Guest Author - Sarah Reid
A former member of the Soviet Union, Belarus is becoming an increasingly popular destination for tourists wishing to explore Eastern Europe.
Independence was declared in 1991, although President Alexander Lukashenka has ensured that Soviet-style policies are adhered to within Belarus.
Landlocked, this country shares borders with Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. The summers tend to be comfortably warm with highs of around 18.5C (65F). Winters reach lows of -4.5C (23F), although temperatures are usually above 0C for the majority of the year.
The majority of the population, which is approaching 10 million, speak either Belarusian or Russian, the two official languages. There is no official religion as such, although most natives are Russian Orthodox Christians, with Roman Catholicism being the second religion of the country. Accordingly, both Orthodox and Catholic holidays are observed in Belarus.
Restrictions on freedom of speech imposed by the government mean that the rise of popular music has been somewhat suppressed within Belarus. Since 2004, however, the country has taken part in the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual contest broadcast live on television throughout Europe.
In addition, the National Academic Theatre of Ballet was recognised as the leading ballet company in the world in 1996. The government even sponsors festivals to display the local talents in the fields of music, acting and writing.
The capital city of Minsk is home to a host of museums, theatres, cinemas and libraries. It is also the location of the National Academy of Sciences. Culturally, therefore, there is a lot to be said for Belarus as a tourist destination.
The culinary style of Belarusian food is based mainly around slow-cooking and stews. The staple ingredients in the diet are vegetables, pork and rye-based breads, making for very hearty, comforting meals – ideal in the cold winters. As in many Eastern European countries, vodka is one of the most popular beverages.
Eastern Europe and Belarus may not automatically spring to mind as a destination for a European vacation. For those who wish to indulge in something a bit more unusual and individual than the standard package beach holiday, however, it could be the perfect get-away.