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Stop the bus, a legend lives here!

Red double-decker buses taking tourists on excursions along the roads of Minsk have been attracting the attention of city dwellers for a long time
Red double-decker buses taking tourists on excursions along the roads of Minsk have been attracting the attention of city dwellers for a long time. They are stylish, fashionable and modern. These buses appeared several years ago and this year, the organisers of the trips have planned a treat for Minsk City Day.

Just imagine: you are travelling in a red vintage bus with the wind in your hair, and the whole city before you. Passers-by turn and stare, while you sit and listen intently to a commentary on the sights of the city. A new vehicle for this ‘Minsk City Tour’ will be available for touring on Minsk City Day. The start of this hour and a half long excursion will begin at approximately 1pm near the Town Hall. 

Evening. A stop near Town Hall. Journalists are the first to see all the advantages of the updated GAZ truck. The driver Victor obligingly opens the door, and the photographer and us journalists, as well as the deputy director organising the event, Anastasia Pavlova, take our seats in the red vintage vehicle, it is not new, but so full of character!

“It is 1963 GAZ model. We had been searching for it for such a long time! We finally found it in the house of a hunter in the Chechersk District. During the restoration, numerous specialists from Minsk worked on it. Our chief mechanic, Vladimir Kniga, pulled out all the stops to turn the GAZ into a comfortable six-seater vehicle.” 

Ms. Pavlova joins the conversation, “Our truck also acquired an audio system: you can now listen to the trip through head-phones in Russian and English, and, of course, with the guide talking into the microphone.”

Red vintage-phaeton — for excursions in Minsk

The idea of introducing such a vehicle into tourist use came about due to external factors. Travelling on the two available double decker buses, tourists can’t always stop and examine a monument or building closely. With the vintage-phaeton these problems don’t exist. This tourist vehicle is also notable as it will have thematic excursion routes — ‘City of Military Glory’, ‘City of Three Religions’, ‘Along Minsk Streets’.

“The excursions were developed by our staff member, an experienced scientist and certified guide, Olga Zalutskaya,” says Ms. Pavlova. “The vehicle also offers the possibility of sitting in a small group of people in unusual transport and learn about Minsk.” 

It is planned that in the future it will be necessary to book an excursion on the truck, but on City Day it will be available without prebooking. Those who arrive in time will be lucky to get a seat in the vehicle — if not, red double-decker buses with ample capacity will run from Kirov Street and the Town Hall.

“These excursions will be interesting not only to tourists, but also Minsk residents. Do you know the city’s legends? I doubt even locals know everything about the city,” says Ms. Pavlova. “While travelling by vintage truck, for example, if the clients would like to go off the route we could accommodate this.”

“We want to develop excursions that no tourist has ever experienced. We adore our city and want others to share it. We want them to leave the city delighted, to return home and tell others that it’s a place worth visiting. In St. Petersburg for example, it is possible to go on a boat on the Neva, but we can’t do this in Minsk. We thought for a long time on how we can surprise the visitors? And we came up with the idea of this car. The Minsk excursion route is one of the longest in Europe, at 40km long. 

Victor starts the motor and off we go. At a speed of 40km/h with the voice of the audio-guide speaking against a background of medieval music, we travel in comfort and see the city from a different angle. While we’re on the move, people look at us, and other drivers take photographs of our ‘vintage’ transport. We move to Pobediteley Avenue and learn that the Sports Palace was constructed in 1966 and found its architectural twin in Vilnius, Volgograd, Dnepropetrovsk and Chelyabinsk. Moreover: do you know that the descendants of the Crimean Tatars lived near the Svisloch? They made kitchen gardens on the banks of the river… 

What other options can the vehicles offer? The double-decker buses run treasure hunts for pupils, the driver delivers the group to various destinations where the children act as detectives and solve riddles about the city. The buses can be booked for birthdays, anniversaries, company parties, graduation parties and special events. Anastasia Pavlova continues, “This summer, international weddings travelled by bus directly from the Civil Registry Office, we picked up guests — Italians, Germans and Englishmen. We travelled through the city, and then delivered them to the restaurant. The special audio-guide in the buses will please everyone, after all it can be heard in eight languages: Russian, Belarusian, English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Chinese. 

Sometimes Minsk people get on the bus with the confidence that they will not be surprised, only to be amazed by the fact that Chelyuskintsev Park is the former Komarovsky forest, where unique species of pines grew. During the war, the Germans cut them down and removed them, using Red Army prisoners. There are interesting myths too, did you know that allegedly ‘tsmok’ lived in Kalvariyskaya Street where the Minskaya mountain was, and young girls were delivered to him and became his prey. Once one of the townsmen is said to have put on the clothes of his beloved, and defeated ‘tsmok’. 

We have now travelled through the whole city and finally arrived at the station directly opposite the double-decker bus which leaves at 18.30 to travel across Minsk. A woman approaches and, seeing the truck, stops and asks whether she can ride in it. Alas, the car isn’t available for tourists until City Day so she goes up to the top deck of the red bus. Her name is Milena, she’s arrived from Moscow to have a break at the Naroch sanatorium. It was 3 hours before her train was to depart, and she was in Minsk for the first time and hoped to familiarise herself with the city. At the same time Yelena from Kiev comes closer, she works as a business development manager, “It is the third time I have visited Minsk on a business trip, but I haven’t had time for sightseeing yet, I’m looking forward to seeing all the buildings.”

Anastasia recollects a story of a Russian-speaking girl with her boyfriend who were travelling in the cabriolet and looking at Minsk from the window. She asked him, “Do you remember once I said that I would like to live in Riga? I do not want to go there any longer. I want to live in Minsk.” The tourists are right: we do not have the Sagrada Familia or the Colosseum, but Minsk residents appreciate their history. They know that the city was 80 percent destroyed and see that its people managed to preserve and restore ancient buildings and create new.”

Considering that new the excursion vehicle is open top, then obviously in winter it will be very cold. It is planned that in October, GAZ will rest in the garage, but again in spring, it will show itself on the roads. “50 percent of Minsk people say that they have seen all there is to see in Minsk, however, it is not enough to see, we also need to know. For example, what is the glass tower on the KGB building? It is the private office of Lavrenty Tsanava, Minister of State Security of BSSR. Why, opposite this tower, is there a city clock which was brought from Königsberg? Lavrenty Tsanava did not like wrist watches and this clock was installed at his request.”

By Alina Kasel

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