Saturday, September 24, 2016

Brest & Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park Tour, Belarus

Going to Brest was my main reason for coming to Belarus. Брэст sits just across the Polish border but of course it's not as simple as just catching a train from Poland because I needed that tourist visa.  So today's adventure was a 16 hour, Russian language road trip (800 km / 500 mile) from Minsk to Brest and the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park.

In medieval times, Brest was part of the Kingdom of Poland before becoming part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania followed by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, until it was incorporated by the Russian Empire in 1795.  After WWI the city as again part of Poland until it was taken by the Soviet Union.  Today, Brest is firmly a part of Belarus and is home to over 310,000 people.

On 22 June 1941, the German Wehrmacht attacked the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa.  The 19th-century Brest-Litovsk Fortress was home to one of the first battles.  The Germans expected to take it in a few hours.

The Soviet army managed to hold out for over a week before it was taken.  It became a symbol of Soviet resistance and in 1965 the fortress received the title of Hero Fortress.

In 2004, it was placed on the tentative list for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

In 1971 the memorial complex was opened.  The museum tells the story of the defence and is very interesting.

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

Aside from the monuments and museum, you can walk around to see the barracks, bunkers and forts.  There is also the St. Nicholas Orthodox church.

The Russian film Брестская крепость, Fortress of War, released in 2010 is about the battle as narrated from the perspective of a 15-year old boy.  Here's the English language movie trailer that I found out on YouTube.

Here's a RT broadcast about the battle as part of their series on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.  In former Soviet republics it is known as The Great Patriotic War.

©Russia Today

After touring the fortress we went to the city and had lunch.  Then it was off to Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park.  The park is 70 km (43 miles) north of Brest.  It is a biosphere reserve with a museum and a small zoo.

European bison
The park was established in 1932.  It is 1500 km² (579 square miles) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The forest is home to Wisent, the European bison which is the continent's heaviest land animal.    

The tour at the park was supposed to include a visit to see the residence of Ded Moroz.  Grandfather Frost is the Eastern version of Santa Claus.  I wasn't able to understand the reason why we didn't go but I was fine skipping it as it had already been a very long day.  Plus I was mentally drained having to do the entire day in Russian which now is pretty much rubbish.  Fortunately most of the museum exhibits did include English titles and/or descriptions.

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