After many hours on a train from Minsk, I arrived in Brest at 8 PM on a Thursday evening, and went straight to my hostel to get some sleep, after having two nights of only four and five hours sleep (thanks to the Danes who persuaded me into having beers).
I had one main reason for going all the way to Brest, a city located 5 km from the Polish border and 350 km from Minsk, a good 4-hour ride on the train. I REALLY wanted to see the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park, which is part of Europe’s oldest forest, and also a UNESCO sight (my second one on this trip!).
Before going to bed, I did a little bit of research and decided that I would catch the bus at 8.30 AM, arriving at 10 AM and then spend a good four hours in the primeval forest! Afterwards, I wanted to explore Brest for a few hours before heading back to Minsk.
Getting to the primeval forest was much easier than I had read online! I had actually read that most tourists don’t go there because it’s so hard to get there, so they go from the Polish side instead – but it’s absolutely no hassle at all! I just asked at my hostel for the times, walked to the bus station, got a ticket, got on the bus, drove for 1,5 hours and got dropped off at the entrance to the National Park. Simple as that.
Right by the entrance there’s bike rental and what looks like a tour company. When I asked the guy about the tours out of curiosity, he didn’t understand me and told me “no English” – I’ve heard that one before! But I didn’t want to go on a tour anyways, I wanted to explore the forest by myself, going anywhere my heart desired. So I decided to rent a bike, setting me back 12 BYN (38,5 DKK) for 2,5 hours.
Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park is a preserved part of the UNESCO Natural Heritage Site, Białowieża Forest, which is shared between Belarus and Poland. It’s the last primeval forest fragment of the European woodlands, that once stretched across the European Plain from the Ural Mountains in Russia to the Bay of Biscay in France.
The forest is well known for being one of the last natural homes to the European bison, which are Europe’s heaviest land animals. The forest is also home to many other mammals and hundreds of bird species.
With the inner part belonging to the realm of old-growth forest, which has seen limited human intervention for almost 800 years, this national park is often called “the last untouched wilderness of Europe”. It was fascinating to bike among these ancient trees, and as the archaeologist I am, I of course started to imagine life in the forest as a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer (I wouldn’t mind that life)!
Riding a bike through the forest was the perfect way to explore it! I was free to roam wherever I wanted, stop whenever I wanted and in that way got many great photos! I was in my element in this forest, and I loved imagining myself as a Mesolithic woman, roaming the forests with my flint arrows on the lookout for the enormous bisons.
I decided to follow the “Animal Crossing Path” as I wanted to see some of the park’s famous animals, and I actually saw two elks/deer/something! I’m not sure what they were, but they definitely weren’t bisons and I only managed to snap one lousy picture, but it was the most exciting part of my day, haha!
Somehow, and I really don’t know how, I got lost when trying to find my way back from the trail. I somehow ended up in the middle of the trail again and thankfully I recognized parts of the forest, so I was able to go back before venturing too far into the 2,5-hour long trail again! So back I went, and miraculously, I found the right turn and headed for the entrance!
I still had an hour to wait for the bus, so I went to a fancy restaurant by the entrance and got myself some good ol’ American fries! I was the most unfancy person at the restaurant!
At 4 PM, I was back in Brest, ready to do some explorations of the city.
I did a quick walking tour of the city, first through the lively Savieckaia Street, which is the main street and has many wonderfully weird sculptures and monuments such as the Cat Monument, the Lucky Boot (if you stick your foot in and wish for money, you will get rich – apparently) and an enormous telephone made of grass.
Gogalya Street runs parallel to Savieckaia Street, and is a beautiful alley lined with old chestnut trees. The entire street has a park in the middle, where there are all kinds of fairytale-like sculptures.
I then walked all the way to Brest Fortress, which is located 7 km from the city center. It resulted in extremely tired legs (especially after biking all day), but it was worth it as I saw TWO SNAKES at the fortress! I couldn’t believe my eyes! They just came slithering along the pathway and I almost stepped on them!
While the two snakes were definitely my highlight of the place, the fortress itself was also really interesting. It was built in the 19th century by the Russian Empire and shaped like a star and this original outline has sustained until today. It was built to accommodate 12,000 soldiers within the thick walls, but these original barracks now mostly lie in ruins.
In 1965, the fortress was given the title of Hero Fortress to commemorate the defence of the frontier stronghold during the first week of the German-Soviet War, when the nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.
The fortress was nothing like I had imagined, as I’d only read about it before going there. For some reason, I had thought it would be something like Berat Castle, but that definitely wasn’t the case. It was not a castle, more like a ginormous plaza with ruins, huge sculptures and tanks, all surrounded by a moat.
From the fortress, I decided to get a taxi in order to catch the train to Minsk at 5.40 PM, instead of waiting until 9.20 PM and arriving past midnight in the capital. Instead, I arrived at the comfortable hour of 9 PM and headed straight to bed to rest before going on a big shopping spree the next morning!
It was so comfortable to ride in a train instead of the awful marshrutkas I’d been using the other days. On the way back to Minsk, I was on a sleeper train headed to Moscow, so I was actually able to lie down for the entire ride! It was great.
This long day was my last in Belarus. The next morning, I woke up early to get some shopping done in Minsk and then headed to the airport, where I caught a flight to Riga and then back to Copenhagen, where uni life started once again. It was great to get away for a few days, and Belarus was a treat!
How to travel from Minsk to Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park:
- Minsk to Brest: There are busses and trains running to Brest quite frequently. I recommend taking the train as it’s MUCH more comfortable, and there are toilets and plugs to charge your electronic devices! You can check the times at the train station or ask at your hostel/hotel. It takes about four hours and I paid 10 BYN (32 DKK) for a one-way ticket.
- In Brest, I stayed at Brest Central Hostel, which is located 5 minutes from the train station and just around the corner from the bus station. One night in a mixed dorm cost me just 14 BYN (45 DKK). There is only one bathroom with a shower, toilet and sink, but if you get up early, you should be fine. The Wi-Fi is good and there are free lockers and a towel! There’s no breakfast, but the hostel people will tell you where to go for good breakfast (I didn’t get any, I just had a Snickers).
- Brest to the national park: There are busses running frequently every day to the entrance of the national park. You can either ask at your hostel/hotel for the time or go to the bus station and ask there. When coming back to Brest, there are signs with a timetable where you get dropped off at the entrance to the forest, and they are also pretty frequent.
- In the National Park: Bike rental is located right at the entrance, and so is the café and restaurant, which are both reasonably priced (nothing is expensive in Belarus). There are also tour options, although the guy at the counter didn’t speak any English, so that might be hard to communicate. I paid 12 BYN (38,5 DKK) for my bike rental going on “The Animal Crossing Path”, which is estimated to take 2,5 hours. There are also other options, some longer and more expensive and some shorter and cheaper.
- In Brest: I recommend seeing the two main streets and headed off to the fortress, which costs just 4 BYN (13 DKK) in a taxi from the main center, or a good 40-minute walk.