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15 Jan

Hanna Farhana Fauzie, Seputar Indonesia, December 29, 2012 (Indonesia)


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Indulging Your Eyes in Belarus

What crosses your mind when you hear about Belarus?  For sport freaks, the country beauty Victoria Azarenka or the former Barcelona ace Aliaksandr Hleb, may be the reply.

Well, for us, Indonesians, Belarus is not as popular as other European travel destinations such as France, Italy or even Switzerland. But, this landlocked country bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia, offers incredible beauty.

“You should go to Belarus. Over there, the castles are even more gorgeous,” a guy said when I stood in awe in front of Malbork Castle in Poland. 

At first, scepticism dominates my mind. In contrary, when Jaraslau introduced himself, we were standing by one of the greatest pieces of architecture in the world. Malbork castle is the largest castle in the world by surface area, and the largest brick building in Europe. 

But, my fanaticism over castles got the better of me. As I reached Warsaw, I went straight to the Central Railway Station and bought myself a ticket to Minsk. Luckily, it’s an overnight train. It leaves at 20.35 and reaches Minsk at 08.00 in the mornings. So, I had enough time to get a very good rest. Even though the train system not as good as Germany’s or the Netherlands, this Eurail train is pretty comfortable.   

I didn’t want to waste my time. Immediately I gathered several brochures containing must-visit spots in Belarus. I don’t have to say much more, my eyes are already searching for castle sites. 

And, what Jaraslau said is all true. Belarus, pampers the eyes with great architecture almost all over the country. But don’t get me wrong. Not all the old buildings are original. During World War II and Nazi occupation, about 209 out of 290, 85% of the industry, and more than one million buildings are destroyed. After the war, massive reconstruction took place in Belarus, which included reconstructing historical buildings, such as Nesvizh castle.

After gaining enough information, I went to Nesvizh, in Minsk Provence. It’s not really far from the capital. The story about this castle amazed me. In 2005, UNESCO declared the castle as world heritage. As one of the main tourist attraction in the republic, the government later renovated the building and made the park even prettier.

As I walk toward the building, the castle looks like a blossom lotus flower. It’s because the castle is surrounded by lake. The castle from 1533 until 1939 was owned by one of the royal families in Belarus, the Radziwill family. Several times, the castle was sold to other families, but it always ended up in the Radziwill family.

The Radziwill family renovated the castle a few times. No wonder visitors are able to feel different kind of style in this the magnificent castle, such as neo-gothic, renaissance, also baroque.

In 1939, the Radziwill family was expelled from the castle by the invading Red Army. In Soviet times, the chateau was used as a sanatorium, while the park gradually fell into neglect. In 1994, the castle complex was designated the national historical and cultural reserve. Twelve years later, the castle complex was inscribed on the world heritage list.

After spending hours admiring the Nesvizh castle, I already have another plan: Mir castle! This majestic castle is about 30 km from  Nesvizh castle.

The road signs pointing the way to Mir castle are helpful. So, if you are interested in visiting Belarus, and dream of having a castle tour like myself, do not worry about getting lost. “The castles are one of main tourist attractions in Belarus. And, the government provides information about the routes and other things,” Alena said in Sarai train station at Mir.

It’s easy to find this incredible gothic castle. From far away, the colour red is seen clearly. When I get closer; I have no doubt about this castle being my number one favourite piece of  architecture in the whole world.

The building of the castle was completed by Duke Ilinich in the early 16th century near the village of Mir, formerly of Minsk guberniya. Around 1568, Mir castle passed into the hands of Mikolaj Krzysztof Radziwill, who finished building the castle in the Renaissance style. A three-storey palace was built along the eastern and northern walls of the castle. Plastered facades were decorated with limestone portals, plates, balconies and porches. In December, 2000, Mir castle was listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

On my first day in Belarus, I already fell in love with this country. I had no regret about changing my travel route. By the time I returned to Minsk, I decided to rent a car. I know that travelling by car will get me far, since the infrastructure in Belarus was well developed after World War II. Gas is relatively cheap by European standards. All gas stations have the same prices (mandated by the government), so no need for shopping around.

Travelling by car around the country will get tourists to a lot of desired destinations relatively cheaply and quickly. Also, we will get a chance to catch a glimpse of Belarusian nature, as the forests and plains often stand right on the outskirts of cities. Do not count on being lucky enough to spot wild animals by the railroad tracks - they are normally afraid of loud noises and attack passengers. Belarus is not a large country, and a traveller can go from one border to the other in less than a day.

My next travel destination is Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park. Havig listened to other passengers, I hope I will spot the biggest mammals in Europe, zubr (bison). And, if I am lucky, maybe I can see a pack of wolves too. The next day, I went to Pripyatsky National Park. This large park is described as the lungs of Europe. Watching the differents kind of amazing birds was breath-taking.

Article originally published (in Indonesian): http://www.seputar-indonesia.com/news/menelusuri-sisa-kebangsawananbelarus



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