|Minsk is a huge snarling Doberman. Everything I've seen or read about Minsk and Belarus scares me slightly. I'd already decided I was going to photograph "monolithic" Minsk in monochrome, then what better than arriving in thick fog for the classic black and white moment of Minsk station. I'd pre-chosen the Express Hotel as it's just outside the station in a fairly convenient location. I eventually found it and rolled up to reception, on asking if they spoke English I got that Doberman snarl and the "no vacancies" sign was suddenly slammed down. I gave them some abuse back and then retreated to the station to do my Indian Bag trick - store your luggage at the station so that a) you don't have to lug it around various hotels and b) you don't shine out to the police/beggars/etc as a newly arrived victim. Minsk station left luggage lockers are amazing and should really be in a museum somewhere. They only work on old Soviet 15Kopek coins which you have to buy from the cashier. They have four mechanical dials on the inside and four on the outside (one Cyrillic letter and three numbers), you set your code on the inside, insert one coin and then lock the door, to retrieve your belongings you put your code onto the outside dials and insert the second coin. It was a shame to have to use both coins as I got a 1951 one which would have been good to keep.
Unencumbered by my pack I next tried the "40 Let Pobedy" (40 years of victory) which was a bugger to find but a damn sight friendlier than the Express. One woman in reception was their English champion and looked after me for my whole stay. To get my main pack back I took the longer route via Independence Boulevard, the main thoroughfare of Minsk, with most of it's major sites shopping and eating. Yes, Minsk is monolithic but it does have some colour and character.
I have to say that my one full day there was probably enough, I felt like I'd seen everything I needed to see before I left. I went to the WWII museum where there were no English translations of anything so I didn't have a clue what most of it was saying but I did get the gist that Minsk was pretty much mullered during the second world war.
It's not everyday that you get to see a dictator, unless you are in Minsk that is, Lukashenko's escorted convoy speeds though the streets as he comes to work goes to lunch and goes home. My first encounter was walking back to get my pack from the station. I was about to cross one road when a GAI (traffic cop) ran into the middle of the junction and started frantically directing traffic. The light for myself and the other people at the junction to cross turned green but no-one knew what to do. The GAI started hurling abuse and blowing his whistle at us but the others who, I presume, spoke Russian had no idea whether we were meant to cross or stay. In the end, not sure if you are going to get shot for not crossing or shot for crossing we decided to cross at a run.
I saw his convoy twice more, turning up for work at 10:20, the beauty of being a dictator, and going for lunch again not much later. I did eventually take quite a few photographs in colour, Minsk isn't such a bad place and does have some beauty and colour, that Doberman is fairly toothless and really just wants to give you a big lick.