Please have a look at your city travel bucket list. Does it include Minsk, the capital of Belarus? If not, maybe it’s time to put it on the list if you’re not discouraged by a few formalities.
Minsk is not a city of a spontaneous weekend trip. You may need to obtain a visa in advance if you’re a resident of one of the 30 countries listed on the visa homepage. It usually takes two weeks to get the visa. If you shell out extra $$$ you can opt for the fast lane and get it within a week.
Once you have the visa in your passport, you need to fill out an (actually, two identical) immigration permits on the plane. They’ll keep one copy at the passport control and one copy needs to stay in your Passport. All. The. Time!
When you arrive at the Minsk airport, you need to purchase an additional health insurance. And no, your health insurance from home does not work here. It’s 1 EUR per day. Luckily, I didn’t need it.
There’s a small counter in the arrival hall to the left before you get to passport control. Buy the health insurance there before you try passport control and the emphasis is on try here. If you don’t have the health insurance forms at the passport control, they’ll send you back to buy one.
Once I managed to get through the health insurance purchase process, passport control and customs, I took a taxi to Hotel Europe. Many spots worth seeing are in walking distance from the hotel. And if you’re a lazybone, there are lots of Ubers, too.
Then I needed a local SIM card. My cell phone operator in austria lists data roaming in Belarus in roaming zone 10 (out of 4 :). In other words: don’t do it. It’s expensive like hell.
You can buy a velcom SIM card in Minsk but you’ll get a special tourist plan that will expire the day you leave the country. I needed the passport (including the visa), the immigration permit (remember: all. the. time!) I filled out on the plane and they wanted to have my hotel address and took a picture of me, too. Schedule 20-30 minutes to get a local SIM card. Internet worked well, none of facebook, twitter, instagram, email, etc. was blocked.
After I had completed all the formalities I went for my first nightly photowalk in Minsk. It’s one of the most splendid european cities I’ve seen. But what I noticed first is that the city, at least in the centre, is so clean. Not a single piece of waste was lying around and you’ll notice waste baskets every 150 feet. Minsk has lots of beautiful squares, parks and buildings and everything is well lighted at night.
Victory Square with eternal flame
Victory square is basically the city centre of Minsk. The square is surrounded by quite busy roads and to get to the place you need to find the underpass. There's one on the left and one of the right. Don't try to cross the streets. Especially when there's a police officer regulating the traffic nearby. Very bad idea.
The flame in front of the monument was lit in 1961 due to the 17th anniversary of the libration of Minsk.
Gorky Park with Ferris Wheel
Gorky park is right near victory square and I went there on one of the days for an early morning walk when basically no one was there. I saw only a few workers plus one person standing around and looking important who took care of greenery.
Finding the ferris wheel may be a little difficult, unless you can read the russian signs. You won't see the ferris wheel from a distance. It's located on a small hill. Once you've entered the park and are in the forest, take one of the uphill paths on the left . It will take you to the ferris wheel.
The rest of the park is also quite beautiful. I enjoyed strolling around there in autumn.
A friend asked my on facebook, if I saw any Scorpions there. Well, no, and I also didn't feel a Wind of Change.
The huge palace of the republic
I'm not an expert in architecture. I just take photos. But a building like the Place of the Republic comes to my mind when I think of typical Russian Architcture. The entire building is just massive and it's in the middle of a huge square. It takes you like 5 minute to cross that square.
So there's enough room to zoom out with your feet if you don't have a wide angle lens for your iPhone.
National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre
I will call this just "Bolshoi Theatre". Typing "National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre" just seems too prone to typos. Hope you're okay with that. The Bolshoi Theatre is a 10 minutes walk from the Palace of the Republic.
I found this water basin right in front of it. Don't know if it has fountains; I didn't see any during my 4 day stay in Minsk. Anyway, you can use the basin for some reflections of the theatre. Get close to the edge of it and extend your tripod fully to get a high angle. If that's not high enough, put the tripod on the edge of the basin. It's wide enough.
light show at the national library of Belarus
In case you wondered what the "+1" in the headline means; it's this spot. It's not in walking distance of the ones I mentioned previously. But still, It's quite easy to get there. Just use an Uber. I had some issues with PayPal when trying to get an Uber in Minsk. But once I added my credit card and used it instead of PayPal, everything was okay. Maybe PayPal is blocked/not available in Belarus? Who knows.
The building is full of bulbs that will create a spectacular light show at night. In between the ads that run. I didn't take the time up to the minute, but the light show repeats after perceived 10 minutes or so.
Shooting RAW at night vs. ProCamera Low Light Modes
During the stay in Minsk I took hundreds of iphone night photos to compare the results from shooting RAW at night to the LowLight Modes of ProCamera. No matter which method you use, be sure to bring your tripod. You will need for taking photos with your iPhone at night.
To cut a long story short, shooting RAW with the iPhone works great if you’re photographing well lit places like the Victory Square or the Bolshoi Theatre and are comfortable shooting in manual mode in ProCamera, turning ISO down to 50 and compensating that with a slower shutter speed. It does not work so well when shooting darker scenes like the the National Library of Belarus. Here I used the familiar ProCamera Low Light Modes.
Beware that shooting RAW adds one more step to your workflow. As a RAW photo is an unmodified dump of the camera sensor data from your iPhone, you need to develop the RAW first using either ProCamera RAW development or Adobe Lightroom Mobile.
I use Adobe Lightroom Mobile to develop a RAW. The results and especially denoise are fantastic! I hesitated a little but the 12$ a month is definitely worth it. I also moved my portfolio website to Adobe Behance and Adobe Portfolio which is included in the plan. Previously, I paid 12$ a month for my portfolio website alone. So I guess this adds Adobe Lightroom to the apps I’m using regularly. More on that soon.