Minsk surprised me.
Brest disappointed me.
Grodno really won me over.
It started with my hotel – the Hotel Slavia, just blocks from the main square and a short walk from the bus station. Unlike the monstrous Soviet-era hotels I called home in Minsk and Brest, the Hotel Slavia felt more like a bread and breakfast.
When the receptionist cheerfully showed me to my room, I wondered if there had a been a mistake – I walked into a room close to the twice the size of any other hotel room I have stayed in on this trip. I had a double bed, couch, coat rack, flat screen TV, refrigerator, tea kettle and an enormous bathroom. I immediately regretted booking only two nights!
Luckily I fought the urge to just chill out in my luxurious hotel room and went out to explore the town.
Grodno (also known as Hrodna) sits near the borders with Poland and Lithuania and historically was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and then the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. A Lithuanian Grand Duke was born in Grodno and two Polish kings died there.
The town wasn’t pulled into the Russian Empire until the late 18th century and wasn’t part of the Soviet Union until the start of World War II, when it was incorporated into the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic.
It didn’t surprise me, then, that Grodno didn’t feel very Russian or very Soviet at all.
Except, of course, for the fact that its main square is still called Sovyetskaya Square
Despite its precarious location, Grodno did not suffer severe damage during World War II. Therefore, many old buildings are still standing, including the Church of Saints Boris and Hleb, dating back to the 12th century, and the Bridgettine Convent, founded in 1642.
I can’t say there was really anything in particular to see in Grodno – no major sights other than a few churches, a nice park, and an underwhelming museum.
But everything was just so darned cute.