Tucked away on the Eastern fringe of Europe, and close friend of Russia, Belarus is a country that is similar in some ways to Holland, in that it's very flat. One might also say a bit boring because of it. But in terms of history, it's very rich indeed. The people I met there were some of the coolest people i've met on my travels. Warm, friendly, unpretentious, generous and overall a good laugh.
Brest was my first stop in Belarus, as I crossed over from Poland. It's famous for the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, signed at the Brest Fortress, and let Russia out of WWI, It was two decades later the scene of some of the worst bloodshed of WWII, when the German's chose here to begin their ill-fated assault on Russia in the summer of 1941. 9 days of intense bombardment lead to massive casualties. The river in the picture ran red with blood. Even after the German's marched on to Moscow, pockets of resistance carried on in obscure basements and dungeons in the fortress. It's truly an impressive place to suck in the history.
Currency: Belarusian Rouble (BR)
Visa: Most Western countries and non-former USSR countries will need a Visa, as well as a letter of invite.
Plug: European round two prong, 220v
GMT: GMT +2
GDP Ranking (IMF): #62 £9,390 (similar to Uruguay and Botswana)
Communications: Country code is +375
Health: No vaccinations are necessary for Belarus. TB is becoming more common in Belarus, and something a visitor should be aware of. Health Insurance is mandatory for Belarus.
When to Visit: Belarus has Northern Hemisphere seasons, as well as a continental climate. This means hot summers and cold winters. Therefore it's best to visit in late spring or early autumn.
Personal Safety: Belarus has a low crime rate, due to austere policing. Jaywalking is a fineable offence here. Usual awareness should be taken in urban centres. Up to date advice from the F&CO here.
Getting Around: The train takes the strain in Belarus, can visits most major cities. The bus network is more extensive with prices similar to the train. There are no internal flights. Car hire is is best arranged in Minsk.
What to see/do: The Fortress and huge statues at Brest are well worth a visit. Brest was the starting point of the Nazi invasion of Russia during WWII, and where the Belarusian forces showed intense bravery. Also here are the ruins of the White Palace, where the treaty of Brest Litovsk was signed. The treaty marked Russia's exit from WWI. Dudutki and Mir allow one to enjoy the Belarusian countryside. While Nyasvizh is one of the few areas to have survived WWII, also home to Radziwill Palace Fortress. Nature lovers can enjoy the UNESCO listed Belevezhskaya Pushcha National Park, home to Wisent (European Bison), living amongst ancient woodland. Minsk is the capital, and provides many activities and restaurants the visitor would expect. Unfortunately most cultural centres use only Belarusian signing. The Museum of the Great Patriotic War is one example of this, although well worth a visit. I found the Zaslavsky Jewish monument rather moving, in fact combined with the Great Patriotic War Museum, gives a strong feeling for the suffering Belarus has endured. The statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky (founder of the pre KGB, Cheka), opposite the KGB building, should tell you all you need to know about how Belarus is still suffering.
Food & Drink: Belarusian cuisine rarely differs from Russian. Some differences include Draniki, a type of potato pancake, and Kolduni, potatoes stuffed with meat. Also worth searching for are Manchanka, pancakes in a meaty gravy. Alcoholic drinks don't just include vodka, , Belavezhskaya is a type of bitter tasting herbal drink. Unfortunately imported beers are forcing out local beers. Krinitsa Kult Svetloe is a good wheat beer, and Krinitsa Starazhytnae is lighter lager beer.