We start our day by boarding the metro for the city market. It's best to visit in the morning when residents are out haggling for fresh fruit and vegetables that are on sale from nearby farms. You can see, and of course buy, a whole range of edible goodies here including meat, cheese, nuts and spices. You might want to pick up some snacks and drinks to have for the next couple of nights whilst we are staying in our remote forest eco station.
Minsk is a city with a long history, set on the banks of the Svislach River it was first settled by the East Slavs back in the 9th century AD. However, our guided tour this morning is going to focus on its more recent history, which has largely been dominated by Soviet rule that lasted from around 1920 to 1991. The city was almost entirely destroyed during World War II with around 80% of its houses and infrastructure reduced to rubble. Afterwards the city was rebuilt with its historic centre being replaced by Stalinist architecture with grand buildings, brutalist statues, broad avenues and imposing squares. Victory Square is the most famous part of the city and features a memorial to the fallen heroes of World War II. During our tour we'll have a brief visit to the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, which is the centre piece in Victory Park. This huge museum has hundreds of exhibits and two of the most poignant rooms are the Hall of Glory that celebrates the heroes of the Soviet Union and the emotive memorial found in the Hall of Remembrance and Sorrow.
Belarusian politics remains controversial with Alexander Lukashenko having ruled as president since 1994. During your free time for lunch you might like to dine in the Parliament's House of Representatives canteen where you maybe lucky enough to spot politicians having lunch. Next we drive to see Minsk's unusual Central Library building, with its unique architecture.
Late this afternoon we drive out of the city to the Naust Eco Station in the Naliboki Forest, which will take us about 1.5 hours to reach. Once here we'll depart on the first forest wildlife watching walk that we'll take during our stay. Each exploration into the forest will last for about three to four hours and the group will be split between two Russian Niva jeeps and a Range Rover that will be driven by our two local guides and our Explore Leader. The exact start time will vary depending on the season and weather conditions as it's best to try and spot the wildlife at dusk and dawn when they're at their most active. Our guides will take us on a number of short walks into the forest (we'll walk approximately three kilometres on each) to show us several different types of wolf dens and habitats, locate wolf tracks, scats and territorial marking, and perhaps to view photos of the wolves captured on the camera-traps. The terrain in the forest is uneven and can be boggy, wet and muddy underfoot so wellington boots and plenty of spare socks are recommended. Our wildlife watching on this trip doesn't take place from within hides but outside in the forest with our guides tracking animals through the woods. Wolves and lynx are highly intelligent and quite shy and so there is no guarentee of seeing them, but our guides will do their best to locate them. We will hopefully be able to spot other animals too such as beaver, deer, bison and wild pigs.
After our forest discoveries we'll have dinner back at the eco station that is prepared by one of our guides after we have returned to the eco station. Our meal will normally consist of soup or salad to start and then a hot main course made from local produce that is in season at the time with a local beer and followed by a cup of tea or coffee. If you have any dietary requirements then please let Explore know at the time of booking this trip. There is no bar at the eco station so if you fancy a couple of drinks after dinner then you need to purchase these in Minsk and bring them along with you.
We'll stay for two nights at the eco station, which is a true wilderness experience - there's no in-room television, no WiFi, limited mobile phone signal and no crowds of tourists. The eco station is located in a small glade within the forest near to the Volga River and it's from here that our guides conduct their scientific research into the forest and its inhabitants. It is a scientific station that's designed to be environmentally friendly and in keeping with the traditional building style that has been found in the forest for generations. It's not a guesthouse or hotel and so the facilities are basic. The station has three outside toilets, one shower and two small saunas shared by everyone. We'll be staying in a variety of different sized dormitory style rooms that all have simple rustic decor. No bedding is provided, so you'll need to bring you own sleeping bag (four seasons for winter departures) and although there are cushions provided you may prefer to also bring your own pillow.
Please note that depending on the time of year we may need to go straight to the Eco Station today in order to do our first wildlife watching walk before it gets dark. If so then we will instead go on our Minsk city tour on the afternoon of day four. Due to weather conditions and the time of sunrise and sunset our forest guide may adjust the number of forest walks that are included in this itinerary and also some walks maybe shortened or lengthed depending on the conditions. If this mean we're unable to go on a walk then our forest guide will instead tell us more about the enviroment, the wildlife and their scientific studies of the area.