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Originally from Belarus, I currently live in London, UK. I work in higher education as a librarian. My professional interests have led me to Wikipedia projects. History and theology are two other passions of mine.
Minsk is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Belarus, its population is about two million people.
For a long time after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, Minsk and Belarus in general had a reputation of a Soviet experience park among those few tourists who considered visiting it. Recently, this stereotype has started losing its relevance: Minsk now offers reliable and affordable public transport, plentiful hotels, convenient banking, as well as shopping and dining experience that international tourists will find familiar. The quality and number of sightseeing opportunities have improved remarkably too. Minsk is the most popular tourist destination for Russian tourists, however visitors from any other country will find the city worth of visiting. Those who want to see the Soviet past in action, should venture further afield in Belarus and consider specialist tours.
Language may be a barrier to a certain extent. Virtually all Belarusians speak or understand both Belarusian and Russian; the latter remains the default means of communication. Increasingly more young people speak English and many of them will be eager to practice it. The older generation is unlikely to understand English. It is wise for visitors to learn some key phrases in Russian or Belarusian. Also, being familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet used both by Belarusian and Russian is essential for traveling without a guide. Many street signs and notices in public transport in Minsk are transliterated into the Latin alphabet. A confusion may arise from the fact that the names of landmarks, objects etc. may be transliterated either from Belarusian (as the current official practice requires, however it is not strictly enforced) or Russian; to add to the confusion, the old practice of translating geographical names still has a place. As the result, Плошча Перамогі (Площадь Победы in Russian) may be referred to in publications as Plošča Pieramohi (or Pieramohi Square - transliteration from Belarusian), Pobedy Square (transliteration from Russian) or Victory Square (direct translation). There is no an easy way to avoid this confusion completely right now, however, being aware of the possibility of the same object being referred to differently depending on the original language used by the speaker should help. Please see also the official standard used for transliteration of Belarusian geographical names into the Latin alphabet .
The city is situated on the Svislač and Niamiha rivers. After a near total destruction during the World War II, the historical centre was replaced in the 1940s and 1950s by Stalinist architecture, which favoured grand buildings, broad avenues and wide squares. 80% of the city was destroyed during World War II and Minsk rebuilt in 1950s to the liking of Joseph Stalin. Large Soviet-Bloc style "palaces" make up a portion of the city centre. For this reason Minsk is a wonderful place to visit for those interested in the Soviet Union who want to see it almost alive.