Time: GMT + 2.
Area: 207,595 sq km.
Population: 9.463.600 mln (January 1, 2013).
Photo by Вязынка
Ethnic composition: Belarusians — 86,9%; Russians — 8,2%; Poles — 3,1%; Ukrainians — 1,7%; Jews — 0,13%.
Borders: Russia in the North and East, the Ukraine in the South, Poland in the West, Lithuania and Latvia in the North-West.
Climate: Moderate continental and humid. Average temperature: -5C — 10C in winter, +18C +25C in summer.
Language: The official languages of the country are Belarusian and Russian.
Religion: Major denominations — Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, others — Jewish, Protestant.
Electricity: 220 volts. Plugs — European 2 pin.
Telephone: IDD is available at all major cities, including Minsk (172). Country code: 375. When dialing from abroad the 0 of the area code should be omitted. Internet services are also available at business centers, post offices and internet cafes. Fax services are available at all hotels in Minsk.
Photo by Антон Чайка
Photo by Юлия Лискавец
Money: There are no coins. The largest bank-notes are worth 20.000, 50.000 and 100.000. Exchanging American dollars and Euro into Belarusian rubles is not a problem. Other currencies can only be exchanged at banks. Don’t change currency in the streets! Be aware that it is illegal and might cause problems with the police.
Credit cards: Major European and international credit cards, including American Express, Euro/MasterCard, Visa and Diners Club, are accepted in large hotels and at big shops, supermarkets and restaurants. You can cash your credit card either at banks or big hotels.
Travel — International.
Air: The national airline is Belavia (B2), it offers a great number of international flights. Lufthansa, LOT, Aeroflot, Etihad, Austrian, Air China, ElAl, Air France, FlyLAL, Air Baltic provide a regular service from Minsk to most European capitals.
Approximate flight times: from Minsk to Frankfurt/Main or Vienna is 2 hours 25 minutes, to Moscow is 1 hour 30 minutes and to Zurich is 2 hours 50 minutes.
International airport: Minsk-2 (MSQ) is located 40 km from the city. Airport facilities include an exchange office, bars, car rentals, duty-free shops, restaurants and a post office.
Railway service: There are several lines from Berlin via Warsaw and Brest to Minsk. Another line runs from Vienna via Bratislava, Warsaw and Brest to Minsk. Other trains accessing different destinations are available from various other Western and Eastern European cities.
Travel — Within Belarus.
Railway: There are 5590 km (3494 miles) of track in use. Trains run regularly from Minsk to all other towns.
Road: Belarus has a road network of 265,600 km (166,000 miles) of which 227,000 km (141,875 miles) are paved.
The following documents should be carried at all times: valid passport with valid visa; International Driving License; insurance certificate.
Regulations: International traffic signs and regulations are in use.
Speed limits are 60 km per hour (37m/ph) in towns and cities and 90 km/ph (55m/ph) on country lanes. Driving under the influence of alcohol is strictly forbidden.
Urban: Public transport is cheap and efficient. The city of Minsk has an underground subway (Metro) system with two lines that cover central Minsk. It is in the process of being expanded. Trains run between 06:00 and 24:00, buses, streetcars (trams) and trolleybuses run between 05:30 and 01:00. Entry to the underground Metro is by tokens, which are obtainable from the stations. Tickets are required for bus, trolleybus and streetcar journeys. They can be purchased at newsstands or from the driver and are punched on board. If you need to get a TAXI you can either order it at your hotel or hail in the street. Taxis are normally yellow with checkers, and carry a maximum of 4 passengers. A green light indicates the availability of the taxi.
Customs Details: The following goods may be imported into Belarus without customs duty: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco products; 3 liters of alcoholic beverages; a reasonable quantity of perfume for personal use; about 50 kg of personal baggage worth up to 1500 euro are allowed to take. Note: On entering the country tourists have to fill out a customs declaration form, which must be retained until departure. These records articles intended for personal use, including currency and valuables. Customs inspection can be long and detailed.
Prohibited imports: Military weapons and ammunition, narcotics, pornography.
Prohibited exports: securities, state loan certificates, lottery tickets, work of art and antiques (unless permission has been granted by the Ministry of Culture).
Food: Belarusian borsch, a soup made with beetroot, is served hot with sour cream. Local cooking is often based on potatoes with mushrooms and berries. The most popular dish of Belarusian cuisine is Draniki (scraped potato pancakes) often served with mushrooms, all kinds of meat and spices. Machanka is a thick soup mixed with lard which goes with hot pancakes.
Drinks: Belovezhskaya Bitters (coloured local vodka) is made with over 100 different herbs and have a unique flavour. A favourite drink is chai (black tea). Coffee is generally available in cafes (mostly black). Soft drinks, fruit juices and mineral waters are widely available.
Shopping: Belarus is famous for its original hand-made souvenirs such as painted Matrioshka (dolls), ceramics, wooden jewelry boxes, woven straw items, embroidery, original Belarusian paintings, etc. They may be purchased in the local shops and souvenir markets. Independence Avenue is the main shopping destination, with its antique shops and department stores. Most shops are closed on Sundays, but tourist shops are usually open every day. Antiques, valuables, works of art and manuscripts other than those offered for sale in souvenir shops require an export license.
Shopping hours: 09:00−21:00
Sport: Tennis, gymnastics, athletics, swimming, football and ice hockey enjoy great popularity in Belarus. Excellent cross-country skiing is available in the nature reserve near the Minsk campsite. Hiking is possible throughout Belarus. The Braslav Lake District situated in the north and northeast of the country is ideal for boating holidays. Several of the 30 lakes are connected through canals.
A handshake is the usual greeting. Hospitality is tradition and Belarusians are welcoming and friendly.
Company or business gifts are well received. Smoking is acceptable unless stated otherwise.
Tipping: 10% is usual. In some hotels in Minsk and other cities a 10−15% service charge is added to the bill.
BELARUS. Inspired by good people and good places!
Photo by Вязынка