Chernobyl. It’s famous, right? If you happen to stumble upon the documentary/dramas about it on TV, you’d hear Belarus being mentioned several times. Surely we know where Chernobyl is. But wait, where is Belarus?
I swear I’ve always known that Belarus is a country, I just couldn’t pinpoint where it is on the map. Because very little is known about it, this intriguing little country of Belarus in Eastern Europe is next on our to-visit list!
So what is Belarus famous for? It’s primeval forest (the Belovezhskaya Pushcha forest), dubbed as the lungs of Europe, it’s love for potatoes (apparently they have more than 300 dishes with potatoes in it), bisons just wandering throughout, and it is also called the Silicon Valley of Europe (having produced apps and programs that are known worldwide).
These are just some of the many accomplishments of the landlocked country of Belarus, and there are so many more things to discover about it! I will share a list of these things with you.
After you’ve read this blog post, you will know where to go, what to do, what not to miss, what to eat and drink, who are the famous Belarusians and the contributions they have made for the betterment of the world. Hey, you could be on your phone now and using an app that was programmed in Belarus!
The Primeval Forest of Belarus – Belovezhskaya Pushcha Forest
You only need to know three things about the Belovezhskaya Pushcha forest.
It’s primeval because it is. It is ancient, literally. It’s part of the last remaining original European forest. Imagine stepping inside it and touch a living thing that’s been existing for thousands of decades!
It is listed as a UNESCO site and is therefore protected, heavily.
A part of this forest is in the neighboring country of Poland, which means there is a border inside it to separate the countries. But don’t worry if you plan on cycling from Poland to Belarus or vice versa, there is a path made for this.
And third, forests in Belarus play a significant role, as 40% of the country is covered by it. Even the flag has a green strip to recognize this. And for this same reason, Belarus is called the lungs of Europe.
A Historical Milestone in Belovezhskaya Pushcha Forest
“Back in the USSR,” is a song made famous by the Beatles in 1968. Back then, in the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), from 1922 to 1991 to be exact, Belarus was a part of the Soviet Union.
Let’s just say that there are other countries that are also a part of this union, and most of them speak Russian.
Ok, while this might sound like a history teacher during a lecture, there is a fun fact here.
Inside the Belovezhskaya Pushcha Forest was a hunting lodge. And this hunting lodge in the forest was where secret talks were taking place to overthrow the USSR, peacefully.
It’s not just a primeval forest but a historical one in providing a secret rendezvous in ending a political empire!
Welcome to Bulbaland! The Land of 300+ Potato Dishes!
There is no real explanation as to why Belarus has more than 300 dishes with potatoes in it, except for the fact that they probably like their potatoes.
Or maybe because their cuisine has been highly influenced by local produce and their neighboring countries.
It can also be because they aren’t big meat eaters in earlier centuries.
There is even a study saying that a Belarusian consumes around 180 kg of potato a day! If that doesn’t scream potato lover to you, I don’t know what else will.
Whatever it is, when in Belarus, you must try not just five, but at least a hundred potato dishes!
Draniki, Vereshchaka, Potato Sausage, Potato Pyzy – Your Must-try Dishes!
Except for Vereschchaka, all these other dishes are made of potatoes or have potatoes in it. Well, isn’t that shocking?
Draniki is the famous Belarusian pancake and you’d need 12 potatoes, oil, and onion to make it.
Potato Sausage, or potato kishka, is just like how you make sausage but add potatoes inside as well. How many potatoes, you say? It’s up to you!
Potato pyzy is the Belarusian version of a dumpling made with, of course, potatoes, cheese, and flour.
Vereschchaka is a traditional stew served with buckwheat pancakes. Yes, no potatoes. And yes, the Belarusians love it.
Who Needs Pancake Day When There’s Pancake Week?
Move over Pancake Day, it’s a week of pancake celebration in Belarus and the whole world is missing out a lot!
The celebration is locally known as Maslenitsa Week, where everyone is supposed to stuff themselves with pancakes of all sizes and flavors.
It doesn’t matter where you are, at home or in a cafe or at work, you’d have to devour pancakes!
This seven-day celebration signifies the end of winter and the tradition of burning winter effigies. Basically another excuse to celebrate and stuff yourself crazy with pancakes.
World of Tanks, Viber Messenger App, EPAM
If you have a smartphone, the odds of you knowing about the messaging app, Viber, is high.
The makers of this messaging app are Israeli Talmon Marco and Belarusian Igor Magazinnik. They began working on Viber in 2010 in Belarus.
World of Tanks is an online game with a massive following. You’d probably seen a commercial or ad of this if you don’t have a brother or friends who play it. It was created by Victor Kislyi and his team.
EPAM, though not a household word, is 8th on Forbes Fast Tech 25. They provide IT consulting services and software engineering, globally.
Who would have thought these are from Belarus?
Something For Your Sweet Tooth
Don’t worry if you don’t like potatoes or traditional and alcoholic drinks, there is still something left for you to try in Belarus, especially if you like sweets.
Zephyr, or the Belarusian marshmallow, is one of the finest things your tastebuds can savor on.
This delicacy is made using traditional recipes sans preservatives, palm oil, and dyes, so you know it’s really good.
BONUS INFO: Nalesniki is their sweet version of a crepe. Kisel is a fruit dish that could be a drink or a dessert. Imagine that.
