I've been to this country already in 1992, when I passed it on the Berlin-Moscow express, stopping in Brest for three hours and running around in the dark. But that doesn't count. And so we used the tour to the Baltic States to cross the Belarus on our way back. It was during the beginning of December - definitely not the best time to travel this region. I can only recommend to visit the country in summer.
There are tourist, business, transit and normal visa. A transit visa is good for three days and will ONLY be issued if there is a valid visa for one of the neighbouring countries or (when you travel to a country where you won't need a visa, e.g. Lithuania, Latvia or Poland) if you can show an onward ticket. The latter is hard to get when traveling around by train or by bus.
Travelers without a contact in Belarus who do not want to travel in a group or buy expensive vouchers should consider employing a visa service or a travel agency in one of the neighbouring countries. Sure that this costs a little bit more, but usually you will get back your passport on the same day. In that case, vouchers or a LOI are not necessary - all you need is your passport, pictures and some cash. Travel agencies in →Vilnius for example offer Belarus visa support. A normal visa which is good for a stay up to one month will set you back 65 Euro (the actual fee of the visa is 50 Euro). The travel agent takes care of the vouchers. An express visa (which means that you can enter the Belarus already the next day) costs 110 Euro.
It is necessary to register with the local authorities during the first day of your stay in Belarus. The registration is quite a hassle, but usually hotels take care of that. Hence, the first night in a Belarusian hotel is more expensive for foreigners than usual (at least in some hotels). The procedure involves filling in some forms (all in all four forms), and the forms are in Russian (at least at the places whe've been to). After that, a Spravkan (certificate) will be issued. It is definitely a good idea to keep the spravkans until you have left the country. Every hotel isssues spravkans. Theoretically, these small papers must be handed over at the border upon departure. However, when we crossed the border in →Brest, no one seemed to be interested in it. But I would not rely on this, so it is wise to keep all the papers you will get during your stay.
Private accommodation means that you will need to register with the closest OVIR office. Again, maybe the border guards are not interested in the certificates, but not having them when they ask for it would definitely cause some trouble.
The Belarusian currency is - not surprisingly - called БР - Belarusian Rouble, the most common (Latin) short form is BYR. Originally, the rouble was divided in 100 kapiejkas, but due to the inflation the kapiejkas (aka kopekes) vanished. Also due to the inflation, the paper money was often completely replaced. Note that for example many bills issued before the year 2000 are not valid any longer. The inflation seemed to have stopped - the question is for how long and by what measures. Note that there is no longer a shadow exchange rate. In 2004, the rate was 1 Euro = 2,880 BYR. A monetary union with Russia was planned, but obviously the plan was terminated.
The Belarusian money can drive you crazy. The reason for this is the large number of bills. There are no coins at all. Paper money comes in 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 BYR. After a few rides on the subway and some minor purchases you will soon end up with more than 20 bills, worth together less than 1 Euro.
In major cities such as →Minsk and →Brest there are ATM's, but only a few so that it might take a while to find them. They accept all major credit cards as well as EC, Cirrus and Maestro cash cards respectively. Many smaller towns have neither ATM's nor exchange booths so it is better to bring enough cash.
Attention: When telling the price, the word for "thousand" (tyisyach) is often omitted. This means when someone tells you that the price would be "dve sto" (2-100, i.e. 200) it often means 2,100 (actually dve tyisyacha sto!) BYR. This can be confusing at the beginning.
It goes without saying that it's virtually impossible to exchange Belarusian rouble outside the country. Therefore it is better to change back the remaining roubles while still in the country. The margin between the EUR↔BYR and the BYR↔EURO rate is rather narrow, so it is not a big loss to change money back.
Belarus would be a comparatively cheap destination in Europe, if there wouldn't be the archaic three-tier price system in hotels and museums, where prices vary according to the nationality of the guest. You might avoid this in museums when you speak some Russian - just mumble "One ticket please" in Russian and you might get away with the price the locals pay. Things are different in hotels. As soon as you ask for the room price, they will ask "What's your nationality?". Since everyone has to flash an ID-card or passport for the registration, it doesn't make sense to not tell the truth. This practice seems to be common in every place - even in the countryside.
This means that accommodation will devour a large part of the budget. When traveling together with someone else, a bed in a double room usually costs around € 15. A decent meal in a restaurant with starter and dessert and a couple of drinks will set you back € 3 - 5 per person. But it's also possible to have lunch for less than 1 Euro. A package of local cigarettes starts from 0.15 €, a bottle of beer is around 0.2 €. A train ride on the elektrichka (see below) from →Minsk to →Brest costs slightly less than € 4.
