As the summer comes to a close, and signs of autumn begin to emerge, we may be feeling nostalgic about the summer holidays. For those who have yet to take time off, those already planning their next excursion, or those who can only travel mentally in the foreseeable future, Eastbook.eu takes you on a tour of the Eastern Neighbourhood. See anything you like?
Belarus has not realised its tourist potential quite yet. As many foreigners associate Belarus only with the controversial figure cut by President Lukashenko, or news of human rights struggles and EU sanctions. However, Belarus, as an independent Republic of just a little more than 20 years, has much to offer from its history, cultural colour, cityscapes and eco-tourism.
Of the capital, Minsk, perhaps Lonely Planet says it best:
“Minsk will almost certainly surprise you. The capital of Belarus is, despite its thoroughly dreary-sounding name, a progressive and modern place quite at odds with its own reputation. Fashionable cafes, impressive restaurants and crowded nightclubs vie for your attention, while sushi bars and art galleries have taken up residence in a city centre once totally remodeled to the tastes of Stalin. Despite the strong police presence and obedient citizenry, scrape the surface and you’ll find that there’s more than a whiff of rebellion in the air.”
For the history buff:
“Totally razed to the ground in WWII, Minsk is an ideological statement wrought in stone and cement. With almost no buildings remaining from the pre-war years, there are relatively few traditional sights in the city. Instead though, there are myriad places of interest to anyone fascinated by the Soviet period and a smattering of cosmopolitan pursuits to keep you entertained come the evening.”
Worthy of Mention: Dudutki Museum
Dudtki is an open-air museum “where 19th-century Belarusian country life comes to life.” The museum offers traditional crafts, such as carpentry, pottery, handicraft-making and baking, which are on display in traditional wood-and-hay houses. Best of all is the traditional meal available to visitors, along with traditional Belarusian moonshine, known as samagon.
— TCS & Starquest (@GoByPrivateJet) May 4, 2013
The word ‘Ukraine’ means ‘land on the edge’. Perhaps the perfect name for Europe’s largest country, known for keeping the world guessing, and surprising visitors with the broad and largely undiscovered gems the country has to offer.
Of the capital, Kiev, is it likely impossible to summarise everything that can be seen and done in this historic city. For the museum enthusiast, a unique experience may be found on Andriyivsky uzviz, at the Museum of One Street:
“Small in size but very deep in substance, the museum became one of the most popular museums in Kiev. The abounding exposition of the museum is filled with historical documents, manuscripts, autographs, antique postcards, photos, and a great number of fascinating objects of the antique interior. Exploring the museum visitors immerse into nostalgic atmosphere of the history, as if traveling by the time machine.”
And for the history and culture buff:
“Usually Andreyevsky spusk is associated solely with the name of Mikhail Bulgakov, the world-famous writer, who lived in the descent in the building No.13. Actually, since the end of nineteenth century many prominent figures of the Ukrainian and Russian science and culture lived in this densely populated street. The One Street Museum illustrates the way they lived and worked without any preconception and bias. Just as these people were neighbors living in Andreyevsky spusk, so they continue to be alongside in the museum exposition.”
Worthy of Mention: Ukraine by Train – Kiev to Dnipropetrovsk (in photos)
Here’s the problem–Moldova was recently declared Europe‘s least visited country. The good news is, as Lonely Planet once again explains:
“Being declared Europe‘s least visited country, with some researcher thoughtfully providing the spirit-wilting data showing only 9000 international arrivals in 2011, would probably cause most countries to plop down in the middle of the room and scream about how life is so unfair. Moldova is doing the equivalent of wearing this information like a sandwich board.”
How? Moldova is using its status as a, shall we say, rare destination as its main selling point. So much so that it was voted this year as Lonely Planet’s #2 off-the-beaten-path destination in the world. Its appeal, therefore, is in its raw authenticity, only the true world traveler need apply. As Moldovan tourism expert, Leif Pettersen, explains:
“I’m all too familiar with the unpolished, scrappy appeal of Moldova. Virtually no aspect of the country has been orchestrated for mass tourism or even practical convenience. Experiences here are earned, without being overly demanding. Want to see the breathtaking cave monastery perched above a winding valley at Orheiul Vechi? Get into an over-stuffed, abused minibus and bounce down busted up roads squashed in the back row between villagers returning from shopping in Chisinau. Looking for Soviet-loving, communist-era Moscow immersion in the breakaway republic of Transdniestr? Queue up at the infernal border crossing and sweat out the formalities like everybody else.”
