Traveler and blogger Bill Wiatrak from the USA had visited all European states but for one. Last month he finally completed Europe’s bucket list with a trip to Belarus.
“Prices are low, a visa is not required and you’ll have a unique experience in a one-of-a-kind country. What are you waiting for?”
Not a challenge anymore
Sharing his impressions from Belarus, the traveler admits there is a number of minuses – like the absence of a coastline and the lack of any famous landmarks an average tourist has heard about.
“Belarus has been one of the most challenging European countries to visit because of its difficulty in obtaining a visa. All of this just sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?” Bill writes.
On the other hand, travel requirements significantly changed at the beginning of 2017.
“Instead of having to find sponsors to vouch that you’re not a spy, or being required to pre-book some ridiculously priced tour to get that coveted visa stamp, you can now enter Belarus visa-free for up to five days,” the traveler admits.
Great if you are tired of crowded tourist places
The American believes that Belarus can be “a great little stopover while you’re visiting someplace else in Europe”.
The country would especially interest those tourists who have been to a lot of places and want a unique experience.
“Belarus is definitely different. It doesn’t have to be your entire vacation. You can grab a cheap flight with Austrian Airlines (or other inexpensive carrier) from a European city such as Milan or Vienna and enjoy a 2-3 day stopover.”
“Prices are cheap and you won’t have to fight hordes of tourists even in the summer,” he says.
Good transport system
Most of the city centre in Minsk is easily available on foot as “most of the sites are lined up”. But one can take advantage of public transport as well – Bill found buses cheap and Uber inexpensive.
But he advises to leave the capital and explore “some treasures” in the rest of the country:
“Belarus isn’t that large and has a nice highway system with beautiful forests, lots of rest areas and traveler conveniences.”
Little English so knowing some Cyrillic is helpful
Language is one the of the biggest issues worrying tourists who plan a trip to Belarus. Well, you can get by with English, but it is a good idea to prepare some local phrases in advance.
“Many of the younger people can probably help you as well as those who work in hotels, travel agencies or other tourist-related businesses,” Bill shares. And adds:
“It’s very helpful to learn the Cyrillic alphabet before you leave. There are a lot of phone apps available for this and learning the letters is not as difficult as one might think.”
In fact, you’ll be surprised how many Russian words sound the same or very similar to the English ones: hotel, taxi, parking, restaurant, etc.
“You can even print the letters on a card and carry it around with you. You’ll rarely see any signs printed in the Roman alphabet,” the traveler says.
What to mind about Belarusian character
If you decide to make friends with a Belarusian, there are a few things to mind.
“They’re not big huggers or “Hey! How are you doing?” people. They’re reserved, somewhat serious at first, and hard to get to know,” Bills admits.
It is easier if you have friends in common or are introduced through someone they know.
“You won’t find a country of more hospitable friendly people,” the traveler concludes. “You just have to get past that wall.”
A bonus: steamy experience if you risk!
During his stay, Bill was invited to banya – a Russian sauna – by his Belarusian friends.
It was a timber cabin that the hosts had built with their own hands on the outskirts of Minsk.
“When my host released the lock and walked into “the room,” I was reminded of Death Valley or Dubai in July. It was hotter than hot. But I could deal with it. I am from Texas after all, and I’ve endured some of the hottest and most humid days known to man. Bring it!”
To complete the experience, there were some rituals to observe.
For example, wearing sauna hats, adding natural infusions into the vapor and… slapping one’s back with tree branches:
“He pulled the branches out of the water reservoir, shook the excess water off of them and started beating me with them. Yes. I’m serious.”
All that may sound strange to an unprepared ear, but you will most likely feel VERY GOOD after banya. So did Bill:
“We got dressed and then I realized I felt really really good. Maybe there was something to this insane heat and tree branch beatings… I’m pretty sure that’s the best night of sleep I’ve had in a while.”