A Five-Day Visa-Free Trip To Belarus

Now that Belarus has loosened the red-tape a little, you can now get a five-day visa on arrival if you are from a list of 80 eligible countries. When this was announced I was rather excited that I could finally tick off another place that has unfortunately been sitting around waiting for me to visit, I just didn’t wish to go through the hoops that were previously in place. However, finally they have now seen sense and you can visit for five days, BUT only if you fly in to Minsk, you cannot arrive overland or to/from Russia.

One thing I was surprised, or maybe just stupid, was to learn was that there is officially no border control between Belarus and Russia as officially it is still part of the Russian Federation, as you’ll notice when you receive you immigration card.

When I said I was going to be visiting Belarus most people looked at me incredibly confused as to why I would want to come, and IN WINTER!? I mean, nobody really could possibly enjoy being in a cold climate in the snow, no? Sadly for me, Minsk and Belarus was experiencing warmer than usual weather and so sadly for me I didn’t get any snow and the temperature didn’t fall below zero, yet it snowed back in London. Typical!

I’m pretty certain that most Belarusians only survive on coffee, vodka and cigarettes – My experience of them is that they are definitely friendlier than Russians, they are intrigued by foreigners, although some may look at you with suspicion – which is a relic of the Soviet days. Anyone who has moved abroad and then returned to Belarus will understand you much easier and will be determined to make sure you have a good time whilst visiting. Whilst taking an Uber one day in Minsk, a professional hockey player who was back home for a short time whilst sorting a visa out for the U.S was driving the car, he invited me to a game. How amazing and friendly is that? Sadly I wasn’t able to accept the offer due to travelling to Brest that day, but I would have jumped at the chance to see this national sport being played.

Welcome to Belarus!
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Belarusian Visa

As of 1st January 2017, the Belarusian government finally approved a visa on arrival for a maximum of five-days for citizens of 80 countries/states. To be eligible for this you must have medical insurance before you arrive, or you will be charged at immigration. As of 1st January 2018, the visa on arrival scheme has been extended to ten days but only if you visit certain regions – very clever Government!

It certainly wasn’t the worst welcome I’ve ever had at an airport, I even received a smile from the immigration lady, always nice to step into a country and be made to feel at home!

My adventures in Belarus

I’m sure most of you have heard of Belarus, but what on earth is there to see? It doesn’t really have any world-famous sites, however it does surprisingly have one or two (four to be exact) UNESCO World Heritage sites to check out. The one that I really wanted to see was Mir Castle, sadly for me I don’t drive and it was going to be quite costly and time-consuming to get to from Minsk so I had to abandon this idea but here’s a lovely photo of it I found online for our visual pleasures.

Mir Castle
Photo Source: Wikipedia

So, onto what I did actually get round to seeing… Well I spent four days in the capital Minsk and then travelled towards the Polish border to visit the wonderful city of Brest after a four-hour train journey.


Everything that I had read online about Minsk before I arrived was sadly pretty much negative, this is a huge shame as what I found was a city starting to attract foreign investment, tourists and most importantly jobs. As 80% of the city was destroyed during World War 2, sadly it was redesigned to Stalin’s requirements and as such it does suffer from Communist-block heaven. Thankfully though, this is now starting to change with major hotel chains including DoubleTree and Hilton opening hotels within the last five years.

Every city needs a subway, right? Well, thankfully Minsk has its own Metro system that was completed in the 70s and is rapidly starting to expand thanks to its 800,000 people who use it daily. Believe me, all ex-Soviet Union countries I’ve been to who have rapid-transport systems are typically overcrowded, and Minsk was no exception. However, at 0.60BYN (£0.22) per journey who can blame the locals for using it to the max.

Due to a bombing that took place several years ago no photography is allowed, I didn’t see any security but decided to respect this decision and not to offend the locals.

Minsk Metro
Photo Source: Wikipedia

Speaking of the Metro, if you take line 1 heading east towards Uručča (Уручча in Russian) and get off at the third last stop called Uschod (Усход) you’ll be able to visit the National Library of the Republic of Belarus. Modernised in 2006, this building can seat about 2,000 readers and its main architectural component has the shape of a rhombicuboctahedron – a what? Like we all know what one of those is, well after Googling it I can confirm that it is in fact an Archimedean solid with eight triangular and eighteen square faces. So there we go kids, you learn something new every day on Travel Geek!

