Belarus is Quirky and Full of Contrasts

By: Douglas Scott

To many, Belarus conjures up images of the Soviet Union, a communist regime, the last dictatorship in Europe, concrete blocks and tractor factories, okay so some of these characteristics do prevail and some are even worthy attractions in themselves, but theres a whole lot more to Belarus.

Belarus is landlocked, relatively flat, and contains large tracts of marshy land. Lakes and rivers punctuate the country. The largest marsh territory is Polesie, which is among the largest marshes in Europe.

The climate ranges from harsh winters to cool and moist summers. On average, 15 to 30 centimetres of snow falls in the country, mostly in the northeast. Belarus experiences an average rainfall of 600 to 700 millimetres with over 70 percent of the rain falling during the warmer periods of the year. Due to the weather patterns, natural disasters such as droughts and floods occasionally occur in Belarus.

Minsk, the capital city, provides a fascinating experience. Minsk has a small carefully restored old town, however much of the city is Stalinist style architecture cheered up here and there with parks and the river Svislach. Minsk is a bizarre city where the youth are reaching out to capitalism, but the state clings on to the good old days of communism for its people, whether they like it or not. Friendly locals, a variety of restaurants and bars, fascinating museums, galleries, and top class ballet make this an ideal city break destination. As the most Soviet city left in the world, visit Minsk now, before western consumerism takes over and it loses its quirky appeal.

Just as Minsk is the centre of Belarusian politics and the mood for change, rural Belarus is the heart of the Belarusian people where change is slow and traditions live on. There is a sense of stepping back in time, to basic agriculture, isolation from the western world. We are working with the local farmsteads and guesthouses to promote trips out in to the countryside, to experience the real Belarus and the friendly local hospitality on offer.

As we say, Belarus is quirky and full of contrasts. There are beautiful medieval castles some abandoned to nature, some that are preserved as world heritage sites such as Mir castle. Minsk is remarkably clean and safe, no doubt owing to a strong presence of police and militia on the streets. Those in the cities live in high rise Soviet blocks, but those in the country live in picturesque wooden houses, gardens full of flowers, fruit and vegetables. All in all, there is a lot to experience in Belarus for those with an open mind, an appreciation of history and the present situation, plus a willingness to join in the local entertainment because they definitely dont lack that.

Belarus is a country on the brink of change, theres no other places in Europe like it. See it in all its unique glory now.

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