Travelers being reliant on hotels should allow for € 25-30 per person and day. There aren't many expensive museums and restaurants in the country, so it's hard to spend more (except for accommodation, of course). However, the price-performance ratio in Belarus is rather poor. Prices in the →Ukraine for example are quite similar, but the quality is often substantially better.
By plane, bus or train. There are several direct bus, plane and train connections from the neighbouring countries as well as other destinations in Central and Eastern Europe. Major transport hubs of the Belarus are →Minsk and →Brest. Both towns have direct train connections to Vienna, (from Minsk 22 hrs), →Prague (22 hrs) →Kiev (14 hrs), Moscow (12 hrs), →Vilnius (4½ hrs), →Warsaw (10 hrs), Berlin, (19 hrs), →Riga (12 hrs), →Chisinau (27 hrs), Brussels (27 hrs) and even to Novosibirsk (67 hrs) and Irkutsk (99 hrs). Note that there is an extra fee of € 11 on international night trains. Not all trains run daily so it's better to read the timetable carefully.
The cheapest way to go to the Belarus from Central or Western Europe would be via Berlin: Take the Berlin-Warszawa-Express to →Warsaw (6 hrs, around 32 Euro) and from there a local train to Terespol at the border (4 hrs, 7 €). Another local train hops the border for a few Zloty to →Brest. All in all, it takes less than 12 hours, the fare is 40 € only.
Attention: When crossing the border in Brest, all customs and emigration procedures need do be completed inside the train station. Hence, passengers have to show up at least one hour before departure, or else chances are high that they'll miss the train. Note that the local train from Brest to Terespol is very popular with smugglers (mostly cigarettes and booze), so the customs procedure, especially on the Polish side, might take a little bit longer.
There are also numerous direct international bus connections. Among others, there are busses to →Vilnius (4 hrs) and to →Riga via Daugavpils. The latter needs some 10 hours and costs 9 Lats (€ 13.5) during the day or 10 Lats (€ 15) for the night bus respectively. The night bus at least is very comfortable. Note that there are no direct bus or train connections to →Estonia!
Of course there are also regular international flights to the Belarus. However, it's probably difficult to get a good bargain. Most connections will be either via Moscow or via Kiev.
Belarus shares numerous border crossings with →Poland, →Lithuania, →Latvia, Russia and the →Ukraine. Attention: Several minor border crossings, esp. to Russia and the Ukraine, are only for locals and cannot be used by
According to various sources, customs inspection can be fierce (e.g. the import of electric appliances is strictly forbidden - don't know if that is true). I also heard that travelers need a special health insurance. So much about the theory. We didn't encounter any problems at all - customs was closed and so was the insurance office (we crossed at a minor post somewhere in the forests at 2 am). When we left, customs officials only wanted to see a foreign currency declaration. As mentioned above, it's better to keep all the papers you will get from the hotels etc. We were told that we would have to pay a 2.5 Euro emigration tax before leaving the country, but no one asked for a receipt...
Food and drinks
Not surprisingly, Belarusian food is heavily influenced by Russian cuisine, i.e. the typical heavy mayonnaise-soaked salads, pelmeni, more or less suspicious meat dishes, butter creme tarts etc.
|Local firewater: Vodka 'USSR|
A very popular dish are the typical Belarusian Dranniki - some sort of savoury potatoe pancake. Crepes can be found as well. By now, there aren't many international restaurants in the country, although you can see a (pseudo-)Chinese or an Italian restaurant here and there in the capital and outside. There's also at least one nice fish restaurant (see →Brest).
Generally spoken, the number of restaurants - even in Minsk - is comparatively small. In many small towns, there is only one place to go - the local hotel restaurant. There, the service is often Soviet style, which means either hearty or lousy. By the way, there are even some McDonalds outlets in →Minsk.
Don't expect good coffee - most places serve really bad, Turkish-style coffee. Note that some of the mineral waters sold in kiosks or shops are really mineral waters - the taste can be revoltingly bitter or salty - or both. Of course, vodka is very popular, with prices for a bottle starting at around € 1.2. But beer seems to become more and more popular. Acceptable local beer brands include Kryinitsa, Brestskoe or Lidskoye.
I suggest to change the miss info about direct busses from Estonia to Minsk to real info: Bus connection choise one:
By train you can go with Estonian train to Latvian border Valga --> http://www.edel.ee/?CatID=6
then train must be changed on the border
to latvian train, timetables can be changed:
From Latvia can already be entered to Belarus, but train from Lithuania can be utilased also:
Train from Germany
can be utilased also.
Posted by Timppa on April 6, 2008 04:22