State Library in Minsk
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Whilst walking around the centre of Minsk you’ll notice a rather large police presence, I don’t know if that’s to make you feel safe, uncomfortable, watched or all three but I went through all of these emotions. I believe it’s also because it is a police state and you can easily walk past the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus without realising. Oh, if you don’t know who they are from that name then it might be more relatable when I say the KGB. Yes, that’s right folks the KGB are still well and truly present in Belarus. In theory, you can be arrested for taking photos of this building, so here’s three!

KGB still exist in Belarus!
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Opposite my hotel I noticed a rather curious island sticking out of the river Svislach, it’s called the Island of Courage and Sorrow but is referred to as the Island of Tears on Google. It features a memorial to the Belarusians who took part in the Soviet War in Afghanistan and is one of the most famous sights in Minsk.

Island of Tears
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

The last place I checked out in Minsk is the Mound of Glory, which was in fact located 21km away from the city centre, so I first had to figure out how to get there. Sadly there’s no local buses that stop anywhere near (even though the airport bus goes straight past) and the Metro doesn’t come out this far, but you can get off at the very last stop of Line 1 called Uručča (Уручча in Russian) and take an Uber from there, it cost me about £4 for a return journey. Be aware though, this monument isn’t around anything except the main road and you might find it difficult to get an Uber to come back to Minsk.

When I arrived, I noticed the welcome sign (thankfully in English) which told me I had to pay an entry fee, I walked towards the registration office to check with a man there (who initially thought I was asking for the toilet) only to be shooed away and told that I didn’t need to bother?! Sweet, so thankfully I had the place to myself, for free.

This Second World War memorial complex, commemorates fallen Soviet soldiers and is still used for military parades. The actual mound of earth was created in 1969, with scorched soil from the USSR’s ‘Hero Cities’ and battlegrounds. On its summit, four towering titanium bayonets pierce the sky. It’s absolutely amazing and standing in the middle of the monument looking out over the landscape helps remind me of how fought over this land has been.

Mound of Glory
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com


350km west of Minsk you’ll find the border city of Brest, proudly sitting opposite the Polish city of Terespol. It’s easy to get to from Minsk, there’s a regular train service throughout the day and night. One of the major sites to see is Brest Fortress, it’s a contender to become an UNESCO World Heritage site and this place is absolutely massive! If you are interested in Soviet history then you could easily spend hours exploring all of the buildings. At first I wasn’t sure whether I needed to pay an entrance fee as you can easily just walk in/around the site, but I found an office and paid my 2BYN fee. From my understanding this place was the site of many battles during World War 2 when the Germans attacked without warning and sadly as expected it was a bloodbath. According to information I read on-site, both Hitler and Mussolini visited the fortress at various times. Believe me this place is well worth the trip from Minsk just to see here.

Brest Fortress
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

I’ll admit it, I’m not only a travel geek, I’m also a bit of a train geek! When I was a kid all I wanted to be was a train driver; blame Thomas the Tank Engine. So, when I found out that Brest had the first outdoor Railway Museum in Belarus, I was right there! This place is Soviet train heaven, there’s currently 56 locomotives/units and it has even been featured in several films.

It thankfully only costs 2.50BYN to get in and although most trains aren’t open thankfully I made friends with an engineer who was on site and was more than happy to take photos and encourage me to go into some of the locos.

Brest Railway Museum
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Traveling in Belarus

With some countries it is almost impossible to get around if you don’t drive, thankfully this isn’t the case in Belarus as you have a fantastic and cheap train service, although some tourist sites will require a drive/bus ride. I was sad to realise that there weren’t any domestic flights, this would have made my trip much easier and have enabled me to see more places but I’m sure this will happen in time.

Belavia Belarusian Airlines

OK, I’ll be up-front and honest, I was expecting something absolutely horrendous. What I was greeted with was a recent addition to their fleet with new livery, a decent meal that was included in the price and even free check-in and carry on luggage. What more could I ask for? Well, I was disappointed not to be greeted with a welcome vodka or be offered any alcoholic drinks throughout the flight, however that is just down to me being a bit pickled most of the time.

Passenger numbers on Belavia from 2016 to 2017 have risen more than 20%, this is a significant increase and I’m certain that it has something to do with the relaxing of the visa entrance requirements, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what the Government wanted/did. I read in their onboard magazine that Belavia has started its transition period from old to new branding, this includes an overhaul of the logo, colours, introduction of web/mobile check in and even the planes themselves. Out with old Tupolev’s and in with the new Embraer and Boeing jets, this is exciting times for a company that only started thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their plans are admirable and I sincerely hope they succeed.

