I literally asked this question to a lot of my friends and there was no one who could have given me the right answer. It, again, confirms my theory that there are so many gems out there we do not hear about. A not so small country, as bigger other more known countries such as Greece, Iceland, Portugal, or the Netherlands, we will be visiting the 13th biggest country in Europe.
The landlocked country has a border with 5 countries (Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia which reminds me of Senegal, which has a border with as many countries. The 9th biggest producer of crude oil in Europe is quietly going about its business and staying away from the media attention until recently when a civil uprising to protest against President Lukashenko has gained quite some traction. Although I try to avoid speaking about politics in my articles, I am quite surprised to learn that their president has been in power for 26 years, which is rather unusual in Europe. Welcome to Belaya Rus or Belarus!
So there are not a million options to go to Belarus from London as it is not as popular as Paris or Milan, hence the high price tag (£260!) however with my intention to conquer Europe (more like to visit every country in the continent), I simply had no choice. The alternative I have discovered, quite late in the game though, is that one can purchase a ticket to Vilnius for £50 then another one from Vilnius to Minsk for about £60, saving yourself £150 you could use for your hotel - Thanks Nouche!
The flight is rather long for those, like me, who cannot sleep on planes as it is just shy of 5 hours. Not a surprise if we are going to one of the easternmost countries in Europe. Renting a car🚗 was also rather cheap, I paid circa £40. There were no long queues like in other European hubs I have been to. One thing to mention though is that it is probably the cheapest country I have visited to date. I spent less than £50 in restaurants for the whole 3 days I spent in Minsk. Budget 💷 - £400 but I would like to again say that I could have saved £150 had I known the trick with the flights.
After visiting 66 countries, I can officially say that the Belarusian visa is the most difficult one to have.
No eVisa or application via the post is allowed for a Senegalese passport holder
The hotel reservation must be done via hotel websites directly and anything from a broker will not be accepted
The hotel must issue a document to confirm your booking and address a letter to the embassy one is applying from
The applicant must obtain a guarantor, in Belarus to confirm the reason behind his/her visit and that the intention is to return to one's country at the end of the stay. This can either be a Belarusian citizen or a travel agency.
The original documents are to be presented at the embassy for the application and the postal charges are to be taken care of by the applicant - There are no electronic means
A bank transfer of €60 is to be sent to the embassy's account and proof to be printed and brought on the day of application
It usually takes 5 working days to hear back from the embassy
Off you go!
Where to stay?
Well, I think there is only one place, not literally but I just loved Hotel Belarus. A beautiful hotel with loads of amenities. The rooms were spacious, and the best part was the very low rate and the fact that the prices as constant regardless of whether it is a last-minute booking or an early one.
Although I booked a single room, I was upgraded for free and the receptionist even gave me an itinerary to follow along with the nice places to visit.
Have you seen a water slide in a hotel swimming pool?
Credit: Hotel Belarus
Rate: Br91 (£26/€30/$35)
Because there was not a lot of information about things to do or places to visit, I stuck to the route I had been advised by the hotel receptionist. I also wanted to visit the mound of glory, the park of stones, and the Drazdy Reservoirbut there was a sort of a blizzard for over a day, and I had to just remain in the hotel and enjoy whatever I could find on site.
Самалёт Б52 (Samolet B52)
You may be surprised to see this but the Boeing B52 has a monument named after it in the heart of the Belarusian capital. This bombardier is a subsonic plane with a long-range reach that was unveiled in 1955 and was made famous by the United States Air Force (USAF).
I remember back in March 2020, I refused to stop traveling because of Covid-19 and believed it was just going to disappear very quickly just like other recent pandemics and was pulling my tongue to all those I labeled pessimistic but I guess it was just me not being realistic.
The bomber remains legendary to this day despite its age and the advance in military technology. I am yet to find out why it was so important in Belarusian history though but guess that will remain a mystery for the time being.
Belarusian State Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War
I think it is the most famous landmark in the country as it comes up in all Google searches involving the name "Belarus" or "Minsk" however it is not random as it was built to commemorate the War after the end of Nazi occupation and also the first World War II museum to open while the fight was still going on - How is that for bold?
I assisted in a ceremony (during the start of the blizzard) and stood away not to be rude but an old chap came up to me to ask where I was from. He spoke none of the languages I speak (Wolof, French, English, and Spanish) and I speak no Russian or Belarusian therefore we just made us of a combination of sign language and names. Most were surprised to see me there but I was surprised to see a lot of citizens of Arab countries in there, whom I had a chance to chat about and most were there for health reasons which made me assume the healthcare system in Belarus is excellent.
You can actually attest that I am a tough guy from Senegal who braved the windy cold weather with just my jumper on.💪🏿
This photo expresses a lot of emotion for me. It got me thinking about the millions of families that could not be formed because of war. Those promised that were never kept for reasons that were indeed within mankind's control yet preferred bloodshed to peace and harmony.
Entrance fee: Br9 (£1.25/€1.39/$1.65)
Сквер Старосцінская слабада (Skvier Starascinskaja Slabada)
This is not a landmark as such but on my way to the island of tears, I decided to spend some time strolling around the park and observe nature go about its business. The quite impressive park spreads along the Svislash river that splits the city in 2. Both sides of the river are quite similar, unlike in Istanbul where people from each side of the river live differently.
I can only imagine how popular this place can be in summer as temperatures can reach up to 24°.
Nature right at the center of the city...
Just another spot I think worth visiting among many others I did not get a chance to see "thanks" to the weather conditions. As you may have figured by now, I am not the type to plan every single aspect of a trip but that is also the reason why I discover certain gems unknown to Google.
Island of Tears
An artificial island has been built to honour Belarusian heroes. The landmark was built to commemorate the Soviet soldiers from Belarus who died during the war with Afghanistan (9-year long) in the 1970s.
The monument depicts grieving women who were left behind by their sons, husbands, and brothers.
It can get quite windy as well because it is an open-air museum. The chapel was closed on the day I was there but you can see the other side of it from the gate.
The island really expresses the emotion of grievance and those dark days Belarus has gone through. I cannot help but think why our leaders never look at ways not to make war and attempt to fix longer-standing issues that get them to fight in the first place. By saying that, I am thinking about poverty, hunger, health, and many others they far more than most of us. Belarus (White Russia) is really worth visiting to learn about geopolitics and history for the whole reason behind the creation of the country is to separate from Russia that was considered less pure due to Mongol mixing.
Until next time...