Belarus SIG Newsletter

Issue No. 3 - May 1999

Advice for Travel to Belarus

from Larry Goldblatt

This advice was previously posted in the Belarus Discussion Group, but is re-published here, because - as mentioned before - some might miss it in the Discussion Group.

Dear Fellow Belarus SIG Digest Readers who are going soon to Belarus.

I want to offer some advice which was given to me before I went, which stood me in good stead, and suggestions from my own experience.

I was told to take many small gifts, i.e. pens, postcards, souvenirs and U.S. currency in small denominations, and packages of cigarettes, etc. to give as gifts to people who were helpful. You can buy cigarettes on the plane. The Belarussians were very grateful and in one case it was essential. To get to the dorf where my mother was born, I had to go through a military camp. We asked and asked for help. Only when the cigarettes came out, did we succeed in getting the help we needed. The Dean of a college, who was my driver, told me that his salary was $50.00 per month. With this in mind, you can imagine what a few U.S. dollars mean to people there. My hostess, when I was there, said she kept stockings going for 5 years. She had two jobs. I heard a story from a friend about a restaurant experience. At first, they presented him a menu. He gave the waiter a package of cigarettes and was brought another menu. These are customs - and knowing them can help.

Franklin Swartz wrote that Minsk is safer that many places in the rest of the world. I was told that I should not walk alone, anywhere, that my dress was distinctly western and fine looking (it was ordinary for us) and that I would be in danger of being robbed or worse. This was hard for me to hear because I had never observed such caution in previous travels, but I trusted my Belarussian companions.

The weather in August should be nice. When I was there mid-May, it was warmer than usual. I wore a shirt, sport-coat and rain coat and was comfortable.

Minsk has banks that have western currency. Regional banks do not. Belarussians mightily prefer payment in western currency-cash, not travelers checks.

In Minsk, the hotels are probably okay, but outside, be prepared. Running water in your room can not be take for granted, even if the fixtures are there. Maintenance is a problem.

I suggest that you see as many pictures, videos, even home made, etc. as possible in advance to prepare yourselves. Also, the more that you know of what you want to see and how to get there in advance, the better off you will be. There is truly a lot to see that can be very gratifying, but once you get there, the time will fly. It is not easy to go back.

Take care re: Inoculations.

Good luck!

Larry Goldblatt, M.D., New York City

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