This was an eight day guided tour taken with Explore.co.uk in July/August 2019 visiting Kiev, Minsk and Vilnius.
I had chosen an overnight flight to arrive in Kiev very early in the morning. As I was not meeting the tour group until evening I had pre-booked a tour of the Lavra Pecheresk complex. After storing my luggage and taking breakfast at the Hotel Rus, I met my guide, Nadia. She explained the history of Kiev as we walked to the bus stop to take a bus into the Pechersk district.
Once at the site we walked around the complex and Nadia explained that the monastery is one of the most important Orthodox monasteries in the World. It was founded in 1056 as a cave monastery but has expanded over the years.
After viewing the outside of the complex we lit a candle and went inside the monastery caves. Here the bodies of monks have been mummified, covered in cloth and placed in display cases. It is not allowed to take photographs inside the caves.
After the visit I returned to my hotel, checked in and met the tour group.
After breakfast we met our guide and embarked on a 3 hour walking tour of Kiev. Leaving the hotel, our first stop was the home of the National Opera of Ukraine.
Afterwards we walked up a steep road to see the Golden Gate of Kiev. Originally the main entry into Kiev, the impressive golden gate was taken down in the middle ages and no images of the original design remain. The present gate was rebuilt in 1982 by the Soviet government.
Leaving the gate we walked to St Sophia’s Cathedral which is was built in the 11th century.
Then it was on to the blue and gold St Michael’s monastery.
A short walk took us to St Andrew’s Church with its beautiful decorated dome.
Next we took the footbridge across the River Dnieper to see the People’s Friendship Arch. The metal arch was built in 1982 to commemorate 60 years of the Soviet Union and 1,500 years of Kiev. Beneath the arch are statues of Russian and Ukranian workers.
After lunch I opted to visit the Great Patriotic War Museum of Kiev. The Mother Motherland Statue stands above the Museum and looks down over the city of Kiev.
The War Museum commemorates those that lost their lives in the second World War. The war is known as the Great Patriotic War in the Ukraine and dates from Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 to the end of the war in 1945.
We returned to our hotel in the early evening for dinner. Then we were transported to the railway station for our overnight train to Minsk, Belarus.
Our train arrived in Minsk at 8.45 am and after changing some money we began a tour of the city. The two towers opposite the railway station mark the old city gates.
After breakfast in a local cafe we began a walking and bus tour of the city. Our first stop was Independence Square built to mark the independence of Belarus in 1990.
Then we visited the Catholic Church of Saints Simon and Helena which is just off Independence Square.
Further along Independence Square a statue of Lenin stands outside the Parliament building.
Our next stop was Holy Spirit Cathedral which is beautifully decorated inside and out.
Finally, we visited the Island of Tears which features a sculpture dedicated to those that lost their lives fighting in Afghanistan.
We then drove to the Hotel Tourist which was to be home for the next two nights. I decided to spend a relaxing afternoon and evening reading and watching the sun go down over the city.
Today we drove 80 km away from Minsk to see the Castle at Mir and the Palace of Nesvizh. The drive took just under 2 hours and as we left the city behind we saw the typical agricultural landscape of Belarus.
Soon we arrived at the town of Mir and we had a look around the small town before walking to the castle.
We began our visit by having a look at the courtyard. There was a traditional carriage parked inside the courtyard which looked like the carriage that took Cinderella to the ball.
Once inside the building we had an English-speaking guide to explain the history of the castle and the family that had lived there. The dining room was particularly impressive.
After the tour there was time to walk around the grounds outside. The castle looks particularly picturesque from the other side of the lake.
From Mir it was a 20 minute drive to Nesvizh where we had lunch before visiting the palace.
This palace had a spacious courtyard where we met our English-speaking guide and began our tour.
The palace was the traditional home of the Radziwill family until it was destroyed in 1706 by the army of Charles VII of Sweden. It was rebuilt and in the Soviet time was used as a sanatorium.
The palace rooms were very lavishly decorated. The picture above shows the dining room and the one below a bedroom suite.
At the end of the tour we had some free time to explore the castle grounds before returning to our hotel in Minsk.
Today we left Minsk and drove to the town of Grodno in northern Belarus, stopping for lunch along the way. On arrival we met a local guide who took us on a walking tour of the town.
First stop was a Russian Orthodox Church made of red brick and beautifully decorated inside.
Next we walked through the main park to reach the statue of Lenin that stands in front of the government buildings.
After visiting a museum to learn about the history of the town we went to the Catholic Jesuit church of Francis Xavier.
We then walked to the river Neman.
Our final stop was the oldest church in the town which sits at the top of a hill over looking the river.
All too soon our tour was over and we boarded our transport for the border. It took us 2 hours to cross the border into Lithuania.
Today began with a visit to a 76 year old woodcutter at the Antanas Cesnulis Sculpture Park. A range of wood-carved sculptures are displayed in a forest setting. The woodcutter has carved them all himself and some have taken nearly a year to complete.
Afterwards, we drove to the lakeside town of Trakai where we stopped for lunch before visiting the castle. We had a local guide who showed us around and told us about the history of the castle.
Today began with a walking/driving tour of Vilnius. Our first stop was the hill of the three crosses where we were able to look out over the whole city.
We then drove through Uzupis, which has declared itself an independent republic. Afterwards, we walked through the Jewish quarter and on to the Cathedral.
The afternoon was free so I decided to revisit Uzupis. The region has a very cosmopolitan artisan feel and their constitution, which includes ‘ A dog has the right to be a dog’ and ‘Everyone has the right to be unique’ among its 28 clauses, is written on the walls of the street in many different languages.
I then walked to St Anne’s church to take a look at the Gothic architecture of this beautiful church.
After stopping for a coffee, I made my way to the Lithuanian Holocaust Museum, where I spent an hour and a half reading the stories of those caught up in the horrors of the event.
My final stop for the day was the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights aka The KGB Museum. The museum tells the story of the Soviet era in sometimes very graphic detail.
I had a late flight home so decided to visit Gediminas Castle on the banks of the river Neris.
The view from the top of the castle, looking over Vilnius, made a fitting end to my holiday through Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania.