, I felt like I’d spent the night in a smoking den! The place stank of stale smoke and I got a taste of what it would feel /smell like if I had a bad smoking habit and never washed my clothes!

BELA1Minsk city centre is compact enough to explore on foot, and there are a number of sights to be had, many providing a reminder of the cities communist roots. Located near the Park of Maxim Gorky is the Minsk City Hero Monument – one of Minsk’s main city symbols. The monument was built in 1984 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War.

Closer to the city centre itself on ‘Prospect Niezalieznasci’ and you will walk past some impressive looking buildings including the Belarusian State Circus, Palace of the Republic, and a number of socialist sculptures and murals. Keep walking along this road and you will come to Independence Square, close to here are the Red Church and of course the Drozhzhi United Irish Bar.

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The Belarusian State Circus…

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The Palace of the Republic….

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Soviet style sculptures and murals…

The Dinamo Stadium, venue for the evening’s game is also only a few minutes walk from the centre just off Prospect Niezalieznasci. Take a turn down ‘Kamsamol’skaya Vulitsa’ and a short walk will lead you directly to the stadium.

It’s a classic eastern bloc stadium – completely open and bowl shaped, with towering floodlights and the obligatory athletics track. What sets the Dinamo Stadium apart though is its unique and distinctive architecture. Three large concrete archways greet you on arrival to the stadium, and the archway design then features heavily in the stadium build itself. The entire circumference of the ground is formed of arches, and these are visible from both outside and inside the stadium. The stadium has three tenants – home to the national team, club side Dinamo Minsk, and more recently to Bate Borisov during their Champions League campaigns.

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With sightseeing completed, the late afternoon was spent enjoying a few Belarusian beers in preparation for the evenings match. With a lot of England fans arriving in Minsk on the day of the game on day trips, the lack of watering holes became glaringly obvious. Prospect Niezalieznasci, one of the main city centre roads ended up doubling up as one big al fresco bar as fans took to ‘street drinking’.

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Mark ‘street drinking’ with the locals….

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The police were fully kitted out for the arrival of England fans!…

This turned a few local heads as hoards of England fans congregated around street kiosk’s and off licences! UK visitors to Belarus don’t normally pass the 500 a year mark; suddenly there were 3,000 in one day. The locals were friendly and pleasant enough, many stopping for photos, taken a back by the main road invasion from the Brits!

Approaching the Dinamo Stadium and with the floodlights illuminating the impressive looking stadium exterior, there was a real feel that we were in a unique eastern European setting and that this could prove a difficult test for England. There was a big turn out from the Belarusians – and with the exception of the upper tiered stand on the opposite side to the away section the place was packed.

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England started the game really brightly and that set the scene for a strong classy away performance. England took the lead after 11 minutes; Gerrard latching onto the ball after good hold up play from Rooney and guided the ball home from 30 yards out with what looked liked a well placed side-footed effort.

The Belarus equaliser was equally impressive, and if Barcelona had scored this the pundits would have been drooling all over it. A well constructed 15 pass move created an opening for Sitko who headed home on 28’ from the edge of the 6 yard box.

Despite a competent performance from Belarus, England were having a good day at the office and completed the job with two well taken Rooney goals in the second half on 50’ and 74’.

Youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Og4aa43MnHQ

England had taken 12 points from 4 games at the start of the 2010 world cup qualifying campaign – 3 of those wins coming on foreign soil – and they were already in a really strong position at the top of the group.

Att 32,000

Unfortunately we had to spend one more night in the words worst hotel before flying back to Luton the next day. Waking in the morning Mark noticed he had a small black object embedded in his lower arm. After arriving back home, and on closer inspection by a GP, it turns out the black object in his arm was in fact an insect that had burrowed into his skin managing to detach its torso from its head!

Despite a 5 star perfomance from England, it was a 1 star performance from the Hotel Belarus. Steer clear of it if you’re ever in Minsk! That tip you can have for free!

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I’m not that big – it just a small bath towell!

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No idea what the green thing is!…nice mustard curtains though!

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