Circus is very popular in Belarus. Here circus is art, tradition and cultural institution.
Unlike the other cultural institutions like Philharmonic or the Opera, the Circus' season continues year-round and performances take place multiple times a week.
Around Belorussian National State Circus you can find a beautiful circus sculptures.
We come to Belarus from Russia, on the way Moscow to Minsk in early morning by bus. And, even our organizer keep telling us to stay awake and prepare our passport there no border between today two independent countries. From 1998 both countries have a sign special political and economical agreement and formed a special Union State. Precisely, on December 8th, 1991 up to now, Russia and Belarus are part of regional organization named the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Many signs in Minsk are on Belorussian and Russian and many are on Russian language only.
Architecture, culture, arts, education, economic, religion, family relations and common roots united people.
On entrance on Nemiga metro station you can find a monument and memorial plaque as remembrance on tragedy that take place here on 30th May 1999.
Some relevant information - many people of Minsk, that day come on on the river bank on Svislach, where was a Beer Festival, organized by the brewery " Olivariya " and attend to concert which dedicated to band name "Mango-Mango". During concert, the storm began and people try to hide in nearby metro station. As a result of stampede 53 persons was killed, including 40 women and two police officers who were trying to save people. Most of the dead ware young people aged 14 to 20 years and more than 150 people were injured. After investigation and trial the official cause of the incident was a tragic set of circumstances.
Interesting is that during our first night in Minsk on Oktyabrskaya square my friend and I visit outdoor concert who is dedicated to pay homage victims of Namiga tragedy.
That it was a nice part of Gorky park. The 'Love Path' is a small bridge. The story attached was very romantic. This is place where lovers have been hanging padlocks and they do that since the 19th Century. The aim of this traditional is, of course, to symbolize their eternal love and promises. It was suggested for couples to carve their names on the padlocks, then hand them on the bridge, and throw their keys forever into water.
Minsk, hero city, after long atheistic period during soviet times regain its religious roots and believe.
During my visit the city, I learn that Virgin Mary was considerate as protector of Minsk and you can find, along the socialistic symbols, and many billboards and posters of Mother of God surrounding by four angels in specific shape witch is also a specific for icon. I bought a small wooden magnet in GUM for for the memory of the visit to the city.
As it was planning from beginning of construction Afghan memorial monument on Island of Tears complex it was place to remembrance and pay homage to national heroes.
You can see a big garlands with memorial ribbons around chapel and Angel guardian statue. Family and devotees left here and that is their way to pay homage to their loved once and national heroes.
Minsk follow tradition of some other places all over the world whose have a good marketing and successfully commercialized their monuments and places of interest. So, our guide are told my and my friends that tourists throw some money in little pond-fountain beneath angel guardian statue (some version of wishing well) if they wont to visit Minsk again.
Since, in Belarus no coin you can see or throw some small bills.
I as notice, in Minsk weddings are huge cultural manifestation and involve not only family and friends then whole community, like in Balkan region. It held always in Saturday, because many people can visit wedding ceremony.
I was surprise when I found out that Afghan war memorial on Island of Tears are place where young couples visit on their wedding day. Not to mention about modern folk belief regarding little sad angel guardian monument on Island. That sad monument found somehow a place on newlyweds happy day like some kind of fertility idol. Like on many monument that people touch you can see some part of monument that is shinier then rest of monument. The custom is that at the end of visit bride gropes privates of angel-monument and she would be guaranteed by children. All right, it was a little funny but it would be interesting to found out how is that sad monument become part of celebration of new unity and life.
Minsk are city with long tradition. First official record of city was 1067 in the "Tale of Temporal Years" as Měneskъ (Belarussian: Мѣнескъ). It was part of principality of Polotsk at that time and it mention of famous Battle on river Nemiga.
City authorities decides to establish the date of 2 September 1067 as exact founding date of the city even it has archeological and others evidences that city (by then fortified by wooden walls) had certainly existed much earlier.
Our guide (host) take our group on place where is belief that city was "born". It is a 8th March Square. That is area across the Cathedral square and Trinity suburb. There you can visit a special place call Zamchishche (Castle sites). This area was center of Ancient Minsk from 11th till 16th centuries. We dint visit a huge yellow building (I think is part of some institution of cultural and historical significant). In front of it, on riverbanks of Swislosh river, is historical monument that consist from contours of church with memorial steel in center of it. It dates back from end of 11th or beginning of 12th centuries. It is planning to reconstruct the church, according the our guide. But not in the time of my visit of city.
The historical sites of Minsk are: Zamchishche (Castle Sites), Lower Market, Upper Town, Trinity (Troitskoye) and Rakov Suburb.
Besides those places, according the State List of Historical and Cultural Values of the Republic of Belarus, there is many other places of interest all over City of great national and international significant.