Not only is Belarus landlocked by other countries (to it’s south is Ukraine, north is covered by Latvia and Russia, east is also Russia, northwest is Lithuania, and west is Poland), it is also flat.
You know how most countries have a few mountains here and there, but Belarus has none. Really, it is actually possible.
FUN FACT: It’s highest considered mountain is not a mountain at all. It’s a hill and is only 346 meters above sea level.
Dzyarzhynskaya Hara, the highest point in Belarus, is found in a village west of Minsk called Skirmuntava.
The good news is that if you visit this place, you could brag that you went on top of the highest level in Belarus. Which is really true.
The Astonishing Manmade Salt Mountains
Yes, Belarus is a flatland. So you must be wondering what mountains am I mentioning here.
In Soligorsk, you will see a series of white mountains, neatly arranged one after another. Imagine rows and rows of this.
No, you can’t go on it nor near it. But you can marvel in wonder while looking at it.
It’s obviously artificial. It has been shaped the way it is because of the salt mining operations in the area.
These were the wasted salt from underneath when they were digging up the salt mines.
Speleotherapy is Gaining Popularity
Salt mines are not just popular in Belarus but also in neighboring countries like Romania and Ukraine.
Most of these countries use salt mines as recreational centers, with amusement parks and rides, or sports activities inside.
But Belarus had something else in mind and made it into a treatment center, especially for children.
Nobel Prize Winners
This is going to sound like a history lecture, but these Belarusians deserve to be mentioned. So just hang in there.
Svetlana Alexievich, a Nobel Prize winner in literature, Zhores Alferov, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics, and Menachem Begin, a Nobel Prize winner in Peace – all of them are Belarusians.
Menachim Begin is Israel’s 6th Prime Minister, so you’d wonder, why is he in this category. Well, to begin with, he is Belarusian. He was born to Belarusian parents, in Brest, Belarus.
Svetlana Alexievich’s novel, Voices From Chernobyl, was used by HBO in their (sort-of) documentary/drama TV show, Chernobyl. But this isn’t all that there is to her. She is an investigative journalist and oral historian.
Zhores Alferov was awarded the Prize for his contribution to the development of the semiconductor heterojunction for optoelectronics.
The Library That Could Launch a Thousand Ships
At first glance, you wouldn’t say it’s a library. It’s like a bulky diamond ring trying to squeeze itself out of the ground. Which is probably why it’s also called the diamond of knowledge.
It also looks like a disco ball at night, especially when lit. Yes, it’s a really nice thing to look at, particularly at night.
The grand architecture of it all is not the only thing that makes it special.
NOTE: This library in Minsk has 23 floors and can welcome 2000 readers all at once.
The Long and Non-winding Independence Avenue
Belarus’s Independence Avenue, Praspiekt Niezaliežnasci, is one of the longest avenues in Europe. It is 15 km and 300 m long.
Other than being a really long avenue, you’d see Stalin Empire architecture on all corners of this route.
The Rise and Fall and Rise of Minsk
The capital city of Belarus is Minsk. It should be named phoenix because it has fallen so many times, but it still here.
It was almost completely wiped out after the German Nazis waged war against the world in the 1940s.
The Return of the Bisons
The Bisons were dwindling in numbers in Belarus and is considered to be a nearly endangered species.
But in April 2019, a report stated that there are now 1886 bison, and this is up by 6% from 2017.
Most of these Bisons live in the famous Belovezhskaya Pushcha forest, 567 of them to be more specific.
The Minsk Botanical Garden
The complete name, Central Botanical Garden of the National Academy of Sciences in Minsk, Belarus is as big as the place.
In fact, it’s one of the largest botanical gardens in Europe covering more than 100 hectares and has at least 10,000 different plants living in it.
The Mir Castle Complex
It’s a UNESCO heritage site, so expect it to be grand and notably worthy. Locally called the Mirsky zamok, it is located in the town of Mir.
It started with a Polish Gothic style architecture, was extended in Renaissance, then in Baroque, and completed in the 19th century.
So the design of this castle complex not only tells a story but also gives you a background on how structures like this stand the test of time.
The tower-gate is one of the few remaining pieces that have been preserved since it was built in the 16th century.
The Nesvizh Palace
Another UNESCO World Heritage site is the Nesvizh Palace.
Belarusians say that this is the most beautiful palace that you could visit when in Belarus. It was owned by the Radziwil family.
Now it’s has been made into a park and palace complex, complete with tours, accommodation, and a museum. They even have a children’s area!
BONUS: Other points of interest in the complex, aside from the palace are the town hall, the Church of Corpus Cristi, and the Slutsk Gates.
Avid Sports Lovers
Belarusians are sports lovers. Not only are there 132 different kinds of sport practiced in the country, but they have also brought home 96 Olympic medals, with 68 Olympic medalists.
Now you’d ask, is sport a priority of the Belarus government.
Think about it this way, there are over 23,000 public sporting facilities in the country. This includes stadiums, gyms, swimming pools, ice rinks, and sports centers.
Sporting events are also held in Belarus. Just this year (2019), the Summer Biathlon World Championships was held in Raubichi Olympic Center.
The 2nd European Games were also held this year (2019) in Minsk.
Yes, you read that right. And no, it’s not some sort of Russian surname.
This term, shapovalstvo, refers to the traditional needlework of Belarusians, more particularly fulling woolen hats and boots.
There are tours and excursions to the city of Drybin where you can see the Shapovalstvo masters in action. And you can also bring home a boot or two.