Thanks to your semester abroad years ago–even though it feels like yesterday–you’ve traveled throughout Europe fairly extensively. You could help write a guidebook about Florence. You’ve visited more cities in Spain than ones in your own country. And speaking French really is like riding a bike–at least in your mind. But now you regret not exploring farther east, and you’ve spent your last few European trips trying to fix that.
You never pictured yourself visiting Belarus. It wasn’t even on your radar, really. But you’re enjoying the Baltic states’ small cities so much that you decide to continue to Grodno, just south of the Lithuanian border. Grodno is a small city–though city is a pretty generous term–along the Neman River. During World War I, it was occupied by Germany; the Soviets took over during World War II and wiped out the Jewish community. Today, the city’s skyline is dotted with Catholic churches, as Grodno has one of the largest Roman Catholic populations in Belarus.
Visit Old Grodno Castle, a medieval fortress on the hillside. Nearby Kalozha Church of Sts. Boris and Gleb, which was built in the 12th century, is the oldest church in Belarus. And then go to the ornate Farny Roman Catholic Church and the Bernardine Church, a 16th-century Renaissance-style church whose bell tower was rebuilt after World War II. And that spaceship-like building that looks like it’s about to take off from the hilltop? It’s the Drama Theatre, a strikingly modern building in the middle of all the religious historical sites.
When you’ve finished exploring for the day, it’s time to head outside of the city center to find your hotel. Don’t worry, it’s not far. It’ll be easy to return to visit Neman Glassworks and its outlet store tomorrow. The Kronon Park Hotel is located in Pyshki forest, a picturesque woodland filled with old trees, chirping birds, and cross-country ski trails in the winter. The classic hotel’s gravel driveway is lit up with white lights when you arrive. Warm up by the lobby bar’s fireplace with a cup of coffee or something stronger. Relax in the hot sauna by the indoor pool. And listen to live piano music as you eat beef tartare, sea bass rolls, and a poppy-bilberry duet in the dining room.
In the morning, watch the freshly fallen snow glisten in the sunlight off the verandah. Breakfast in the white, airy room includes home-salted salmon and still-warm cakes. The snow might delay your plan to return to Grodno. Between the bright sun, the fresh powder, and the snow-covered trees, you might have to strap on skies after all. It may not have been part of your plan, but Grodno wasn’t part of your plan to begin with, anyway.