10 things I wish I knew before going to Belarus
Going on a trip to an unfamiliar country, we usually try to get acquainted with the traditions, culture, and laws in advance to spend our holiday as useful and exciting as possible. And today we are traveling to Belarus!
Belarus is not only tractors, mighty bison, and potato dishes. The country is famous for its endless forests and fields, countless rivers and lakes, unique architectural monuments, and ancient castles.
To make your trip to Belarus fascinating and full of local flavor, we suggest you to learn some facts that will help you understand what you need to know before visiting.
Belarus is a presidential republic. The official name of the country is the Republic of Belarus. If you do not want to fall into the disgrace of friendly Belarus people, do not call their country "Belarussia". This name has disappeared from the world map along with the collapse of the USSR, so you will look ignorant when you call the country by its old name.
The area of Belarus is 207,595 km2. Belarus population is almost 9.5 million Belarus people. There are two official languages - Russian and Belarus language, so, Russian-speaking tourists, do not be afraid of being misunderstood. However, learning a few original Belarusian words and confidently using them in conversations with citizens is considered the highest point of respect and genuine interest.
Belarus is a very religious country. 60% of the Belarus population recognized themselves as believers, with 82% of them preaching Orthodoxy, 12% - Catholicism, 6% - the rest of the confessions.
Are you wondering where is Belarus located? Well, Belarus is located in the central part of Eastern Europe. The country has no access to the sea but can boast of picturesque natural landscapes.
The climate there is temperate continental - it means that you won't freeze in winter, and you won't be exhausted from unbearable heat in summer. Warm and humid - this is how you can characterize the average weather in the country.
Minsk, the capital of Belarus, is a heroic city. There are five regional centers - the cities of Gomel, Mogilev, Vitebsk, Grodno, and Breast.
Belarus borders Russia and Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. This fact could not but affect the image of some Belarusian cities, which look quite European.
1. The most outstanding sights
Of course, once you get out of the country for a couple of days, there's a lot you can see. One needs at least a month to get into the original culture and feel like a native Belarusian in the country. Nevertheless, the list of the main attractions, mandatory for every tourist, is as follows.
It represents the remains of an ancient forest that stretches from the Baltic Sea to the Bug River. It is the largest forest area in central Europe. There you can see the visiting card of the country - the bison - in their natural habitat.
Brest Fortress is one of the best places to visit in Belarus. A place where all the power and invincibility of the brotherly people can be felt. At the site where the complex is located, you can learn more about the defense of the fortress - the entire millennial turn of the history of the city is collected in museums, monuments, temples, and squares, which stand on four islands.
Mir Castle complex was built using three architectural styles at once - Baroque, Gothic, and Renaissance, which could affected its unique appearance. There is a museum in the castle, and the area around it is dignified with a picturesque park with old plantings and a lake.
Palace of the Rumyantsevs and the Paskevichs
Yes, it is a real palace, the owner of which was once Count Rumyantsev's favorite of Catherine II. Walking around the columned hall, "golden" dining room, "white" and "red" living room, you will be able to feel the extraordinary atmosphere of past centuries, as well as enjoy the work of outstanding artists of Belarus. By the way, the palace is located in the most beautiful park in the country on the bank of the Sozh River.
It is one of the oldest cities in Belarus, first mentioned in 862. There are many reasons why one should visit this magical city. Let's name three of them: listen to one of the best organs in Europe in the St. Sophia Cathedral, worship the relics of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk and see the monument dedicated to the particular letter of the Belarusian alphabet - "Ў" (pronounced "at the warehouse").
2. What is a vacation in Belarus like?
Going to visit Belarus, you should decide on the type of holiday. The country will please you both by skiing and cultural and educational tourism, but some kinds of travel are still typical only for this country.
Suitable for those who are tired of the city noise and bustle and want to relax "in the village". You may be offered accommodation in a manor with a fireplace and a swimming pool, visiting a bath and sauna, leisure time for fishing and hunting. Fans of simple peasant rest can choose accommodation in wooden huts with a stove. To fully immerse yourself in village life, you can cook, wash, plant seedbeds, and even milk cows.
Thanks to the untouched nature with picturesque forests and swamps and the beautiful world of flora and fauna, Belarus has gained fame as one of the best places for ecological tours. There are national parks, nature reserves, and wildlife preserves on the country's territory, where one can enjoy ecotourism with delight.
Belarusian sanatoriums and health resorts offer one of the best recreation and recovery organizations in Europe. Its location in pine forests and on the banks of water bodies is itself healing and calming. And the significant effect of mineral waters and therapeutic muds contributes to the treatment of several diseases for a reasonable price.
