Exploring Belarus: Grodno

Grodno Castle

Craig, an expat who is residing in Minsk, loves exploring new destinations and activities while undertaking multiple excursions locally and internationally. He shares his impressions and experiences of Belarus, with specific reference to Grodno that he frequents often.

As a businessman, I have been fortunate to travel to over 51 countries round the world and believe one must experience the nature and beauty each country and destination has to offer. Belarus is a safe country, and for this reason I enjoy taking part in diverse activities and travel extensively, either as a family or on my own. I find Grodno to be the ideal location because of its beautiful nature and rich history, which caters for young and old, outdoor enthusiasts and families with children. Herewith are my impressions after taking multiple breakaways to Grodno.

Location and Route. Grodno is located in the west, on the banks of the Neman River, close to the Polish and Lithuanian borders. When departing from Minsk, I take the M6 turnoff from the Minsk Circle Road (M9) and drive approximately 275 km to reach my destination. Travel time is a roughly three and a half hours on a beautiful modern highway, with multiple attractions, petrol stations and resting areas along the way.

Accommodation. On arriving in Grodno, one has many options to find suitable accommodation that suits anyone’s pocket. Accommodation varies between hostels, hotels to apartment rentals and prices range between $6 to just over $100 per evening, per person sharing. I love staying at the Kronon Hotel, which is situated in the forest, next to the Neman River. It has secure parking and the staff speak English, while being truly helpful in providing guests with international standards of hospitality and gastronomy. According to a “cheesecake expert” like me, the Kronon definitely has the best cheesecake in Belarus, and one can enjoy it with a tasty cappuccino sitting on the veranda, overlooking the beautiful forest, while the kids go crazy. To “work off” multiple portions of cheesecake, one can either take a walk, a bicycle ride or a scooter on the surrounding forest pathways. As the Neman River is only a few 100m’s away, one also has the option to go fishing, swimming or take boat rides down the river with the family,

Events. Being a traveller by heart, I love attending special occasions. Two events, of the multiple available, I enjoy attending in Grodno are the “opening of season” for motorcycles and the Festival of National Cultures. As one of my hobbies is international motorcycle adventure riding, I always attend the “opening of season” for motorcycles in Grodno because it involves thousands of motorcyclists gathering and taking a ride through Grodno. At this event I have encountered lawyers, businessmen, foreigners, young and old as well as a few “highly devoted” bikers. I love the vibe at these gatherings as it caters for all walks of society, but as a motorcyclist, everyone is deemed equal. After the event I was invited for drinks by fellow bikers. I soon realized the boldness to speak English with me increased and was positively affected by some kind of liquid everyone was drinking. The liquid is called “samagon” and is some kind of magic potion, as even I started to understand Russian. The effect of this potion was however short lived, as I could not remember my newly acquired Russian vocabulary the next morning.

I have also attended the Festival of National Cultures that takes place in Grodno. It celebrates all the different cultures found within the Belarusian society. The food is delicious at this event and it is beautiful seeing the pride the people have in their culture. As a garlic lover, I learnt the Russian word for garlic, which is “chesnok,” many years ago. This allowed me to taste and eat multiple foods at the event containing garlic. A traditional Belarusian salad made of beetroot, garlic, cheese and mayonnaise, is just delicious. My favourite however is “botterbrod” which is oil toasted bread, with grated carrot mixed with garlic and a salami slice on top of each quarter slice. I can keep eating this even if I am full. Draniki (thick potato pancake) is another favourite and can be eaten with a variety of tasty toppings, for breakfast, lunch or supper. The side effects of attending this festival is that you will gain a few centimetres around the waist, and if your wife is not a garlic lover, she will make you sleep in the spare bedroom.

Activities. My twin sons (“double trouble”), like me, love the outdoor and we keep ourselves busy with multiple activities; it also keeps me young. For this reason they love spending time in nature at Grodno as it offers a variety of activities. The Neman River is where my sons caught their first fish. What is nice about fishing from the banks of the river, is that one can make it a day outing. As a family we pack our picnic bags with food and I take meat with for a barbeque (which everyone here calls “shashlik”). We also take mats, tents, boomerangs and balls with so the children can keep themselves busy when not fishing.

As my children enjoy animals, we frequently visit Karobchycy located on the outskirts of Grodno. Here my children take part in horseback riding and are in close contact with animals. It also features a large wooden play area which includes a pirate ship as well as open gardens and adventures, where the children can run around freely. Another of my children’s favourite attractions is Prival, also located on the outskirts of Grodno. What I enjoy about this location is that it has a central barbeque section where friends and families can gather, while being surrounded by all the activities the children can participate in. These activities include electrical bull riding, zip-lining, go-carts, trampolines, archery and shooting, climbing and sliding on balloon structures, baking cakes and much more. If one was not to barbeque here, one can either dine at one of the restaurants or at the hotel which is on the banks of the Neman River. Sporting facilities as well as boat rides are available from Prival as well. Both the above locations allow parents to enjoy themselves while the children go crazy in a large cordoned off area which is safe for the children to play in.

History. If you love history the way my wife does, you will love Grodno. Initially when my wife said she has to educate me and proposed taking me round to a few museums, my first thought was “boring.” The first museum she took me to was the History Museum in the so called ‘Old Castle.” The history of Grodno dates back to the times of the Vikings and Knights, so there is ample historic sites and facts that provide you with a glimpse of the past, catering for those with diverse interests in history. It felt as if I was travelling in a “time machine” through the ages of kings and all the chivalry associated to these times. Because Polish and Lithuanian kings and princes resided there, it is also known as the “City of Kings.” Grodno is furthermore known as a “museum under the open skies.” The city centre has narrow cobblestone streets that bare interesting stories and the remnants of history. One frequently sees tourist groups coming from the neighbouring countries wondering around in the city. The fact that Grodno is identified as a free visa zone for the period of 15 days, facilitates tourists visiting Grodno to explore the city and its attractions. Experiencing the history of Grodno is definitely not boring.

I hope my impressions and experience make you want to visit Grodno, as I believe you will not be disappointed. It is a beautiful city, with a multitude of attractions which are enriched by its friendly people who love interacting with foreigners. There is so much to cover about Grodno and its surroundings that I will have to fit it into another article. As Saint Augustine said: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” I hope to share many more of my “pages” with you.

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