Hrodna in July 2006. The photograph was taken by my friend, Yenny, in front of the Hrodna train station at 6 o'clock in the morning.
We'd spend the previous night with a bunch of polish-speaking locals. Our bellies full of pielmieni and vodka, we are about to climb a bus to Białystok, a city in Poland which is close to the Belarussian border. Although only 80 kilometres long, the journey will last a while - the bus is full of smugglers trying to hide alcohol and cigarettes everywhere they can.
People who enter Poland, are smuggling in vodka and cigarettes. People who enter Belarus are smuggling in meat: Is meat in Belarus more expensive? Less available? Of a worse quality? All answers of the above?
Anyway... If you watch TV and read newspapers, your impression is probably that Belarussian people are poor and that they do not have much freedom. Many authorities in Poland believe Belarus to be a a completely wild country ruled by a soviet dictator, and partially, they are right. What the news doesn't say though is that Belarusians are very friendly and hospitable and that their country is really worth seeing.
Belarus it is a great place for travellers fascinated with Eastern Europe and it's political ups and downs so If is not a threat to you, to sleep in low class hotels and read the cyrillic alphabet, get a visa, change some dollars and head for the cities of Minsk, Brest, Vitebsk and Hrodno. If you do that, you will discover unique soviet architecture - well preserved and cared for. Loads of strange propaganda crap like 30 minute long news broadcasts about Hugo Chavez visiting President Łukaszenka. You will see proud, patriotic monuments and poverty, cunningly shut off in the back streets. You will also discover a merry folk divided into two groups: the ones who adore their leader, and the ones who hate him and want to fight for the "Free Belarus". It's all a sad but at the same time fascinating mixture.
Belarus is really worth seeing and if two two female students from Poland could walk around freely, make photographs and discuss politics with local people, than you could probably do the same.