Blank passports
Troodos (Cyprus) to Warsaw, November 2015

The weather is perfect when we ascend the aircraft stairs in Larnarca (Cyprus) for our flight with WizzAir to Warsaw in Poland. The nice weather is something we are going to miss for a while. It is possible that it will take until April or May next year before we are going to find ourselves again in a more comfortable climate. The flight to Warsaw is going well. Above the Black Sea we have some turbulence, but exactly in line with the schedule, we arrive mid-afternoon at the Warsaw Chopin Airport. The next two weeks we will stay in Warsaw. We're going to get a new passport and while waiting for it, we want to pay a visit to Belarus, the last former Soviet republic we haven’t visited yet.

We booked a small studio in the centre of the city, a fifteen minute walk from the iconic Stalinist-style 'Palace of Culture'. It's cold, colourless and rainy in Warsaw. The application for our new Dutch passport is a piece of cake. Until the moment that we can collect the new passports (two weeks waiting time), we can keep our old passport which means that we are not limited to Poland. On our old passports we apply for a Belarussian visa. This process is also straightforward and reasonably smooth. Belarus is seen as the real last dictatorship in Europe and President Lukashenko (he's been there since the fall of the Soviet Union) is a bit panicky when it comes to foreign visitors. To get a visa, you need an invitation from an accredited Belarussian tour agency. You also must have made a hotel reservation for your entire period of stay. But since we only want to visit Minsk, that's no problem for us.

A selfi made on the way to the bus station of Warschau for the bus to Minsk

The bus trip from Warsaw to Minsk is comfortable. The bus is luxurious, with complimentary coffee / tea and even free Wi-Fi. The long distance bus is a popular means of transport in Eastern Europe. The bus is admittedly slower, but much cheaper and you can also bring more luggage. From Warsaw you can for example travel on scheduled bus routes to Moscow or St. Petersburg, or even to Athens, Paris or Amsterdam. In Minsk we have booked a room in a hostel. Mass tourism has not yet arrived in Belarus, but there are some small hostels that focus on the occasional backpacker, exchange student and youth sports teams that have a tournament in Minsk. We had the misfortune to deal in our hostel with the last group, which meant that we were regularly having a bad night of sleep thanks to a group of loud Russian teenagers.

Minsk is a nice town. There aren’t a lot of really big attractions is the capital of Belarus, but there are plenty of places that are worthwhile. Minsk is a typical former Soviet designed town, which means there are lots of huge buildings, wide boulevards, beautiful parks and many Soviet architecture. Belarus was the last of the fifteen Soviet republics we visited. The country gave us an unexpectedly modern feel and Minsk is even a pleasant and attractive place to visit. Minsk also presents itself as a sports city. They have organized the ice hockey world championships in 2014 and will be the host of the 2016 European championship long distance ice skating. We planned to visit the Europa League football match between Dynamo Minsk and Pilzn during our stay, but because the Dynamo stadium in Minsk is under construction, the match was played in Borisov, just over 70 kilometres from Minsk. That’s why we opted for the Europa League Basketball game, in the fabulously beautiful Minsk Arena, between the local club Tsmoki Minsk and Rilski Sports from Bulgaria.

A typical boulevard in central Minsk

After a week in Minsk, we took the bus back to Warsaw. Leaving Belarus went fine, but the Polish immigration made it more difficult. The many stamps and visas in our passports, mainly from Islamic countries, made the Polish immigration officials nervous. They had difficulties to understand why "normal" travellers would like to stay so long and often in those countries. After an additional hour delay in which we had to answer a lot of questions and our bags were searched, we were allowed to enter the European Union (see also the article on the border). The next day we could pick up our new passport at the Dutch Embassy in Warsaw. We now finally got rid of the old passport with its many stamps and visas. And we are happy about that because slowly but surely we got more and more questions at borders about our travels in the past. A blank passport will hopefully lead to more relaxed border crossings in the future.

Our plan for next year is to go travelling again with our Toyota Land Cruiser. The exact plans are not yet fully known, because they depend on the political situation in certain countries, mainly in Russia. We would like to travel through Central Asia, Russia and Mongolia to Japan, to ship the jeep from there to the West Coast of the US. During this route, we will have to travel through Russia regularly, and therefore we would like to have a multiple entry visa for Russia, as we had a few years ago. However, to qualify for this type of visa, you must have visited Russia in the 12 months before applying for such a multiple entry visa. That is why we have applied here in Poland for a Russian tourist visa in the hope to bring a visit next week to Kaliningrad (formerly Konigsberg). And if all of that is going to work, we are one step further in the process of getting the multiple entry visa for Russia. And if that will succeed, and the political relationship between Europe and Russia remains stable/acceptable, it may be so that in March 2016, we will start driving towards Vladivostok.

A self-made Borscht soup by Ivonne in our studio in Warsaw
Luxury kids travel in Warsaw
Edwin tries to rescue his camera during a selfi action in Minsk
The Minsk Arena

The atmospheric station square of Minsk

© copyright - / 2015