Local currency: Belarusian Ruble
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.
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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/
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Official languages: Russian and Belarusian
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.
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Visa to Belarus
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/
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Minsk Internet cafes
Since Minsk doesn`t have a lot of these places, I figured I better write it down.
How it works: you give a deposit at the counter, then you are given a number of a computer you should go to. After you are done, you go back to the counter, say your computer`s number and the rest of your money will be given back to you.
1) The biggest Internet center when you can check your mail, burn CDs and DVDs, print some stuff, have something to eat (advert says they brew the best coffee in Minsk here) is in the Officers`Central House [Tsentralnij Dom Ofitserov].
Address: Krasnoarmejskaya Str., 3. Next to ''Oktyabr`skaya'' Metro station, on the opposite side from the Palace of Republic.
Phone: +375-17-226 02 79.
Hours: Works every day, day-and-night with 1 break from 7am till 8am.
2) Minsk Postal Office Internet cafe.
This place has something like 20 computers and can be pretty crowded.
Independence Ave., 10. In front of the hotel 'Minsk'.
3) Computer Club 'Level'.
Address: Partizanskij Avenue, 14. Next to the University, in the Ministry of Statisitcs building.
Phone: +375-17-296 26 78.
4) Internet Club 'M@xi' has 45 computers at your disposal.
Address: Gaya, Str., 4/1. 15 minutes walk from 'Yakuba Kolasa' Metro Station.
Phone: +375-17-268 69 65.
5) Oldest in town (opened in 1998) Internet cafe 'NSYS' offers 15 computers.
Address: Pervomajskaya Str., 20., korpus #2.
Hours: from 10am till 10pm every day.
6) Internet center "Hewlett-Packard".
Address: Nemiga Str., 8.
Phone: +375-17- 226-42-43.
Hours: 9am - 11pm, every day.
There are more of them, of course. I`m too lazy to write them down though. :-)
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Komarovskij market (indoor and outdoor)
Could be an interesting place to visit.
I personally love pancakes which are sold there from the stalls (at the main outdoor entrance).
It`s a nice opportunity to see where local Belarussians go to buy groceries (mostly veggies and meat).
The choice is huge, the food is great, the place is big and noisy like an antfarm. :-)
Address: V. Horuzej Str.
Hugry for some pancakes [ blin`i ]
You can buy pancakes on the streets from vendors. They are not expensive and taste really good. The filling can vary from jam, cheese, meet and mashrooms to caviar.
The one on the picture was taken at the Park next to the Observation Wheel 3 years ago. Mmm..., that pancake with red caviar sure was something..
There is a big choice of them in Komarovskij Market. Right next to the entrance - you`ll see carts all over the place.
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NO COINS - ANYWHERE !
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!
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One day our president decided to build another national library... He wanted to make it big and pompous, hoping for it to become a symbol of Belarus, a memorial of Belarussian architecture.
The money for the library were taken from all Belarussian citizens in a form of 'subbotnik' (that is how voluntary unpaid work on Saturdays is called). The word 'voluntary' should not be used really - there is nothing voluntary about people being told to go and work on a weekend.
Construction works began in 2002, the library was opened 4 years later, on June, 16.
End result: the library is 74 meters high and its 19 reading rooms can fit up to 2000 people.
To get there: 'Vostok' underground station.
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While in Minsk, if you need to translate a Russian document into English, here is a certified translator I used on more than one occasion: the head of 'Professional Translators Guild' - Vladimir Domorad.
Address: Gikalo Str., 3. 4th floor.
It was affordable (payed ~$4 for the translation of my birth certificate`s copy), fast (came to pick up the document an hour later) and professional.
If you need notary services as well, the Notary Office #1 can provide it.
Address: Krasnya Str., 5.
Hours: M, T, W (8.15am - 5.30pm), Th (8.15am - 1pm), F (8.15am - 4.15pm).
Lunch break: 1pm-2pm.
NOTE: A public notary here does a different job than in US: he/she notarizes the content of a document, not a signature on it.
To get an Apostille, you can go to the Ministry of Justice (also to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
Address: Kollektornaya Str., 10, office #106 (first floor).
The procedure: 1) Notarize the copy of your document first; 2) Then it must be brought to the ministry from 9am till 12.30pm; 3) Then make a trip to the nearest bank located on Korolya Str., 19 to pay for the service; 4) Finally pick-up your apostilled document from 4pm till 5.50pm.
Hold US dollar, spend BYR
Because of high inflation in Belarus, the exchange rate between Belarus rubbles to world hard currencies changes too frequently that the local people tend to hold dollars or other hard currencies instead of country money. It is possible to pay in dollars in the market, but in stores only belarus roblles are the offical currency. So, there are change stands in almost every big stores and a lot on the streets. The manner local people do shopping is like this: Get into the store and find out what to buy; calcuate the total amount of shopping and find the nearest change window to change the exact amount of belarus rubbles; back to the store and pay for the goods.
However, since we are foreigners, some slaesclerk can be so kind that they do accept dollars as far as the amount is right.
Dudutki - the museum of ancient craft and architec
If you really want to know more about the historical past of my country you shoult visit the place of Dudutki - the museum of ancient craft and architecture. You will discover new unknown and even unique things, and even take part in making plates or spoons of wood or in creating pots. Also there are a hotel, restaurant and the place we call banya (some kind of sauna).
The museum is situated in Minsk distrikt, village Ptich.
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Virgin Mary - Protector of Minsk
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.
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Historical and cultural heritage in Minsk
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.
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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.
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