Last weekend made a great trip to the south of Belarus.
It turns out that Gomel region has a lot of things to offer. And what is more pleasant - at a very affordable price.
So, in fact my primary destination was a little place called Yurovichi. It is known to every Belarusian schooler as a great archeological site - they excavated here a Paleolithic settlement and found tons of mammoth bones and skeletons of other prehistoric animals that wandered Belarus thousands of years ago. In 2008 they started to construct a big thematic museum devoted to Stone Age people. So I wanted to check how the construction was going on, and of course, to see the bones, tusks and other remains of Belarusian mamoths.
So we took a night train from Minsk to Kalinkovichi (a big railway hub, but not really much to see there, so it was just a transport centre for us). The ticket cost 4 eur and was bought a week in advance. The train travel lasted for 5 hours and we had some decent sleep. In Kalinkovichi right in front of the railway station there is a square where mini-bus (marshrutka) to Mozyr stops. The ride is 0.5 eur and 15 min. On entering Mozyr we crossed a big bridge over the Pripyat (yes,yes, that very river that gave the name to a town and to a STALKER game) and we saw vast beach on the left side of the river. Later we really enjoyed staying there as the sand there was as soft and yellow as at any sea resort, besides, in August the water was so warm that we couldn't help having a swim. Naturally there were a lot of local people like us on the beach.
Just near the bridge there is a small bus station from where one can go to any part of Mozyr by bus. But I strongly recommend to walk down the river to the main square. There you will not only see the obvious Lenin statue, but also a Middle Age wooden complex of fortifications on the hill that one must climb to see it all. Local authorities decided to turn the old quartier of the city into a tourist attraction and they rebuilt an old castle-like structure with plenty to see inside. Entrance fee is 0.5 eur + 0.5 eur for a 'taking pictures' permit. Inside there is also a karczma (a restaurant) where one can eat out and have a drink (drinks in Belarus are dirt cheap outside Minsk).
Then we took a city bus to Mozyr central bus station and bought Mozyr-Yurovichi bus ticket there. It cost 2 eur. The ride is 35 min.
Btw, from Mozyr you can get to Kiev for 11 eur. At 4 pm there is a bus. Very convenient for those who are making an Eastern Europe tour. Just don't take the morning bus as it crosses the border in Ovruch which is a border crossing for Belarus and Ukraine citizens only.
One more piece of advice. For those who want to see what Chernobyl area looks like but do not want to deal with illegal guides or hassle with getting special permits(these are practically impossible to get) - there is a bus going from Mozyr to Bragin. After 1.5 hrs of travel from Mozyr (between Khoiniki and Bragin)on your right you will see a lot of abandoned houses that are half covered by trees and bushes. This is actually not the very 30 km radioactive zone, but it looks just the same as it is only 45-50 km from Chernobyl itself. The return bus ticket would cost 10 eur. This way you can get sort of experience people get in Ukraine when going on 100 eur Chernobyl tour.
but let's get back to Mozyr-Yurovichi bus. On our way we mostly saw fields and forests and finally we arrived to Yurovichi. There is no bus station there, just a bus stop between a shop and the local town hall. We went up the hill and saw the signs saying that we arrived to a prehistoric people settlement site. Unfortunately the museum is still under construction, nobody knows when it is going to be finished. But we wandered the hill and found some places where the archeological excavations had been going on, took pictures of the unfinished museum and went further to have a look at a XVIII cent Jesuit collegium.
This piece of architecture was under restoration, but it still preserved its grandeur and even one colorful fresco is visibly. Entrance inside the church was closed. So we went down the hill to the town centre a bit disappointed when one of us decided to ask the locals about all those things that are to be in the museum. It turned out that they are currently in a school museum. The school was locked but the locals advised us to knock on the door of a hut near the school. As it yurned out many tourists come to this place so the school authorities leave the key to a local woman so that random visitors could come inside and see the exposition.
What we saw inside was real amazing. The real mamoth bones, teeth, skull, tools of prehistoric people... We were told that unfortunately in post-Soviet times lots of mammoth bones and tusks were stoled. No wonder - one tooth of a mammoth costs 500 USD in black market...
There were also some collections of medieval artifacts as well as of those dating back to XIX-XX cent.
Our curiosity was satisfied to the full extent and we went back to Mozyr to have a snack and a beer (as in Yurovichi there was only one shop with some basic goods for locals, no cafes at all).
It is very sad that such a great archeological site is so mishandled. If properly managed this could become a great tourist centre. Just need to finish the museum on the hill, build a couple of cafes and souvenier shops... Also it is necessary to improve transportation as there are too few busses to\from Yurovichi, so it is necessary to carefully plan the journey there.
From Mozyr we went to Kalinkovichi by marshrutka and took a night train to Minsk.
To sum it up: Mozyr is an excellent place for a beach getaway in summer and has a decent medieval style complex. Yurovichi is a great way to see pre-historic artifacts as well as real Belarus village life.