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Belarus WHS

Author elsslots
Admin
#1 | Posted: 30 Aug 2016 13:15 | Edited by: elsslots 
I just finished my first visit to this country and managed to tick off 2 WHS (Mir, Nesvizh) and 1 former TWHS (Minsk). Reviews will follow in the coming weeks. I always had put off a trip to Belarus due to (mainly) the visa situation, but the WH meeting in Vilnius provided an opportunity not to be missed.

So I thought to start my report on Belarus and its WHS with some practical info that may persuade WH Travellers to visit the country too.

First, some scattered posts about Belarus that already exist on this Forum but are worth to summarize:
http://www.worldheritagesite.org/forums/index.php?action=vthread&forum=3&topic=2008#m sg14186 (Tour company for a day tour to Mir & Nesvizh)
http://www.worldheritagesite.org/forums/index.php?action=vthread&forum=3&topic=2008#m sg14539 (About public transport to these 2 WHS in one day)
http://www.worldheritagesite.org/forums/index.php?action=vthread&forum=3&topic=1999&p age=5#msg13557 (Belarus visa from UK plus update on Minsk & tour companies)

Author elsslots
Admin
#2 | Posted: 30 Aug 2016 13:28 | Edited by: elsslots 
Money
Travellers beware, in July 2016 Belarus has yet again switched to a new valuta. With the New Belorussian Ruble (BYN), they got rid of the last 4 zero's of the old currency. It's much easier to keep an overview of costs now (1 BYN = ca. 0,45 EUR). I wasn't aware of the change, so I drew way too much banknotes out of the ATM! This was extra problematic due to the very low prices of food and public transport. They've continued carrying the images of Mir WHS and Nesvizh WHS on the banknotes (50 and 100 BYN).

Getting there
I travelled directly to Minsk from Vilnius by train in 2.5 hours. Although it's a Lithuanian train, you can book a ticket beforehand via the website of the Belarus Railways . I payed online with no problems. Especially in the summer season it seems recommended to pre-book a seat: I checked 2 weeks before my travel date, and only 12 seats were left. According to my seat mate on the train, it is mostly used by Belorussians travelling to European holiday destinations such as Spain. There's more choice of flights from Vilnius than from Minsk, and the flights are cheaper too. The train itself was modern and quite new. However, it's of a type that in Holland is called 'Sprinter': i.e. only suited for very short hops. There's little leg space or room for suitcases/backpacks.

Author elsslots
Admin
#3 | Posted: 30 Aug 2016 13:42 
Tour Company
Due to time restraints, both during preparation & execution of the trip, I used the services of a tour company. They provided me with a letter of invitation for my visa, booked the hotel that I had chosen (the Monastyrski) and set me up with a car+driver for the day trip to Mir and Nesvizh. I sent enquiries out to a few companies, but Belarus Prime Tour proved to be the most efficient, quick-to-reply and reasonably priced. I found them myself during an internet search, but later I discovered that they are also used by Undiscovered Destinations and recommended in the Bradt Guide.

Author elsslots
Admin
#4 | Posted: 31 Aug 2016 08:18 | Edited by: elsslots 
Visa and other Red Tape
The elaborate visa process had always been holding me back to make a visit to Belarus. I decided to take it easy this time, using a tour company to provide a Letter of Invitation for me (and also booking a tour, hotel and airport transfer). I received a bunch of papers in Belorussian in return via e-mail. My own contribution was limited to filling in a form, adding a passport photo and a proof of health insurance. For the latter I called my health insurance company, who chuckled about it but were well aware of the pecularities asked by Belarus (and Russia). They sent me a letter in English stating that my insurance covers the whole world, and that indeed Belarus is part of that. They also suggested asking for the same letter from my travel insurance company, which they also duely provided. The final step was to wire money (60 EUR) into the account of the Embassy and print a proof of this transaction.

With all this information I went to the Belorussian Embassy in The Hague. The visa people hold court in a tiny annex of the main building (a bit like the garden shed). I was pleased to see that there were not nearly as many people applying for a Belarus visa as for one to Iran, resulting in long waiting times at the Iranian Consulate. This was quick: I gave them my stack of papers and passport, and they told me to return in one week. The next week my passport with visa was indeed waiting for me. The staff was quite friendly and even tried to speak some Dutch. They had a booklet about all Belorussian WHS to take away, which of course made a very positive impression on me!

I passed the border controls of Belarus twice: once by train from Vilnius, and once at Minsk Airport. The train from Vilnius stops right after the Belorussian border, and border police get on board: a set of them for each compartment of the train. They efficiently go through all seated passengers, using a laptop to check data and a magnifying glass to see whether you have a fake or real passport. They checked my passport and visa, but did not ask for any other papers (I brought copies of the stash of visa documentation papers, just in case). A guy from customs control followed, to whom we had to point out which bag was ours – but he did not really check the contents. The process at Minsk Airport was even more hassle-free, with a quick X-ray of bagage and another look through the magnifying glass at my passport.

So the final conclusion is that it was not bad at all. You do need to prepare a little checklist about which documents all are required and pre-plan the dates that you will be visiting the country. Paying for outtasking part of the process also helps.

Author meltwaterfalls
Registered
#5 | Posted: 6 Sep 2016 17:59 
Thanks for this Els. I had a read through your Dutch blog for a sneak peek at your Mir and Nezvish reviews. I always feel my review of Mir was exceptionally harsh, but I am glad they have finally put something inside it. My main memory is queuing for a good 5-10 minutes in a corridor to get into a room that contained one brick on a plinth.

And yep with a bit of prep and planning Belarus is a reasonably straight forward place to visit, but different enough to make it feel rather unique in European terms.

Author FoxPerignon
Registered
#6 | Posted: 10 Jan 2017 03:06 
Good news- Belarus is lifting visa restrictions.
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-belarus-visas-idUSKBN14T20R?il=0

Author clyde
Registered
#7 | Posted: 10 Jan 2017 03:50 
From official information already posted on the Visit Belarus website (http://www.belarus.by/en/press-center/press-release/belarus-introduces-five-day-visa -free-regime-for-citizens-of-80-countries_i_0000051199.html) this decree shall enter into force as of 9th February 2017 and will apply to arrivals in Minsk airport not land borders (with the exception of flights to/from Russia).

Interesting news indeed :)

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