Andrew’s Impressions: Minsk, Whitehorse, And Everything In Between

Introduction: A Non-Erotic Journey From Milan To Minsk (And Whitehorse)
Andrew’s Impressions: Minsk, Whitehorse, And Everything In Between
Review: Air Italy Business Class A330 New York To Milan
Review: Renaissance Minsk Hotel
Review: Marriott Frankfurt Hotel
Review: Condor Business Class 767 Frankfurt To Whitehorse
Dog “Sledding” With Muktuk Adventures, Whitehorse
Review: Air North Economy 737 Whitehorse To Vancouver


Hey everyone, I just wanted to give you some of my thoughts on this trip. For more detailed reviews of each segment, read Ben’s posts.

Air Italy: JFK to Milan

I was so excited to fly Air Italy. They recently underwent a major rebranding, and I was curious to see if I minded the angled flat seats. (By the way, does Air Italy’s logo remind you of anyone else’s?)

It’s fun to fly with the…

JFK’s Terminal 1 is one of the saddest places I’ve been — imagine taking all the worst characteristics of the DMV, a minimum-security prison, and a bus station and combining them into one unpleasant place, and that’s Terminal 1.

Caught a glimpse of our Air Italy A330 from the AirTrain JFK.

The boarding process was pretty disorganized and chaotic. At one point they told us they would be boarding business class last “for our comfort,” which made no sense. Thankfully they changed their minds.

Mess at JFK T1

Once aboard, the experienced changed completely. The flight itself was really nice. I had no problem whatsoever sleeping on the seats – the angle was barely noticeable.

Settling in for the flight to Milan

The food was actually amazing. The only area where I think they could have stepped up their game a bit was dessert, where you had a choice between fruit, cheese, or a just-okay strawberry cake thing.

I guess the pajamas were impressive, but I didn’t really think they were necessary. Plus, they only had an Extra Large, so I ended up looking like Notorious B.I.G.

Business class was served by an all-male crew, something I’ve rarely experienced. They were all friendly, gracious and professional, and smiled genuinely at every interaction.

Belavia Milan to Minsk

No references were made by the flight crew to the strange, erotic journey featured in Seinfeld. But overall it was a solid flight. I would recommend Belavia for intra-Europe travel to anyone. Ditto for connecting in Minsk.

Belavia planes in old livery at Minsk National Airport

The food wasn’t great…but the fact that they had food at all is commendable! And the crew was efficient and cordial.

Chicken sausage, pasta, and vegetables. Hard pass.
Tomatoes, bread, and dessert (a “chocolate zephyr”) that came with the meal on Belavia.

Minsk

The Renaissance was a solid hotel. The staff was friendly and the lounge was comfortable.

Renaissance Minsk
I don’t want to Minsk words, but judging by this title on the room service menu, the food was to die for.

I was expecting Minsk to be austere and unfriendly. I had heard about how it looks like the USSR before its collapse. While it’s true that some of the architecture and atmosphere felt kind of Soviet, on the whole it was a modern, accessible city.

The most ornate KFC in the world?
National Library of Belarus
Minsk
Subway in Minsk
Minsk subway station
Soviet-era architecture in Minsk
Oh hi, Lenin

Oh, we also visited the Cat Museum, which was…an experience. It’s not so much a museum as a place where a bunch of cats live, which has cat-themed artwork on the walls and stuff you can buy. They are all rescue cats and they can be adopted. They seemed to be well looked after by very caring staff, so it’s not a kitty prison.

In general, the cats were pretty indifferent to our presence (as you’d expect), but one of them kept looking at me and eventually started putting her paw on my shoulder (she was sitting on a shelf). I realized that she wanted to climb on me, so I let her. It was cute.

Cat Museum
Made a new friend.

Overall Minsk was very clean…but there was a lot of litter around the Cat Museum. (That was a pun.) Seriously, it’s probably not a place where a typical family would want to spend a week’s vacation, but based on my experience it’s certainly not a place to avoid. I also found the people we encountered to be friendly.

Lufthansa Minsk to Frankfurt

Not much to say about this segment, other than that we arrived at the remotest stand at Frankfurt airport and took a bus ride that felt longer than some short-haul flights.

Frankfurt to Whitehorse on Condor

This flight got off to a rocky start — we boarded and were eventually told there was a mechanical problem that couldn’t be fixed and that we’d need to board another plane. We ended up departing a couple hours late.

The Boeing 767-300 we initially boarded for our Frankfurt-Whitehorse trip.
The plane that we ended up taking to Whitehorse after the first one went mechanical.

The cabin was nice enough, and reminded me of a typical business class cabin. The aircraft was on the older side, but looked well-maintained. Kind of like Harrison Ford.

Pre-departure beverage on Condor 767-300 Frankfurt to Whitehorse
It seemed like the right time for a selfie.

The food they served was completely decent — it wasn’t memorable, but it was good. I would say the same of the service. Everyone was nice, but nothing really stood out. Really, these days in air travel, as long as I’m not treated like I’m a burden, I’m happy.

