Just across the border from Poland, Brest (pop. 238,000) is an important industrial, transportation and transit hub. It's the usual entry place from points west (Warsaw is only three-and-a-half hours away by train). Though it's an old city (founded in the 11th century), wars have destroyed nearly everything more than 50 years old. It's worth an overnight visit to see the Brest Fortress and other war memorials to the city's heroic stand against the Nazis. Brest's archaeological museum displays remnants from some of the first buildings of the city.

The high point of the city's social life is a U.S.-dollar-only Indian restaurant on Karl Marx Street, with a reputation for serving the best curries between London and Bombay. The Indian owners were stranded in Belarus when the Soviet Union collapsed and decided to make the best of their situation by opening a restaurant. During our last trip, a waiter told us that they cater mainly to gangsters, but the atmosphere seemed benign, and the food was excellent. Nearby Pinsk makes a good day trip.

About 64 mi/100 km north of Brest, on the border with Poland, the Belovezhskaya Forest is Belarus' premier nature reserve. It's home to many rare species, including the European bison. An excellent area for camping and hiking, it's also good for fishing in the famous blue-lakes area. 200 mi/320 km southwest of Minsk.

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