A Walk Around Minsk with «Heta Belarus, Dzietka!»

Creators of the "Heta Belarus, Dzietka!” and HiFive Belarus projects love Belarus with all of their hearts: they love its people, customs and traditions, cities and villages, as well as the local way of life. They look at typical characteristics of Belarusians through the lens of the phrase "Heta Belarus, Dzietka!” (This is Belarus, baby!). This utterance can be used to explain everything that seems weird or strange to foreigners in our country. Within the framework of Biz4all “Social Entrepreneurship Incubator” programme, "Heta Belarus, Dzietka!” decided to sell English-language tours around Minsk for foreigners. ODB Brussels took part in one of their tours on a sunny Saturday together with Inna Durysheva and Artsiom Bandura, who are the project tour guides, and Hanna Hrydziushka, the co-author and co-founder of “Heta Belarus, Dzietka!” and HiFive Belarus. We agreed to meet near the bridge to the Island of Tears (Island of Courage and Sorrow).

Let us remind that the main social mission of "Heta Belarus, Dzietka!” is to promote the culture of Belarus in Europe, help build a positive image of our country abroad and get rid of negative stereotypes. The target audience of the project includes not only young people but also European pensioners.

Hanna Hrydziushka, co-author and co-founder of “Heta Belarus, Dzietka!” and HiFive Belarus, and tour guides Inna Durysheva and Atrsiom Bandura

 

Hanna shares her plans for the future: “At the moment, we want to reduce the cost of tours a little in order to make them more affordable. So far, we have only had foreigners who had first hand knowledge about our project or learnt about it through their friends, so they already knew what to expect from us and were ready to pay more for such an original tour. Besides, the price of the tour was set during our crowdfunding campaign, when we were raising funds to publish our guidebook, and part of this amount was dedicated to the publication. Now we want to attract more travellers who do not know about “Heta Belarus, Dzietka!” (do not know about it yet, but wish to get an interesting and unusual tour from local residents). We have found a partner to sell our tours in the Netherlands and Germany, and we are now compiling a programme of six tours that are from 5 to 14 days long, which will include our own uniquely designed tours (a walking tour of Minsk, a ‘dacha’ tour and a Soviet-style tour), as well as trips to the regions”.

A view of the Troitskaye Pradmestie (Trinity Suburb), Minsk

 

Inna and Artsiom start their Minsk tour in the Trinity Suburb, then we move through time with the city and its architecture, getting more familiar with the Belarusian capital, its people and way of life. The walk takes about three hours, and by the end our guides’ infectious positivity spreads to us as well: Minsk inspires us to live, create and love.

Memorial Complex Island of Tears (Island of Courage and Sorrow) in Minsk

Inna explains with enthusiasm: "Belarus, as well as Minsk, is still far from being the most popular touristic destination. We consider it to be a huge advantage, because here you will not find huge crowds of tourists on every corner, so you can really enjoy the city’s atmosphere”. Inna and Artsiom aim to show even the most popular tourist places in an unusual light. For example, the Island of Tears is not just a memorial complex dedicated to the internationalist warriors who died outside of the motherland. You also have a beautiful view of Minsk here and can take beautiful photos.

After an hour in Trinity Suburb we go to the Upper City. We begin to inspect the attractions from Zybitskaya street. This street that showcases an important characteristic of Minsk, which may be difficult for the foreigners to feel: here, a historic part of the city has been rebuilt from scratch. The walk in this part of the city includes a tour of a former monastery which now houses bars and restaurants, a concert hall, a town hall, an Orthodox Christian church and a Catholic church. Lenin street is what Inna calls “the portal through time”. This street used to be called Gubernatorskaya (Governor’s street) and is now home to the palace of Soviet retail – the impressive grey GUM, located at the intersection with the Nezalezhnasti (Independence) avenue.

The monument to Belarusian living abroad, embankment of the River Svislotch, Minsk

 

A short walk along the avenue introduces foreigners to the famous Stalinist Empire style. Inna describes: “Stalin oversaw the construction and decoration of the avenue, because Minsk was the first large city that foreigners encountered on their way to Moscow, so they could become impressed by the grandeur of the Soviet Union in Minsk and think “Wow, if Minsk is so great, what should we expect in Moscow?”. Going past the unique supermarket “Tsentralny”, we approach the subway station: here, the traveller can choose from a number of options. The guides offer us to go either to the Komarovsky Market or to Oktyabrskaya street. We pick Oktyabrskaya to finish our journey through time and visit the modern Belarusian capital of the XXI century: graffiti, trendy bars and cafes, atmosphere of freedom and creativity.

