Belarus is called a blue-eyed country. When you think about such a picture, you’ll hardly imagine something that has eleven thousand blue eyes. But that is actually the number of lakes all over the country. Add 34 000 rivers and 1650 water reservoirs and swamps, which cover up to one-third of some districts, and you will understand why Belarus has no problems with water supply. But still, in landlocked Belarus,there is no access to any of the seas, including the nearest Baltic and Black Sea. That is probably one of the reasons why Minsk citizens call the biggest water reservoir, that they can experience, a sea. For the same reason, they organized sandy beaches, parking lots, kite-surfing schools and everything else that you need to spend a great weekend by the Minsk Sea.
Frankly speaking, you can’t officially call the Minsk Sea a lake (or a sea as, if you’re still in doubt)). Its official name is “Zaslavl water reservoir” (or “Zaslavlskae vodaskhovishcha” in Belarusian), and it’s the second largest artificial water reservoir in Belarus, after Vileyka. The Minsk Sea was created in 1956, when a mole was built on the Svislotch River in order to reduce floods and make a recreational area outside the city for citizens of a rapidly growing capital. In the 1950s, the river and ground waters were sufficient for the city. But then the industry started to develop, and the demand for water grew with it.
Today, the Minsk Sea is a part of Viliyka-Minsk water system, which brings water from Vileyka to Zaslavl, through Krynica and Drozdy to Minsk. The reservoir’s water surface area is 31,1 square kilometers and with 3,5 meters of average depth. If you think jogging around it would be an interesting idea, consider the fact that 51 km long coastline will make it harder than running a marathon. There are 11 islands to swim to and several forests on the shores to walk around.
I live almost in the city center in Minsk, and there is one thing that makes my guests and me thrilled – the seagulls, which fly around every day, competing with pigeons, crows and sparrows for a better meal. Whenever I hear them making their typical noise, I remember the quote from one tale by Vera Polozkova (a contemporary Russian poet and singer): “It’s a must to live at sea, mother”. And if such a feeling catches me on the weekend, it may result in a series of following actions: checking trains timetable, making a couple of phone-calls, grabbing hike-clothes from a distant shelf, and packing a bag for a great trip, regardless of the season. Be it snowy winter, windy spring, sunny summer or rainy autumn – you can always find an activity to enjoy time spent at the Minsk Sea.
Belarussian language doesn’t have an analogue of a Norwegian word “utepils”, but when the first bright days start to arrive after the winter, a lot of people will go outside to enjoy their first barbeque at the Minsk Sea. For some radical picnickers, it might even turn into their first swim of the year, so don’t get shocked seeing people coming out of water when it’s around 10°C outside. Main beaches are equipped with an outdoor stationery grill, but they might either be wet after snow/rain or occupied by other picnic-lovers, so better BYOB (bring your own barbecue). Toilets are scarce, so you might prefer to check out the nearby bushes, but beware of the ticks, as they are pretty hungry in April and May after a winter sleep. If you come with pets, use the repellents. If you come without pets, still use the repellents and try to leave as less skin open as possible. Don’t let ticks restrain you from going to the Minsk Sea. Being aware is being half-prepared, we say in Belarus.
If it’s warm outside, it’s sometimes pretty hard to find a free spot for your towel or blanket at the Minsk Sea beaches, especially at sandy parts. Make sure to reserve your spot by coming before noon, and hide in a tree shade, if the sun is too strong for you. Official beach areas have benches, changing booths and small sheds. Swimming is allowed at all the official beach areas, but every year, doctors warn everybody not to take any dips starting from the mid-July due to active water-bloom, which can cause some diseases in case of water getting inside your body. Still, you’ll see a lot of people swimming in July, August and September. It’s not that they’re not aware of the risk, that they don’t think it’s as high as doctors say. There are plenty of other options: you can also play volleyball, rent a bike, book a trip on a ferry, yacht or even a swimming sauna with your friends (amazing experience for a birthday party and other celebrations) or even take a windsurfing lesson. And if you’re hungry, several summer cafés are at your service. Check the event posters around the parking lots, there might be a great open-air party organized at the Love Island in summer.
Whilst in spring the forest has no leaves to show, and in summer you can see only 50 shades of green, a bright autumn day at the Minsk Sea will let your camera filters take a day off. Depending on the period, you might get all shades of yellow, orange, reddish and brownish around you. In combination with the blue sky and reflection in the water, it turns every shot into an award-nominee at some world class photo contests. Also, if you’re a fan of mushroom picking more than taking beautiful pictures, you might find a lot of them deeper into the forest. Just make sure you have your GPS with you, check each step of yours in order not to get into a swamp and NEVER try eating raw or cooked mushrooms until at least three locals and Wikipedia tell you it’s edible.
Normally, water starts getting covered in ice in December and melting back at the end of March. Global warming changes the picture each year, making it possible for the twisted weather to keep the temperature down to -20°C for a couple of weeks sometimes, allowing us to ice skate at some beaches (especially beach №3, 4, 5 and 6) perfectly safe. At the same time, ice-skating near the mole might be dangerous, please, restrain from it. You will need to bring your ice-skates from the city (rent them in the city center or make friends with locals and ask them to lend you a pair), and ask a friend to come along in case of emergency, cause it’s hard to find somebody out there in winter, which is at the same time a perfect reason to come here for a stroll. Vast area, covered in snow and surrounded by dark fir trees and pines at some parts, will give you a thrilling feeling of a grim winter fairy tale. And from beach №5, you can also walk up to a small island nearby, making it even more surreal.
If you’re not afraid of a quest for a fishing license, grab your fishing rod and enjoy a full-day fishing from the mole, discussing how (un)lucky you are by the end of the day. Winter fishing through ice-holes is also a great experience, a real chill to empty your mind. And if you prepare for chilling that your body could benefit from as well, visit one of the three health centers (Yunost, Praleska and Primorskiy) located at the shores. You’ll feel like you’re back in the USSR at its best.
The Minsk Sea is located 17 km away from Minsk, and there are several options on how to get there. I prefer getting there by train (check https://www.rw.by/en/for the timetable) from the Minsk central station (“Ploschad Lenina” subway station) or Minsk Northern station (at “Molodezhnaya” subway station). Tickets can be bought from the box offices which are a bit hard to find, so make sure you have at least 20 minutes before the train departs to find them, or a local who can take you along and make it much easier (universal advice for all kinds of travelling around Belarus). Ask for tickets to “Minskoe More”. When on the train, find your way to the exit after you hear “Zhdanovichi”, as your station is the next. There are also two ways of reaching it by car. If you arrive from the M7 road side of the reservoir, you can either get to the beach №6 and yacht club or park straight near the mole and walk your way to the beaches 2,3,4,5. Another way would be to follow the road №H9036 from the other side, after passing the Zhdanovichi district and arrive at the car parking near the beach №5. Whichever mean of transport you decide to choose to reach it, you’ll get a great weekend by the Minsk Sea in landlocked Belarus.
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