One thing I was sad to see, like with many other police states there was simply no competition to Belavia – the national airline and flag carrier for Belarus, more than likely because it is a state-owned company and that wouldn’t be welcomed. I know that Minsk International Airport hopes to attract some new airlines, it will be interesting to see how they stand up against the competition.

Belavia Belarusian Airlines
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Belarusian Railway

Similar to Ukrainian Railways, I was able to easily book tickets with Belarusian Railways via their web-site, selecting seats and print off my boarding pass with ease. At the time I thought to myself this is too easy to be true, anyway there was nothing more I needed to do but turn up.

I travelled on two trains whilst travelling in Belarus, both were unbelievably on-time and although they mostly smelled of cigarettes, body odour and fart, I suppose that’s the pleasure of paying just £3 for a ticket! Thankfully on more pleasant subjects, all staff that I came into contact with were really helpful, they went out of their way to ensure I got to where I needed to be – even if they didn’t speak English, they would find someone or even call someone to provide the information that I needed. Amazing!

Uber in Minsk

Typically when I arrive in a new country I already know how to get to/from the airport to the city, usually I’ll haggle with a local taxi company or hop on a train/bus to a central point. However, in Belarus Uber is so cheap that I couldn’t resist, and I’m glad I used it, so I’m not going to apologise for adding to their ever-growing list of successful capital cities using their service.

Brest Railway Museum
Photo © Travelgeekuk.com

Unsure whether to visit? Yeah I know that feeling, I wasn’t sure what to expect before I arrived. After reading various blogs, horror stories and reports it was difficult to picture myself there, however as soon as I arrived I’m 100% glad that I made the visit here.

Yes it is still corrupt.

Yes, officially it is still part of the Russian Federation.

Yes it can look grey and miserable (but so can the U.K)

Belarusians have proven to me throughout my trip that they are opening up to tourism, they are definitely more welcoming and friendlier than any Russians I met when I travelled there. However, every individual experience is different but I hope that now the visa restrictions are easing, tourists will become a common sight and it will help to progress this country in ways beyond their wildest dreams. Before you leave, make sure you stock up on the booze, as vodka is C-H-E-A-P here!!

Further Information?

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

All images copyrighted, if you wish to use any images produced in this blog article please contact me.

A Day Trip From Vilnius to Kryžių Kalnas (Hill of Crosses)

One of Lithuania’s most famous and fascinating places to discover is in fact a site of pilgrimage. When I visited, as I approached the hill in a very eerie twist of events a burst of icy snow blasted my face before I was able to be awe-inspired and impressed by the sheer scale of crosses and monuments of Kryžių Kalnas.

I’m not a religious person in any way, but I can appreciate how this place is somewhere that people can receive comfort and even a sense of pride. This site has existed in various forms from approximately 1831 and was formed after the failed rebellion of the Russian Empire, as many people died relatives were unable to locate their bodies and instead started to put up crosses here in commemoration.

It has been destroyed several times during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, this was because they didn’t like that people were trying to showcase their heritage, religion and original Lithuanian identity.

Well that’s enough of a history lesson, how did I actually get there?

Here’s my exact itinerary from April 2017*

09:50 – Train from Vilnius

I must admit I was very impressed by the Lithuanian train system, it was fairly modern, clean and pretty efficient. After leaving a very snowy Vilnius I was pleased to see that this train appeared to be almost brand new and had free wi-fi!

Although scheduled to arrive at 12:01 we sadly crept in around 15 minutes late meaning I missed the earlier bus to Domantai, it was fine though because even on Easter Sunday the Rimi supermarket at the bus station was open for snacks.

13:10 – Bus from Siauliai Bus Station to Domantai

The bus station is an easy 10 minute walk from the train station, you don’t need to buy tickets beforehand but you can pick up a timetable from the one of the ladies in the ticket booths. When you arrive you’ll need to wait at platform 12, the bus driver we had was friendly and understood where we wanted to go. For the cheap price of €0.84 you can get to Domantai – the nearest bus stop to the Hill of Crosses.

Once you get off the bus you’ll need to start walking along a road called the 4033 for 2km and very soon see the magnificent and legendary Hill of Crosses in the distance.

