Monday, 11 June 2018

A Country Called Belarus.

There is a country called Belarus which I haven't heard of and needless to say, I was pretty excited about visiting it. 

The first thing I did was to find out where Belarus is?  Belarus is located on the eastern end of Europe and is bordered by five countries namely, Russia to the east, Latvia to the north, Lithuania to the north-east, Poland to the west and Ukraine to the south. It is a country without any coastline but the Belarusians created their own sea just not to lose out.

Belarus or officially known as The Republic Of Belarus was part of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. Despite gaining independence, it is still ruled by a dictator and communism is still very much alive there. Belarus is said to be the only European country that is 'not free'. It is also the first country I've visited that requires visitors to purchase travel insurance before being allowed to go through its immigration.

When I showed my 'AIG' insurance policy to the immigration officer, she thoroughly scrutinized to see whether the name "Belarus" is printed on it. Fortunately I have been forewarned about this and got through the immigration without any hassle. Those who fail to show this document will be made to purchase a travel insurance from a booth which is set up near the immigration counter. This is the first fun fact I learned about Belarus!

During my short stint in Belarus, I noticed there were very few foreign tourists. This is despite the fact that Belarus is offering a 5-day visa-free travel for 80 countries. I dislike overcrowding so I believe I have chosen the right time to visit Belarus that is, while it is still 'unspoilt and not over-commercialized'.

The capital city of Belarus is Minsk and that was where I first headed to. Minsk was established in 1607 but the city looks modern and is very well organised. Being the target of foreign invasion, this city has been destroyed many times during the course of European History but painfully rebuilt and reconstructed after each destruction.

The first landmark I saw while travelling from the airport to the city is a small neat hill with a monument on top. This 'Hill Of Glory monument was constructed to commemorate Belarus’ liberation from the Nazi invaders and to honour the Soviet troops who fought in World War II.

Many streets in the city center are lined with stately buildings built with Neoclassical and Stalinist style architecture.  Along Niezalezhnasti Avenue in the city center, you can see long rows of such buildings.

Many buildings, especially places of worship bear a resemblance to the ones seen in Russia. This is St Mary Magdalene Orthodox Church with domes and cupolas that are typical features of Russian architecture. The official languages of Belarus are Belarusian and Russian even though the Russian language is more popularly used. By the way Belarus is also known as White Russia. 

There is one part of the city that houses many historic buildings.

Some buildings are exact replicas of the originals like Minsk City Hall which was rebuilt in 2003.

There are casinos everywhere. In Minsk itself there are about thirty casinos. Apparently these were established to attract visitors from neighboring countries (Russia and Ukraine) where gambling is banned.

Some parts of the city are very modern with state-of-the art structures.

Just like most European countries, Al fresco dining looks like a popular affair here. Beds of fresh flowers by the dining place has always been a cheerful and radiant sight I so adore.  

You can see street arts at the most unexpected of corners within the city.

I stayed in Crowne Plaza, a hotel very near to Minsk's major attractions!

My room was cosy, with impeccable cleanliness and came with facilities that were really commendable!

The Belarusians love potatoes and it has become a joke that they'd eat potatoes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper. A thick potato pancake known as Draniki is their national dish. Unfortunately I didn't get to try any potato dish in Belarus.

Here's what I had for my first meal.

Generally retailers in Belarus do not except currency other than Belarusian Rubles. Even Euros are not welcomed in Belarus. Fortunately credit cards are accepted everywhere including meager toilet entrance fees. I have never used credit card to pay for amount as low as BYR0.50 (RM1.00)  but I did it in Belarus and I thought that was cool.


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