Brest is a home of a Hero Fortress
Hero City is a Soviet honorary title awarded for outstanding heroism during the 2nd World War II. It was awarded to twelve cities of the Soviet Union. In addition, the Brest Fortress was awarded an equivalent title of Hero Fortress. This symbolic distinction for a city corresponds to the individual distinction Hero of the Soviet Union.
Brest is a relatively small size city in Belarus at the border of Poland; it’s a very interesting city with a long and complex history and with a significant historical importance. In the last few years, the government of Belarus introduced a new simplified process to visit Brest and Grodna regions for 15 days visa free. For more information about the visa free access of Brest and Grodna regions, click the link here
I visited Brest, Belarus for a weekend in the last week of February 2020 and in this blog, I will share with you my impressions of the city.
How to get there
For most of travellers, they can get to Brest by rail from Poland (which is what I did). It’s about 4 hours train ride from Warsaw to Brest. The journey includes 2 stops at the Polish-Belarusian border. However, although entering Brest and Grodna regions is visa free for most travellers but there is a document you need to fill online, print it out and bring it with you to the train. The whole process of filling the document and paying fees takes less than 5 minutes as you only need to fill passport information and select arrival and departure dates. The system will calculate the cost of visa which includes obligatory medical insurance, a ticket to a museum in Brest and a taxi voucher. The whole thing costed me around 12 Euros and I think it’s a good deal as it includes a museum ticket and a taxi voucher. Click here to apply for the visa free document.
There is another way to visit Brest which is to land in Minsk airport and then to take a train from Minsk to Brest. Train journey takes around 3 hours and there are many trains serving this route everyday.
Train experience from Warsaw to Brest
I couldn’t buy the train ticket from the Polish railway website so I had to go to the central station in Warsaw to buy a return ticket to Brest from there. I recommend buying the ticket a few days before the trip as this train can get full easily. There are 3 trains everyday from Warsaw to Brest. Train ticket costed me around 37 USD (return). 1st leg was in 2nd class and 2nd leg with 1st class. I mentioned in a previous blog that I didn’t find a big difference between 1st and 2nd class seats in regular Polish non high-speed trains; 1st class seats are inside a compartment while 2nd class passengers sit in a 2-2 seat configuration. There was a power socket in my 2nd class seat so it was perfect and comfortable. It was probably too crowded but it wasn’t a real issue for me. In fact, there was a Babushka (Grandmother) sitting next to me and she was trying to have a conversation with me. Sadly, my Russian is very bad but I managed to say a few phrases but she kept on talking and I couldn’t understand anything. I tried to tell her that I don’t understand Russian but she probably didn’t believe me. Anyway, it was a funny experience.
The train ride took about 4 hours and involved 2 border stops; 1st stop was at Terespol which is on the Polish side of the border. Polish passport control officers boarded the train, checked passports, stamped them on the spot. The stop at the Polish side took around 45 minutes. A few minutes later, there was a stop at the Belarusian side where Belarusian officers boarded the train, collected all passports and a few minutes later, they returned them back. The stop at the Belarusian side was much shorter. In Belarus, they usually give you that sharp look and they really compare your facial patterns with the passport photo and thoroughly check your passport. However, I must say that they were generally nice and professional. They asked me if I have alcohol or cigarettes and they also asked me if I have cash. You need to bring some money with you just in case as passport control officers sometimes ask to show a proof of funds.
Arrival to Brest
The train station has a beautiful building that was reconstructed in 1957 (it was originally built in 1886). I had to walk from the station to my Airbnb apartment as my internet connection didn’t work and I couldn’t order a taxi. and since the apartment was a short walk from the station, I decided to walk and that was an opportunity to see the city. The apartment is located in Lenin street, which is a central area of the city and right opposite to Lenin statue. Although the Soviet Union was dissolved about 30 years ago but I noticed that Belarusian people have a peaceful tie with their past as many statues and symbols from the communism era are still there. It was a cool surprise for me to see Lenin’s statue there so had to stop there for a few minutes to take photos.
I arrived at my beautiful Airbnb space and met my host who is friendly, hospitable and very interesting! The apartment was spacious and spotless clean and I immediately felt comfortable about being there.
Sovetskaya Street & City Centre
Right after I checked-in, I went out to explore the city centre so I immediately followed my host’s advice and went to check out Sovetskaya street which is full of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. It is the busiest street in Brest and it’s truly full of life. You should check out the lamplighter lighting the charming looking oil lamps before dark. Later that day, I found a nice Italian cafe called Pompeii where I had my first coffee in Brest and my first Italian pasta. Taste was much better than I expected and it was a great value for money considering the quality of food and service.
