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Belarus is a traditional and charmingly unique country which is sadly often overlooked by tourists. Travel into landlocked Belarus through sweeping marshy areas and thick forests where deer, wild boar and buffalo reside and you’ll find crystal-clear lakes as well as warm hospitality from the locals.
You’ll undoubtedly want to visit Belarus’s capital, Minsk, where there is much to see, but because the Napoleonic Wars, the Great Northern War and both world wars tore through Belarus, most of Belarus and Minsk’s fascinating heritage has been destroyed. However, there are various structures still standing in Minsk, such as the striking Church of St Peter and Paul or the historic Cathedral of St Virgin Mary. Embrace the war tributes in the centre of Minsk though, and you’ll see an accurate picture painted of Belarus’s pride and character. Admire the Lenin statue, the Island of Tears, the tragic WWII Victory Column with its heroic scenes of conflict and the poignant eternal flame.
Minsk was revamped by Moscow architects after World War II turned the city into rubble, so lingering Soviet influences are evident through the daunting grandiose concrete architecture as well as the heavily policed streets. Much Socialist realism art dots the boulevards and makes for a revealing narrative of the city’s history.
As there aren’t copious tourist spots, enjoy the city the way the locals do and explore the charming restaurants and cafes or stroll around the squares and beautiful Botanical gardens in the laid-back style of a Belarusian.
For an equally modern but lesser journeyed city, try Brest with its pretty green streets, rows of chocolate-box wooden houses and the enigmatic 19th century Brest Fortress.
Despite Belarus losing a quarter of the population during the war, a great deal of culture has survived. As you can see with the monument to Yakub Kolas the poet in Minsk, Belarus is strongly defined by its poetry and songs. Belarusian ballet is also a treat to witness, and folk music, chamber music and choir are rife in most towns and cities. Music and dance are best enjoyed over a glass of Russian wheat vodka, or kvass, the curious sounding but very popular malted bread soft drink. Food is good in Belarus even though the country is not renowned for it. Tuck in to hearty draniki (potato pancakes stuffed with meat and doused in sour cream), or sample the addictive cheese and smoked sausages.
The colourful dress of traditional locals is influenced by the Kievan Rus period and features warm wool or flax clothing intricately adorned with ornate patterns, according to the area of the country you are in. Look out for an example of this pattern on the Belarus flag.
Trafalgar - see the world from the inside
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