Worthy of Mention: Orheiul Vechi
Orheiul Vechi Monastery is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Moldova. The monastery complex is a cultural, historical and archaeological complex located about 60 km (35 miles) northeast of Chisinau, Moldova’s capital and 10 km (6 miles) to the southeast of Orhei city. The valley, shaped by the Răut Rive has a pristine natural landscape. There are several ancient monuments and buildings set in the valley, from various historical periods dating from the 10th century BC to the occupation of the Golden Horde in the 14th century AD. These ancient fortresses and early Christian monasteries are among the most unusual sights in all of Eastern Europe, and a museum at the site provides further information and exhibits.
The Cave Monastery (Mănăstire în Peşteră), is carved into a massive limestone cliff, which was hollowed out by Orthodox monks in the 13th century.
It remained inhabited until the 18th century, and in 1996 a handful of monks returned to the monastery to re-inhabit it and to restore it to its former glory.
Since it has been declared by many as of one of the most strikingly beautiful countries on earth, it logically follows that inspiring tourists to come to Georgia is not a difficult task.
Tbilisi, the capital, is almost 10 times bigger than any other city in Georgia, and is essentially “where it all happens”, in terms of action and excitement. Capital since of the country since the 5th century, there is no shortage of historical and culturally captivating discoveries to be made, and is often considered to be the most attractive of the three capitals in the Caucasus.
“Tbilisi brims with history and has a dramatic setting on hillsides either side of the swift Mtkvari River. Its Old Town, at the narrowest part of the valley, is still redolent of an ancient Eurasian crossroads, with narrow, winding alleys, handsome religious buildings, and old balconied houses and caravanserais (travellers inns).”
Worthy of Mention: Kala (Old Town), Tbilisi
You know those pictures you see of Tbilisi, of buildings stacked together, hugging cliffsides with wooden balconies and cornice windows? Most likely, they’re a view of Tbilisi’s old town.
“Today the twisting alleys of the Old Town, which is known locally as Kala, are still full of hidden courtyards and carved wooden balconies leaning at rakish angles. Though almost no buildings here survived the destruction by the Persians in 1795, many of those standing today date from soon after that and still have the Eurasian character of earlier times.”
Ride the Planet: GEORGIA
Armenia is an small, but ancient country. Its roots date back to Babylon and Rome. In fact, Yerevan is one of the most ancient cities in the world, founded in 782B.C, which makes it 29 years older than Rome. Due to a traumatic 20th century, Armenia is often associated with the scars of tragedy and war, and many tourists are those from the Armenian diaspora, searching to uncover their roots.
However, Armenia is a rapidly modernising society, with its sights set on EU membership, and a brighter future.
The capital, Yerevan, is known as the pink “pearl” of Armenia, so called because it is predominately built using different shades of the local pink stone called tuff. The city catches the eyes largely because of the biblical Mount Ararat which towers over the city. Yerevan and its citizens are also known for being friendly and laid back, defying the usual qualities of a buzzing capital city:
“While it’s the undeniable cultural, economic and political heart of the nation, Yerevan can at times feel like a city on permanent holiday. It’s the most laid-back capital in the Caucasus and it’s easy to slide into a torpor for a day or two.”
Worthy of Mention: Spend a Night in Tatev Monastery, Armenia
Azerbaijan is a mystery. Wedged between Europe and Asia, it has been called a land of contrasts–belonging to no definable category, and a veritable “nexus of ancient historic empires.” Traveling through Azerbaijan promises to be a varied experience, spanning from the booming and modern capital of Baku, to the less-trodden village settings where time has seemed to stand still:
“Where Baku is multilingual and go-ahead, the provinces shuffle to the gently paced click of nard (backgammon) on tree-shaded teahouse terraces: women stay home, herds of cattle wander aimlessly across highways, and potbellied bureaucrats scratch their heads in confusion on finding that an outsider has wandered into their territory.”
Worthy of Mention: The Palace of the Shirvanshahs
The Shirvanshahs’ palace complex, one of the most beautiful monuments of national architecture, was built by the order of Khalilullah I (1417-1462), Shirvanshah in 1420-60, in the old part of the city of Baku. The palace is situated on the highest point of one of the hills of the Icheri Sheher, the Baku fortress. Picturesquely spread over three terrace-yards the ensemble can be seen from the sea and the heights surrounding the city.
Azerbaijan’s capital & Zaha Hadid’s new cultural centre is the main attraction. https://t.co/uQGFvmDzcO
— 1000 Museum (@1000museum) June 25, 2013
sources: Lonely Planet