Hill of Crosses, Lithuania

15:02 – Bus from Domantai 

Although it might not sound very long to spend here you can catch the bus 2 hours later, there’s a bus stop on the opposite side to where you disembarked that’s clearly visible, once you get back to Siauliai you’ll have some free time to go and explore Lithuania’s fourth largest city. There’s a few cool sites to see including some funky street art…


17:25 – Train from Siauliai to Vilnius 

Sadly for me I didn’t realise I wouldn’t have the same brand spanking new train coming back, unfortunately it was a rickety old pile which was cramped and jam-packed with people heading home after the Easter holidays. There was another train soon after ours that left at 17:57 but I’m not sure if this uses the newer train, my advice would be to try that instead and stay a bit longer.

Oh…how the mighty have fallen :o(

How to Visit?

If you are travelling by train you can easily buy your train tickets on the day from Vilnius station, however during peak and holiday seasons these trains will get extremely busy. I was travelling to Trakai the day before and thankfully I booked all of my tickets together, most people speak some English in Lithuania but it’s always fun to make a fool of yourself by trying to local lingo.

The Lithuanian Railway website sadly doesn’t accept credit cards yet; however they do take some cards from several Baltic states and Scandinavian countries. A return second class ticket to Siauliai should cost just over €21, which given that it’s almost 200km I think it’s a bargain!

Driving here will likely take around three hours from the capital, there’s a brand new visitor centre and car park located opposite the site, although most people prefer to just park on the side of the road and avoid being charged. There’s no entry fee on to the site of the Hill of Crosses and you can freely roam around.

*Check local listings for updated train/bus times

Further Information?

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

All images copyrighted, if you wish to use any images produced in this blog article please contact me.

Norwegian rail travel in winter


This beautiful country is simply stunning, I visited in February 2013 to discover the last wilderness of Europe. Taking in Bergen, Oslo and the Svalbard archipelago, I was so excited to visit a place often depicted as the country “powered by nature”.

Firstly let me start by saying Norway is far from cheap, however the rewards of visiting greatly outweigh the monetary aspect. I had researched quite a lot online beforehand, this taught me that I needed to bring some snack type foods with me, however make sure you try out some of the local cuisine too.

Travelling by train in winter!

So what possessed me to visit a cold country in winter?

I’m originally from Northern England, which is usually relatively cold in winter, sometimes it snows, but nothing prepared me for the Arctic and how much it would snow in Norway. I was amazed when my flight from Oslo to Tromso, in the far north, took off in a blizzard!

I believe Norway should be seen in its true natural beauty, this is between November – March. This is the perfect opportunity as it’s not peak tourist season. This means you can find special offers and deals can be done.


Oslo to Bergen

Unfortunately I didn’t have time on this trip to explore Oslo, however I can’t wait to revisit Norway, so far it’s one of my favourite countries and is incredibly easy to get around.

Beware though, taking the train can be a long but rewarding journey. You can fly anywhere in the world, but where else would you see magnificent fjords or beautiful mountains with almost no people?

Norway in winter

There’s a house in there somewhere…

Taking the train from Oslo to Bergen takes approximately six and a half hours, it’s the perfect opportunity to relax and soak up the stunning Norwegian scenery. In winter it’s perfect as the train is warm whilst outside it could be -20!!

Along the route the train stops at several stations providing the quick opportunity to jump out and take some photos. For me it was amazing to see people living in the wilderness, houses almost disappeared from the amount of snow covering them.

Oslo to Bergen by Train

Oslo to Bergen by Train

When you get closer to Bergen be prepared for the many tunnels, you might not see much. Once in Bergen though you’ll find an exciting mix of old and new with an amazing port and historic Bryggen.

Beautiful Bergen

Beautiful Bergen

Flåm Railway

At just over 20km long, the journey is relatively short. However Lonely Planet listed it as the best train journey in the world in 2014 (Source: Lonely Planet). Flamsbana (as the journey is referred to) is unique due to 80% of the journey being at a gradient of 5.5%.



Obviously in summer you have the wonderful lush green valleys which are incredible, however in winter the train is certainly more memorable. I often wondered if the train would make it, but thankfully it did and was absolutely incredible.

Along the short route you’ll reach Finse, the highest station in Norway. At 1,222m above sea level, for me, this was an incredible experience as houses were completely covered in snow and either side of the railway tracks were packed so high with snow that you couldn’t see out of the window.

