In 2012, getting the Belarus visa is a tedious process - and a bit pricey too. Expect to pay $80-100. Is it the worst and most expensive visa process out there? Not at all. It's fine. But it ain't a piece of cake compared to other countries.
Here's one traveler who found it relatively painless:
Concerning the Belarus Visa: In 2007 (September), got a Visa to Belarus at the railroad station in Vilnius, Lithuania. I had arrived from Riga on a Monday afternoon, checked into the hostel, and almost immediately met a couple (Aussie man and a Québecois woman who were traveling together) who had just come from the station with their Visa to Belarus. They said it was easy, so I quickly went back to get mine.
The kiosk was in the side hall of the railroad station, the one to the left of the main hall as you looked at the station from the street. I needed cash and a photo, and they pointed me to an ATM and a quick-shot photo place across the street. In less than 30 minutes I returned with both, left the cash, photo and my US passport with them, and picked up my passport with Visa and documentation the next afternoon.
I could have paid more and had it become active the next day, but for less mine became active in 4 days, on the Friday. It was a bit of a sham in that I was given a sheet all filled out (in Belarusian or Russian, I assume) saying where I would be staying, what sort of room and bathroom it had, an address, etc. But nothing was said about needing to use those facilities. Indeed, by Thursday evening I had contracted with a CouchSurfer to stay with her and her boyfriend, she a translator who spoke 5 languages and worked for the government news agency. I still have the Visa in my US passport. For the record, I was 52 years old at the time, but the Aussie and the Canadian were much younger, so it's not that it was for non-traditional backpacker types. (I was very much backpacking and looked it.)
Interestingly, in the intervening 3 days, I'd met a Dutch man who was driving to Minsk on the Friday. He had gone through the normal embassy channels in Amsterdam for his Visa and...the thing for his car; I forget the name of that. At the border, my Visa went through without question, but his held us up. It took about 2 hours. Indeed, there was an uncomfortable period when it looked liked I was in and he would be rejected, leaving me at the border to beg a ride the rest of the way to Minsk. But finally we got through, and my CouchSurfer got him a place with her friend.
As for Russia, I was told that you could catch a bus from Minsk to Moscow without a security check or border crossing. The risk was, when leaving Russia by another way (other than returning to Belarus) whether you have a problem then. I didn't explore that possibility.
In the end, my Dutch friend, Joop, and my Belarusian CouchSurfing host, Aksana, put me on an overnight train for Kiev (I would have NEVER been able to buy a ticket without her language skills!), and Joop headed west into Poland by car.
Anyway, that's my tale. Perhaps you can file it under the heading, "It's sometimes easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission," which is what I'd have needed if in the end it wasn't on the up-and-up. But as far as I know, it's easy, doable, and cheap. (My memory is that I paid 290 litas—is that the Lithuanian currency?—which I remember thinking was a deal.
I enjoy the show, and I've never missed one! Lastly, go for the Moldovan National Wine Festival (2nd weekend in October, I think)! Fabulous Fête!
Vermont and Quebec