Frustratingly, my entertainment system kept freezing, and also inexplicably had a much more limited selection of movies and TV shows than Ben’s — something was clearly wrong with it.

And I couldn’t pass the time by sleeping. The seat wasn’t ideal…this angle was definitely more noticeable than that of the angled-flat Air Italy seat we’d experienced a few days earlier.

Landing in Whitehorse was a highlight of the flight, as we had some cool views on descent and at the airport.

On descent into Whitehorse
Aerial view of Whitehorse
Backtaxiing at Whitehorse Airport (the taxiways couldn’t accommodate the 767)
Backtaxiing at Whitehorse Airport (the taxiways couldn’t accommodate the 767)
Air North ATR at Whitehorse Airport

This may not sound like a glowing review, but given the price we paid (a little over $900 for business class on a flight from Europe to the West Coast of Canada!), Condor was an incredible value. For a similar price, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again (not that I plan to be in the market for a flight from Frankfurt to northern Canada again anytime soon).

While Condor business class might not have the “wow” factor that other airlines offer, you do get lounge access, premium seats (albeit not fully flat), upgraded dining, and just about everything else you’d expect from business class at a fraction of the usual cost.

Whitehorse

I’ll be doing a separate post on an activity we did in Whitehorse, but here I’ll share my general impressions. I was kind of expecting the town to be a bit run-down and kind of backwoods.

I was surprised — while it’s not exactly a megacity, it’s not tiny either. Even setting aside the amazing scenery for a moment, the town is beautiful. The only thing they really need now is a Park Hyatt (we stayed at a nice AirBnB, since lodging options were a bit limited).

As far as natural beauty goes, it’s one of the most scenic places I’ve ever been (though going at a time when the leaves were changing probably helped as well). It was chilly: even in mid-September it was below freezing in the mornings, but would warm up to the mid-50s later in the day.

Standing atop Gray Mountain near Whitehorse

One thing I learned is that Ben does about as well in cold weather as a palm tree. He barely survived the trip from the parking lot to the Tim Horton’s when we went to get coffee in the morning.

My one regret is that we didn’t see the Aurora Borealis. It looked like viewing conditions were going to be ideal, but we didn’t want to stay up all night to see it, as we were pretty jet lagged by that point.

We downloaded an app that was supposed to alert us when there was Aurora activity nearby, and Ben woke me at about 3 am to show me the alert. My response was basically “I don’t care if it’s raining chocolate chip cookies, please let me go back to sleep.”

So maybe another trip to Northern Canada is in order. Before this trip, Whitehorse hadn’t really been on my radar, but now I wouldn’t hesitate to go back! I’m also anxious to check out Yellowknife and Iqaluit (perhaps trying First Air and Canadian North in the process).

Whitehorse to Vancouver on Air North

Based on my previous post about Air North, you can guess that I was excited to fly with them from Whitehorse to Vancouver. Check-in and security at Whitehorse Airport was adorable. The Air North employees seemed to know several of the passengers, and even hugged some of them.

The aircraft itself was “vintage,” reminding me of some of the planes I traveled on as a kid…but everything worked fine and was well-maintained. Legroom was ample. The slice of berry cake that I had for breakfast tasted like it was made in someone’s home kitchen (on some other airlines, I occasionally wonder if the breakfast was made in a pet food factory).

Even with no in-flight wifi or power outlets, this was one of my more pleasant shorthaul flights in 2018. One of the highlights was the scenery out the window.

Air North Whitehorse to Vancouver

Then as Ben headed back to the US, I spent the day in Vancouver. I visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge and the Granville Island Public Market. What a cool city!

A bridge at Capilano Park
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Walking through the trees at Capilano Park
Granville Island.

Bottom Line

It was a little tough to explain to people at work that I was going to Belarus and the Yukon on the same trip. But it was a great trip, and Ben was a good sport about putting up with my cat cafe puns.

Some people have told me that a trip where you spend as much time in the air as on the ground doesn’t appeal to them…and I respect that, just as I would rather have a root canal than watch a football game. For me, getting to try Air Italy, Belavia, Condor, and Air North in one vacation was a great way to spend a few days!

Enjoy this review? Check out hundreds of other reports on airlines, hotels, and airport lounges worldwide!

Comments

  1. @Andrew is a great read. This was my first time reading him. Dry wit always welcome and humour doesn’t have to be “accessible”; it’s fine if some don’t get it.

    But one thing has bugged me since I started in this game and since I started reading reviews and blogs. Why do educated, literate, articulate people with sensible interests and cultural curiosity (like Andrew) concern themselves with IFE? Have we truly evolved beyond the book? For me the greatest pleasure in daytime flying is reading a good book, putting it down from time to time, appreciating scenery outside (even if it’s just clouds) while I ponder, then resuming reading. Sitcoms and car chases cannot compete with this experience. In my last 20 flights, usually in premium cabins with good IFE, I’ve used it only for the flight map.