Brest’s centre is completely walk-able, there is no need to take any taxi or public transportation if you want to move from one point to another in the centre unless it’s rainy or too cold. Later in the evening, I visited the coolest restaurant in Brest, it’s called “U Ozera”. It looks like a traditional Belarusian house with beautiful interior, traditional local food and very good service. I wasn’t too hungry so I had some light dishes along with Belarusian pickles. Russian speaking people (Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians , etc…) are obsessed with pickles, they literally pickle everything!
As you can tell from the title of this blog, Brest fortress is the major highlight of this trip. It was awarded a title of Hero Fortress for the defence of the frontier stronghold during the first weeks of the Nazi army invasion of the Soviet Union.
The 2nd world war is known as “The Great Patriotic War” in the Former USSR countries. It is the greatest war ever fought in their history; Former Soviet Union lost about 27 million people who bravely fought to defend their existence. The war had a significant impact on these countries and there are beautifully built victory monuments and memorials all over Former Soviet Union nations and this memorial complex which I visited in Brest is no exception. I felt a very strong energy when I was at that site and I was emotionally touched by the fact of how people there are still very loyal to those who sacrificed so much and lost their lives defending their motherland; I saw fresh flowers everywhere at the monument which is such a beautiful gesture.
I recommend watching the Belarusian/Russian movie “Fortress of War” before heading there. It’s available on YouTube with English subtitles.
After seeing the monument, I went to see the actual fortress which was awarded the title “Hero Fortress” for its brave resistance in the war. I was impressed to see it in real life as 6 months earlier, I saw a miniature of it in a museum in Minsk.
Later on, I checked out the fortress museum, I already had a ticket as it was part of the visa document. The museum is nice and worth a visit. I highly recommend visiting this site, it’s a must-do in Brest, without any doubt.
More Belarusian food
Belarusian cuisine is quite rich and interesting. I tried many dishes in Minsk which I really liked so I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of trying more Belarusian dishes in Brest. I visited a restaurant called Svayki Kharchenya and had a Belarusian dish which consisted of pancakes with chicken and mushroom. Taste was alright. Probably not the best Belarusian food I’ve ever had but it was good enough.
Brest train station and heading back to Warsaw
In my last day, and after having a morning coffee in cafe Strudel in Sovetskaya street, I left the apartment to the train station. I had time to kill so decided to have my last Belarusian meal. I was looking for a restaurant inside the train station and there was a great surprise! I found a Soviet style restaurant inside the train station and that’s exactly what I was looking for! It was a wonderful surprise. I had lunch there; ordered a salad and a chicken dish and a bottle of water and the whole thing costed me less than 4 USD, imagine? Taste was really good but salad was drowned in Mayonnaise but I was not surprised as I know that these Soviet style salads are always like that. Always expect to see massive amount of mayonnaise when you get any Soviet style salad in a Russian speaking country, it’s another thing Russian speaking people are obsessed with 🙂 . It was a delicious lunch, nevertheless.
Brest is a beautiful city in Belarus. It is a home of a hero fortress and a very important city in history. If you have any interest in history or in Former USSR culture, Brest can be a very interesting destination for you. You can add Brest to your Belarus itinerary along with Minsk and maybe 1 or 2 more cities.
Belarusian people are generally extremely polite and respectful; that was my impression when I visited Minsk and I experienced the same thing in this trip to Brest. The city is very safe so you shouldn’t worry about getting scammed or being in a trouble unless you go for it. The city is generally quiet especially in winter months but I was told that it gets very busy and active during summer time.
About the best time to visit, I believe it’s between May and September as summer months are the warmest and sunniest, obviously. I was there end of February, it was cloudy but it wasn’t that cold so I guess I was lucky with the weather as it’s usually much colder than what I experienced during my visit.
Brest is a city in Belarus so don’t expect everyone to speak fluent English but number of English speaking people is growing and I didn’t find any problem while communicating with people there. I recommend that you learn some phrases in Russian before you head there or at least, learn to read Cyrillic alphabets, it will make your life much easier.
The value for money in Brest is great. You can get high quality food and drinks for fractions of what you pay for in Western countries.
I will list down recommended places for food and coffee which I tried myself:
-Pompeii Restaurant; Good Italian restaurant in Sovetskaya Street.
-U Ozera; Traditional Belarusian restaurant in the centre
-Svayki Kharchenya; Tradition Belarusian restaurant in the centre (good but not great)
-Restoran Vokzala (Soviet style restaurant inside the train station, it’s excellent)
-Paragraph Coffee; a really cool coffee shop in Sovetskaya street
-Shtrudel’ ; a cool coffee shop also located in Sovetsakaya street
-Gran Caffe; a nice place but not as good as Paragraph and Shtrudel’
-Kafe Bufet; I visited this place on a Saturday night and it was fine (not fantastic but also not too bad)
Extra place to visit: Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park; it’s about an hour away by car from Brest city centre and it’s a gorgeous national park, one of the best in Europe and probably in the world. I’ve never been there myself but heard a lot about it.
That’s all I can say about Brest for now. Please let me know if you have questions or comments.