4. National cuisine - what to taste and how much does it cost?
It is impossible to fully immerse into the spirit of Belarusian flavor without tasting national dishes. Having tasted some gastronomic delights, it may seem to you that you have tried something similar at home. Certain delicacies will be a discovery for you both in names and taste.
Draniki, or "drank" (depending on the jargon), is a well-known Belarusian dish. Few people know that it was influenced by German cuisine. However, a dish made of grated potatoes will be handy when visiting the country - "bulbash". (P.S: "bulb" means potatoes in the Belarus language). The average cost of a portion is 2-8$.
Michalka - thick meat sauce served with pancakes. The price varies from $6 to $12.
Kholodnik - summer borscht made of beetroot with kefir. It is customary to taste with cooked potatoes. The average price is $1.5-4$.
Sbiten - a hot broth of herbs, spices, and honey (from $ 0.5).
Krambambulya - alcoholic tincture on honey and herbs. It is consumed both in the cold and hot form (from $2).
As you can see from the presented list, Belarusian cuisine prices are pleasantly pleasing, as is the taste of traditional dishes. You can taste Belarusian cuisine both in hotels and in the usual canteens. The most common and quite budget is the chain of cafes "Lido", where a lot of Belarusian dishes are presented.
5. Mentality and character of Belarusians
The Belarusian character is similar to the nature of all Slavic nationalities. However, one can point out the main national qualities inherent only in Belarusians:
Have you heard anything about wars or revolutions on the territory of the modern independent Republic? We hope that you won't hear anything for a long time! It is because the Belarusians are a compromise nation and know how to negotiate. Even Belarus's national anthem begins with the words: "We are Belarusians, peaceful people".
It is a well-known and undeniable fact. Since childhood, Belarusians are accustomed to work - household duties distributed among all family members, even the youngest ones. Not to do anything and earn a lot - this is not about them.
Belarusian cities stand out from other post-Soviet cities with their neatness and cleanliness. And this applies not only to the capital of Belarus or regional centers, which are mostly visited by tourists. In villages and towns, the presence of a trash bin is an integral part of the infrastructure.
Another feature noted by foreigners in Belarus is endless hospitality and willingness to provide services - these are the main qualities of a good host, a true Belarusian.
We hope that now your trip to Belarus will become an exciting and informative one. However, preparation for your visit to the country does not end there. Let us abstractly dwell on what we need to know to avoid annoying troubles and mishaps.
6. Visa-free visit to Belarus
Many nationals can stay in the Republic of Belarus for up to 30 calendar days without obtaining a visa. This rule applies not only to citizens of the European Union - there is a whole list of countries allowed to visit visa-free. However, you should arrive and depart only through the national airport "Minsk" in this case.
7. Ban on filming
There is an implicit ban on photographing and videotaping administrative buildings. Of course, it does not mean that as soon as you are going to take "selfies" in the background of the KGB office or the Interior Ministry, a police patrol with flashers and automatic rifles will immediately come to you. Still, you should not create a problem for yourself and spoil your journey by not following such a simple and straightforward rule.
8. What should you not take to the metro station?
If you are traveling with a large bag or backpack, be prepared for increased interest from the police when you descend into the metro. After the explosion in 2011, checking bulky luggage has become commonplace.
If you try to answer the patrol's question about the presence of prohibited items in a joking manner, you have to be detained and taken to the police station. And then your rest will be spoiled for sure.
By the way, you won't be allowed in the subway with food that can contaminate other passengers (for example, with ice cream or hot dogs). You will be politely told about the rules of conduct in the subway by the metro staff.
9. Alcohol and smoking
Drinking alcohol is prohibited in the streets of Belarus by law. Also, one shouldn't carry an open bottle of liquor in his hands - it's equal to drinking it. However, this ban does not apply to cater to facilities.
Smoking at playgrounds or transport stops can be punished with a fine.
An interesting fact is that moonshine is also prohibited. However, one officially registered moonshine machine is located in the ethnographic museum "Dudutki". Here you can both try the received product and buy it.
10. Free museums
Don't forget to include the museums and theatres of Belarus in your list of mandatory places to visit. However, do not hurry to do it right away - some cultural institutions have days of free or reduced visits. Don't miss out on a chance to save money.
Daiva was born in Lithuania, but almost all her conscious life she lives in Belarus - the most beautiful region of lakes, forests and fields. She has always liked to put her thoughts on paper, whether it was keeping a diary or a school essay. By the way, while she was still a schoolgirl, Daiva wrote a children's book. No less critical hobby in her life is travelling and visiting new places. The nearest and the main goal for Daiva is the dream of a miniature house by the sea in picturesque Spain. The list of countries she visited includes such countries as Turkey, Egypt, Thailand, Bali, India, Sri Lanka, Spain, Montenegro, Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Russia.