    Indeed, why should I close my blind so other people can watch screens? Just in case I’m not the only one, here’s what I say when the flight attendant tells me to lower my blind: “Is this a crewmember instruction? If it is, I’ll obviously comply, as required.” It’s a great way to make friends.

  2. “The aircraft was on the older side, but looked well-maintained. Kind of like Harrison Ford.”

    That’s gold Jerry!

    Seriously, that is very very funny.

  3. @DenB Most passengers won’t be at a window seat, since on a widebody, only 2 seats in each row are at the window. So we can read books or watch the IFE, but not look out the window.

    I think it’s useful to provide an assessment of the IFE. I know some carriers provide little in the way of English entertainment and that’s useful to know if one is on a 14-hour trans-pac flight.

  4. @Jim good points all. Thanks for the perspective. I remain sceptical, though, observing that most centre-seated passengers chose a centre seat. Moreover, I nearly always find that among window passengers, I’m nearly the only one with an open blind during daytime flying (longhaul, premium). So, at your prompting I’ll be sympathetic to centre-seated people who’d much prefer a window, which I’d guess is 1 in 20. The rest, if seated at a window, would watch the screen with their blind closed, during daytime flight and would not read a book. I’m kinda back at my original point: nobody reads, everyone stares at screens and hates me for keeping my blind open.

    I’m over 55, probably relevant to my depressing theory about this.

  5. @DenB I often pick a center seat due to the configuration. If it’s a 2-2-2, then the center seats are the only option where I won’t have to step over my seatmate or vice-versa, to use the bathroom. Almost all my business class flying is for work so I travel alone.

    Personally, I do read on flights but on my tablet or phone, because I can carry a bunch of books that way with no additional weight, compared to real books. Then I watch the IFE during meals and while trying to fall asleep. However, I have no problem with people wanting to watch the IFE the whole flight. I’ve done that a few times myself if it was a particularly exhausting day before my flight and I want to veg out — usually happens on the way back.

  6. @DenB
    I totally agree.
    I also prefer to read off paper (usually catching up on periodicals, which I leave on board) and find blinds down during the day annoying, particularly on a Westbound flight because it makes jetlag worse.
    I choose window for daytime, and centre (if no direct aisle access) for overnight.
    The reading lights are usually far too weak for comfortable reading.
    So if in the centre I often read off my Kindle, which as Jim mentions, is great for accessing books without weight.

    It’s the number of people watching the big screen rather than using their own Kindle or ‘phone that I find surprising – that way one is in control, whether it is text or video.
    People complain about lack of choice of content, when they could easily have lots on their device.
    Those airlines which offer “connect you device to the screen” seem to offer the best solution.

    It’s even worse in Economy where the boxes involved for the IFE often deprive numerous passengers of legroom.
    Was Swiss111 the only crash due to an IFE system?
    Egyptair 804 is still a candidate.

    And how about all the fuel used to carry the extra weight?

  7. I love these impression articles. If someone travels with you Lucky can they do an impressions article on the trip (I’d love to hear your parents, Ford, etc.)

  8. @Andrew, we need more of you! Both posts by you and pics of yourself (may I suggest poolside shots :-p), please. 😉

    Seriously, though, great trip report! That Belavia meal is seriously unappetizing. Even if they had just served the box with the tomatoes, bread, and dessert, that’s more than you’d get on most intra-Europe flights.

  9. @Den –

    The greatest joy of long haul flying is being able to curl up (as much as my 6’4″ frame will allow) in my seat with a good book. And a bloody mary.

    I, too, love to bliss out by simply staring out of the window.

    Perhaps it has something to do with our generation not being enslaved to gadgets.

  10. “The boarding process was pretty disorganized and chaotic.”

    It´s Air ITALY, what did you expect? 😉

    That hot Belavia meal I probably the least appetizing airplane meal I have ever seen. Still, at least you got a hot meal, its more than most European airlines offer on short haul.

  11. What a great read Andrew!

    As i write this, i’ve just checked for flights to Minsk because i need to visit that cat Museum!

  12. Are commentors here really in heat like street dogs?
    A writer posts a selfie and you lose what little you have of decency?
    You realize there’s free porn on the Internet, right?
    GO get it, beat off, come back (or don’t).

  13. “Just as I would rather have a root canal than watch a football game”.

    HOW DARE YOU! You are now on my list of least favorite people on this blog, even after debit!

  14. And the award for most effective analogy goes to Andrew for the 2018 writing of ‘The aircraft was on the older side, but looked well-maintained. Kind of like Harrison Ford.’

    kudos

  15. Great post Andrew, I love your style of writing… And your ability to make me smile and laugh throughout the same post.

  16. Andrew, you’ve got an awesome sense of humor, trip reports are funnier when you tell them and your perspective is refreshing.

  17. You should def check out Iqaluit. But totally book your lodging well in advance. Since the Arctic Hotel was closed for college students to use, the Frobisher and Discovery are often booked solid. That said, the place is very walkable and is full of friendly people.

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