On local kiosk you can buy very interesting and informative map of Minsk with street index with special attention on Places of Interest. All that places are reachable within walking distance.
Unfortunately for almost all travellers a visa is mandatory for Belarus. We organised our visas through a travel agency in Vilnius in Lithuania, which was also the starting point for our 10 days trip to Belarus.
Already from our first trip to Lithuania we knew that we could get the visa for Belarus from several travel agencies in Vilnius.
So this time I got in contact with a few of these agencies by e-mail before our trip. We finally decided to order the visa through the travel agency Viliota, which is also recommended in the Lonely Planet guide.
The lady in charge was more than helpful and also quite quick in answering our questions by e-mail.
We even sent copies of our passports in advance so that everything was already prepared on our arrival.
We went to the travel agency Viliota on a Monday morning and could already collect our visa to Belarus on Tuesday afternoon.
The cost for this express service was 151 Euro for the visa, 10 Euro for the invitation letter and 11 Euro for the mandatory insurance.
The travel agency Viliota is located about 1 km west of Vilnius old town, just near the crossing of the streets Algirdo and Vivuskio.
Address: Viliota, Algirdo g. 6, 03011 Vilnius
Website Viliota: http://www.viliota.lt/
As Belarus is still widely undiscovered by tourists, it is quite unsual to find anything in English language.
The two official languages of Belarus are Russian and Belarusian, which are both written in Cyrillic letters and share many similarities. So at least a basic knowledge of the letters or even better of the Russian language seems to be absolutely necessary for an individual trip through the country.
All street signs, timetables and other travel related things are in Russian and/or Belarussian only. Also in restaurants we hardly found any English menus. So be pepared for an adventure not to miss.
Restaurants and pubs in Belarus often offer imported beers from other countries. The Russian beer Baltika seems to be one of the most popular ones.
My first proper local Belarusian beer was an Alivaria Zolotoe. The Alivaria brewery was established in 1864 in Minsk. Nowadays the beer brand belongs to the Carlsberg group.
I also drank a Rechitskoe pivo, which is brewed in Rechitsa in the Gomel region; and a Brestkoe Pivo from the state owned company of the same name.
On our last evening in Belarus I tried a Lidskoe Pivo. It is produced in Lida in the Hrodna region. The brewery has been taken over by the Finnish Olvi drinks company.
All Belarusian beers were quite okay and absolutely drinkable. If I had to chose one as my favourite it would probably be Lidskoe Pivo.
Alivaria - Website: http://www.alivaria.by/
Lidskoe - Website: http://lidskoe.by/
Belarus is a country of cash, so credit cards are not as widely accepted as in Western Europe. The local currency of Belarus is the Belarusian Ruble, which exists since about 1992. Due to massive inflation the Belarusian Ruble has been redenominated with 3 zeros chopped off in 2000.
The current Belarusian Ruble is abbreviated BYR. The subunits are kopeykas, but actually don't really exist. 11 different Banknotes of amounts between 10 and 100.000 Belarusian Rubles are in circulation.
We got our Belarussian Rubles from cash points (ATM), which are widely available in bigger cities. Exchange Offices can be found at major airports, train stations and hotels.
I found it quite interesting to see that petrol stations display the prices alternating in Belarusian Rubles, Russian Rubles, Euro and US Dollars.
Not precisely a cultural 'tip' but I would strongly urge you to find a morning or afternoon to visit the National Art Museum. Although it is located on a grubby side street and seems to have been bypassed when money was handed out for landscaping, the museum is nevertheless a small gem. The collection includes wonderful works by some of the best artists Russia (and Belarus) have ever produced, including Repin, Serov, Chagall, and Malevich. You'll find more than paintings here: among the things on display are ancient wooden sculpture, church utensils, graphics, decorative and folk crafts, and even Central Asian bronzes. There is, perhaps understandably, not a lot in the way of 'Western' art, but the Russian collections are well worth the visit.
Location: vulitsa Lenina 20. Open every day except Tuesday from 11 am until 7 pm. I don't recall the entrance fee but it was something truly minimal. They also have a useful and informative English language website (listed below)(from which I 'borrowed' this picture).
Money in Belarus can be confusing and difficult to deal with. The most striking thing is that they have NO Coins. You need a good-sized wallet if you are travelling here. Credit cards are not widely accepted, so it's loads of paper to deal with. There are 2 other issues to deal with. All currency was revalued in 2000 and the date is on all notes (please see the pictures). Also the currency is not convertible. You can get a small amount of money changed at the airport and then withdrawal money in major cities from ATM's. Outside of large cities, it is cash only! You cannot change the money once you leave, so don't change that much!
Also be careful with the exchange rate. Belarussians, outside of taxi drivers, are honest, but you want to know what you are spending.
1 United States Dollars = 2,145.91 Belarus Rubles (BYR) - SUBJECT TO CHANGE!