Inna Durysheva and Artsiom Bandura, "Heta Belarus, Dzietka!" and HiFive Belarus tour guides

 

Hanna Hrydziushka explains: "With our tours, we give foreigners an idea of Minsk not through its attractions but rather through how its residents view their city and their country. The main point of our tour is the story, or rather, the dialogue between the guide and the traveller who can ask any questions and receive really honest answers.

Inna Durysheva, "Heta Belarus, Dzietka!" and HiFive Belarus tour guide

We want the person who takes part in our tour, instead of feeling like a tourist who blindly follows the guide and listens to a boring description of historical events with a deluge of dates, being a welcome guest who simply came to visit his friend in Belarus.

This feeling really comes through during our second tour – the “dacha” tour, which is a trip to a summer house. For example, in early August, we had an elderly couple from the Netherlands with their 27-year-old, and we took them to the summer house.

On the way we stopped for ice cream in a simple but picturesque village shop, then they were given a warm welcome by a Belarusian married couple of their age. They dined out on the summer terrace, enjoyed the heat of the sauna, walked in the village, took a swim in the lake… Our Dutch guests were delighted all through the day, and admitted that they felt a 100% as if they were visiting their old friends, despite the fact that the Belarusian couple did not speak a word of English”.

Quick-fire round for the Minsk tour guides

Your favourite spot in Minsk?

Inna: The Upper City’s “Balcony”. I loved this place long before I became a tour guide. I would often come here without knowing anything about the history of these sites, just to enjoy the beautiful view and atmosphere. Today, the Upper City is the liveliest place in Minsk, in my opinion. Here the history of the city meets modernity. I love watching everything that is going on here, and I still feel like the “balcony” only belongs to me.

Artsiom: Svislotch embankment along Starazheuskaya street.  I love that you get a view of three parts of the city all at the same time: the Trinity Suburb, the Upper City and Peramozhtsau avenue. It is a very symbolic panorama for the rapidly developing city. It also has beautiful lighting at night, which really brightens up the city. It great no matter the weather, but it is especially beautiful here in early autumn.

Your favourite Belarusian food and drink?

Inna: Pancakes with cottage cheese and home-made cherry jam. I used to eat this at my grandmother’s, who would leave warm pancakes in the oven for me to find when I wake up in the morning. It is the taste of “holidays at your grandma’s”. Also, when I worked at the agricultural museum complex of Dudutki, I tasted zbiten. It is fragrant, hot, perfect for warming up in cold weather and unlike anything else. However, it could also be served as a refreshment.

Artsiom: It may sound unoriginal, but I love our potato pancakes, draniki. Yes, I do love potatoes, I am truly Belarusian! As for drinks, I pick Krambambula, which is our Belarusian Schnapps, Becherovka and Whiskey, all in one. It is not worth describing, it is worth trying!

In your opinion, what Belarusian cities, apart from Minsk, are attractive for tourists and why? 

Inna:  The small towns of Nesvizh and Mir. They have so many interesting things intact from our past. They lead very slow, quiet lives, and they have many artefacts from the legendary individuals who lived there for centuries – the Radziwill family. It is very interesting to wander in the castles and their grounds.

View of the Cathedral of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, Minsk

Artsiom: I would suggest Hrodna. A lot has been preserved in the city, which means that much of its history is still alive. The city is quite European in spirit and content. And, of course, they have the beautiful Neman River…

What would you say is the symbol of our country?

Inna and Artsiom: Here we are in agreement that you cannot choose just one symbol because there are many. For us, Belarus is both the open-hearted people in small villages and the “blue eyes” of rivers and lakes, the native city of Minsk (like the one you see on the postcards). It is the stork that steps proudly across the fields and spreads its wings. And of course, it is the red national ornament, laconic, unique and always meaningful.

The three and a half hours of the tour fly by, and even for us, who live in Minsk, the city opens up to us in a new, pleasant light. Thanks to the charm and charisma of our guides, Inna and Artsiom, the travellers see Minsk as a modern developing city. If anything seems strange or unusual, you can always explain it away with the simple and now popular phrase Heta Belarus, Dzietka!

Text by: Valeriya Nikalaichyk

Photo by: Alyona Lis

The goal of the programme is to develop a package of social entrepreneurship training programmes in Russian using innovative international practices, as well as the experience of Belarusian diaspora representatives who have become successful entrepreneurs in European Union countries and the USA.

 

The publication was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with the fiancial support from the European Union.

ODB Brussels