Despite being totally landlocked, Gomel offers swimming and relaxing on the side of its river, the Sozh. I`m not sure how clean the waters are, I didn`t risk it!
Unlike in most of Western Europe, in Belarus you can have a barbeque almost anywhere in the country. Additionally, the country is not as dense with population is most of Western Europe is, so you are more likely to be undisturbed.
On this occasion we visited a Dacha, a village house, and walked out into the countryside to a forest to cook Shaskliks, skewered, marinaded meat kebabs cooked on an open fire. Great!
Favorite Dish: Shashlik!
Karchma Budzma is a new Gomel restaurant offering traditional Belarussian village cuisine. The restaurant is located close to the city center, on Privokzalnaya street, and inside is decorated like a Belarussian village house. The decor is nice and the restaurant is cosy.
Each evening the restaurant also hosts dancers who, sporting traditional Belarussian costumes, dance to old songs to entertain the diners.
The food at Karchma Budzma is good, offering a number of typical Belarussian dishes such as Drianiki, Halubzcy and Babka. Prices are extremely low by Western European standards, and affordable for the locals.
The restaurant is always busy, popular amongst the young locals, but is a must visit location for tourists to Gomel. I recommend making a reservation to prevent disappointment.
Staro Vreme is a new, Soviet style restaurant located close to the city center of Gomel. The restaurant is split into three rooms, each with a different theme. The first area is the bar and smoking section, and the bar is styled like a Soviet trolley bus. Soviet films are played on a projector.
The second part is themed with Soviet era films, scenes of which are depicted on the walls, which are also decorated with hammer and sickles.
The third and last section is decorated in the Soviet village style.
The staff in Staro Vreme are friendly and helpful (and dressed in Soviet school uniforms). The menu offers a very good selection of traditional dishes, including a number of Soviet era specialties from different regions and classes.
Although it is possible to find cheaper cuisine in Gomel, Staro Vreme is very reasonably priced, a 3 course dinner for 5 people, including a bottle of imported wine, cost us 235k BYR or about 65 EUR.
Favorite Dish: I loved the Draniki (potato pancakes) with home made kolbasa (sausages) in a creamy mushroom sauce!
A lot of radioactive fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl accident fell around Gomel (See this MAP). Many areas remain in the countryside which may still carry radioactive particles. Food, particularly short stalked vegetables like mushrooms, and fresh-water fish may carry radioactive particles and pose a danger to life.
Most cultivated food is grown in safe areas and monitored by government policies, although the government recently opened up land for farming which previously was considered contaminated. It is very common for locals to pick mushrooms and fruits in the forests and sell these on the side of the road. Be careful eating foods if you are unsure of their source. This includes both fresh and preserved products.
In market places there are sometimes stations where you can check the radioactivity of your goods.
When i was in Gomel there was absolutely no problems,but if you go around the country side,expecially in the direction of Chernobyl nuclear plant,it's better that you drink just mineral water.The fields are still not totally washed from the radiations,and anyway we don't eat vegetables from there every day,so our body can have different reactions.It's better that if you go in the small villages u ever drink mineral water and not home water,'couse it can give you some problems and you could need a bathroom in everymoment.
Most people need a visa to enter Belarus, with the exception of people from the following countries (You should check with you local consulate before travelling for most up to date information):
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan
Three types of visa are available, Transit (A Russian visa is no longer valid for transit through Belarus), which lasts for 72 hours. A single entry/ordinary visa, which is valid for 30 days. And a multiple entry visa, valid for up to one year, with maximum stay of 30 days at any one time, mainly for business use.
Visa's must be obtained from a Belarussian Embassy or Consulate, they are not issued at the border. Once in Belarus, you should register your visa with the local OVIR within 3 days, normally your hotel will take care of this. For all visas except a transit visa medical insurance is required with your application.
When I travelled to Russia, staying for a few days in Belarus, I obtained first a Russian Tourist Visa, and a Belarussian Transit Visa. The former was necessary for the latter. There is no land border between Russia and Belarus, so it doesn`t matter so much if you stay longer than the maximum 72hrs, it could only affect your registration in Russia (although for me there was no problem) which may result in a small fine.
The staff at the Belarussian Embassy in Bonn where polite, efficient, and there was no problem in obtaining the visa. In fact, the staff added an extra day before and after my requested dates. The Russian Consulate on the other hand was disorganised, inefficient, and unfriendly, but no problems where experienced obtaining the visa.
If travelling by rail, you should be careful if your train crosses the border after midnight of the day for your visa.
The Department of Visa's and Registration in Minsk can be contacted on +37517 220 15 05.
The currency in Belarus is Belorussian Rubles. Booming inflation in Belarus has lead to a great reduction in the value of Belarussian Rubles, for which there are around 2,800 to the Euro!
Despite the offer from Putin, and promising talks since 2001, Belarusia's Alexander Lukashenko recently refused to accept the Russian Ruble as a single currency, replacing the Belarusian Ruble.
If you want to exchange a lot of foreign currency for Belarusian Rubles, you are advised to do so early in the morning, when the Exchange Centres open. The reason being, since Belarus does not have so many foreign visitors, their exchange centres do not carry a high amount of currency. However, once you have changed your currency into Belarussian Rubles, it can be difficult trying to change it back again into hard currency, and you are prohibited from taking a "large" amound back over the border.
US dollars, and to a lesser extent the Euro, are fairly widely accepted as an alternative to the Belarussian Ruble. It is common to see semi-armoured vans in public places, with people queing up to exchange their hard earned Belarusian Rubles for harder US currency.