Traditional Norwegian Wooden Church, Flam

Traditional Norwegian Wooden Church, Flam

You can easily catch a train from Bergen to Myrdal and then catch the Flåm line. Once you arrive in Flåm it’s the perfect opportunity to do a fjord tour, although in winter make sure you take your hat, gloves, scarf and thermals, otherwise you’ll freeze your bits off!

To check out prices and more information about Flåm visit the website here.

In Norway they mean business

In Norway they mean business

There's a train station entrance somewhere...Myrdal Station, Norway

There’s a train station entrance somewhere…Myrdal Station, Norway

Further Information

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

The Andean Explorer: How much fun can a long train journey be?


The Andean Explorer is one of the world’s most incredible train journeys. During the 10-hour trip you’ll be treated to stunning views with a first class service.

Although I’ve previously been on other long train journeys such as The Ghan in Australia and various overnight trains in Europe, The Andean Explorer is truly in a league of its own.

You can start the journey in either Cusco (tourist central) or Puno (Lake Titicaca), although you might think what on earth am I going to do for 10 hours, believe me you will not be bored!

Leaving Puno

Bye bye Puno…


When I first saw the train, due to the colours I felt like I was in Ukraine (due to the blue and yellow colours…check out my Ukraine article).

In the UK, if you travel first class you can expect to pay a fortune for the privilege, thankfully in Peru the Andean Explorer, although expensive, is well worth the outlay.

With a classic design, the Pullman carriages are spacious and incredibly clean. I loved how comfortable the seats were, on such a long journey it was a relief!

My favourite part in the design of the train was the outdoor observatory car with a bar in it, enabling you to get the best possible view of Peru from both sides and above your head. Simply stunning.

There’s something rather romantic about a long journey (just don’t think about Murder on the Orient Express). However when you first leave Puno you’ll notice that even the tuk tuk’s on the street next to you are travelling faster than the train, but this is simply due to conditions of the rails.

During my trip to Peru I was travelling in an adventure tour group, I remember hearing a couple of them say they’d decided not to take the train because it was “10 hours and this is too long to be on a train, it’s also too expensive”.

True, the train isn’t cheap, however the experience is one of the best you can have as a tourist. You’ll meet people from all over the world, thankfully several of my group decided to take the train and we had a fantastic experience with a great bunch of newly made friends.


Cheers to new friends in Peru (Photo: Susan Walker)

The Andean Explorer isn’t just any old normal train journey, it’s a First Class experience.

As you leave Puno, you’ll see markets lining the sides of the railways tracks, some of the sellers place their books on the track. It was amazing to watch from the end carriage once the train had passed, life returns to normal and sellers once again will take over the railway tracks with their items.

Puno Market…across the railway tracks!

Puno Market…across the railway tracks!

At roughly the halfway point of the journey you’ll be given half an hour to get off the train and go enjoy the market, make sure you use this opportunity to bargain for locally produced goods.

So far on my journey through Peru I hadn’t bought any souvenirs, so for me the La Raya stop enabled me to purchase a local product…an alpaca wool jumper (sweater for my U.S readers). I love it, it’s so soft, warm, comfy and reminds me of my travels to Peru.


La Raya market stop

What’s a trip to South America without hearing some pan pipes! On the train you’ll be treated to a band playing traditional music accompanied by some funny dance moves, which later you may get dragged into joining…SO BEWARE!

Also if you do the journey, please make sure you check out the toilets (that's all I'll say…but it isn't bad)

Also if you do the journey, please make sure you check out the toilets (that’s all I’ll say…but it isn’t bad)

Trains don’t exactly have the best reputation for serving food, in the UK we often have to buy expensive tasteless rubbish from buffet cars. Not in Peru though, when I boarded the Andean Explorer we were offered a three course lunch with a variety of choices whilst later in the journey we were given afternoon tea.

The quality of the food however, for me was the best part.

I’m a fan of trying out local alcohol wherever I go, before I visited Peru I’d never heard of Pisco Sour. By the end of the trip I couldn’t get enough of them. It’s an unusual taste, but you soon get used to it and before you know it you’ll be a bit merry.

You’ll have plenty of time to try out some of the cocktails on the train and you may even be selected to take part in a cocktail making demonstration.

Machu Picchu cocktails

Machu Picchu cocktails…they weren’t all mine!

When I arrived in Cusco I was really sad because I realised that the train journey was over, it was so fun, relaxing and indulging. I just wanted to do it all over again, but it was then time to go explore Cusco!

The Andean Explorer

…time to go explore Cusco (Well in the morning)!

Further Information

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.