Two autumns ago when I lived in Thailand, I had a short assignment for promoting CEE (Central-Eastern European) business. One of my tasks was to generate leads (sorry for tech language, I can’t say it any other way) for IT companies based in Belarus.
As soon as I mentioned to my friends the name Belarus, I got an immediate comment:
Let’s put it that way; there are all sorts of governments out there and they do lots of controversial things. Belorussian government is well-known as “the last dictatorship in Europe” which again, could be a subject for debate. Whatever the opinion about the politics is, it doesn’t mean that there are no people living in Belarus who want to connect with foreigners.
I was invited by my friends to join a motorbike trip to Belarus and sad “Yes” to it straight away. We had to apply for a visa and put up with procedures and costs to get it because we entered to Belarus on wheels, but there is good news for those who like flying: If you fly into Minsk airport you don’t need a visa if you stay up to 5 days. This is a new governmental legislation, which has only been signed in Jan this year. The list of countries who are included in this policy is here:
And here is what I found and how it was:
1. Idyllic Countryside.
Just a bit of history: For many centuries a large chunk of Belarus belonged to Poland. This has changed with the end of WW2 when the new borders of Poland and its neighboring countries were established by the Allies. The landscapes are very similar at times to those of Eastern Poland.
Just for the record, I was born and raised in the east of Poland, very near to Ukrainian border. I couldn’t help the feeling that I am back in my childhood days when I used to visit my grandmother in the countryside… Juicy green forests, picturesque views and charming little village houses. We stayed in wooden houses at Airbnb, which were one of the best features of the whole trip, no doubts about it.
2. Not too pricey.
I wouldn’t say that everything in Belarus cost less than in Poland or Czech Rep. for example, but it’s fair to say that the country isn’t too expensive to travel. The petrol cost less, the Airbnb and cigarettes too. Not, that I care about the latter, but some of you do! The food is good and won’t break your bank either. And in Minsk, you can pay by card pretty much everywhere.
3. Frozen in time.
For the fans of Soviet times who like to admire objects of that era, Belarus is a great place. Massive monuments, crazy statues, and buildings from the Soviet era are everywhere. The architecture is definitely way different to the West, yet not so different to the east of Poland.
One thing varies though; the country seems to be frozen in time, what can make your visit actually an experience. Whereas the differences between Western and Central European countries are gradually fading, Belarus has its own ‘timezone’ and moves at its own pace.
4. Blue eyes.
Don’t get me wrong. I like people from all nations and find them attractive regardless of where they’re from, but I also noticed that there is something in particular in some Slavic people’s blue eyes. A kind of deepness that can’t cheat. There are some people of that deep blue sight in Poland and there were many Belarus. You look into their eyes and you know, that it is good to them.
(Okay, I have no photos with blue-eyed Belorussians, sorry! The dolls are pretty though!)
5. Wholehearted people.
From Airbnb owners who prepared dinners for us to random people met on the street who simply wanted to chat, because they don’t have an opportunity to see travelers often. People are friendly and even though not many of them speak English they’re eager to help if needed.
*We spoke Polish because is very similar to Belorussian. Nevertheless, it’s worth to learn a few Russian or Belorussian words. It will definitely make a difference to your stay.
6. Make up your own mind.
Most importantly, when you visit the countries who are either unpopular or painted badly by the media you can make up your own mind about them. Most of the times, it’s guaranteed that you’ll come back thrilled by how amazing it was. The thing is, that people who live in these ‘unpopular’ countries will appreciate you more than in popular touristic places, or on backpacker tracks. They don’t see many travelers and will try harder for you to have a great stay. Most of them may not be able to travel like you, so they’ll be delighted to have you around.
Every country does what it takes to feel superior to others. This is needed, otherwise, they couldn’t progress. Same with us – We need to feel better than others in order to know how far we got. The good way to do it is that we feel good and be proud of things that matter: education, open mind, and kindness.