Our route took us from Helsinki Finland to Tallinn Estonia on a ferry – just two hours to cross the Gulf of Finland. Weather was fantastic and we opted for a less travelled route and eventually crossed near Estonian village of Lilli (road 54) to Latvia (road P17). A fantastic winding road with very little traffic, no speed traps or police like on the standard Via Baltica route.
Overnight near Riga and a morning departure towards Vilnius Lithuania, meeting our friend Vyga for lunch on the road.
Settling into our accommodation just outside the city followed by dinner in the old town with Zilvinas in a Georgian restaurant and a visit to see his bike shop, Speed Crank. Little adjustment to my KessTech exhaust by a butt-crack man and we were on out way to Minsk.
Now the weather was changing slowly for the worst.
Sometimes in biking you may need to change your plans. Sometimes it is the weather…
As some of our group had already been to Minsk several times attending the end of season rally, we thought it would be a good idea to see Minsk in the summer and to explore the surroundings a bit.
That was the plan. The weather however, did not agree. It was colder, windier and rainier than any of the end of season rallies we had visited in September!
One night in Minsk (or two)
Once we arrived in Minsk in the rain, we settled into our Hotel. There are at least three of the Victoria hotels near each other and they are all good and friendly. This time we stayed at Victoria Spa.
Dinner at a very popular food and dance spot Druzya Minsk, a good night out.
Great Patriotic War Museum
The morning weather was miserable. Temperature 9c, strong wind and heavy rain. So we opted for some indoor activity.
It is amazing how history is mainly written through wars. Great Patriotic War Museum was no exception but it was one of the finest museums I have seen. Having visited the Stalin Line earlier, this was a fitting next place to visit.
Minsk is a very modern city and a short stroll in the centre was due. A visit to a department store and yet another borsch-soup.
The weather being atrocious we stayed at the hotel for dinner, examining at the weather forecast. No change for the next three to four days! Perhaps it would be nice somewhere else?
Change of plans – Ride to Jurmala
At the breakfast table the plan was agreed. We would cut our Minsk visit short and ride to Vilnius for the night and continue to Jurmala just south of Riga for some better weather and beach front activity!
Although we had some adverse weather, the trip was again a good one. Nice time with nice people, always worth it!
I have visited Minsk several times on a motorbike and every time it has been just phenomenal. Minsk is a very modern city with friendly people, excellent food and great nightlife.
Coming July 2018, it is time to look a bit further afield. Riding with a small group of friends from HOG Capital Chapter Finland, we will be holding Minsk as our base and exploring the countryside and the sights we have missed during our earlier visits. Hopefully we will meet some of our local HOG-friends to give us a steer as well!
Earlier rides have taken us from Vilnius, Lithuania to Minsk and that is the plan is also now. Road surface is good on both sides of the border. The ride from Vilnius to Kamenny Log border crossing is only some 35 km and from Kamenny Log to Minsk, some 150km, total distance 185km.
Formalities at the border take some time and there is a set procedure to follow. Officials have always been friendly and guided us if there were questions. Formalities run according to their set plan. No ifs, ands or buts!
The documentation one needs include passport with visa, green card for the bike and health insurance for the rider. Additionally you can download a Passenger Customs Declaration and fill it before leaving for the border. You will be given one at the border, but easier to do in advance. The document is the same for both Belarus and Russian borders.
At the border you will also be given a Migration Card to fill in and you MUST keep the other half with you for your return journey. This is not downloadable, presumably because it has running numbering.
I got my visa from the Belarus Embassy in Helsinki. Easily done and they must have the friendliest staff of any Visa consulate I have visited. This is also the cheapest way – you really do not need to pay any middleman. This applies to coming on land and there is a visa free scheme if you come by plane.
NOTE! As a tourist without an invitation to visit the country, you will need a stamped booking confirmation from your hotel for obtaining a visa. Confirmation from booking.com, etc. will NOT do. Just email the hotel and they will promptly email you a scanned document.
I am already really excited about the ride and another blog will follow.
By the way… The bike pictured in the main image at the start of this post belongs to president Alexander Lucashenko – Black Ultra with red flames!
Riding to Minsk in the fall may not be the first thing in mind for an average biker. Well, we are not average and this time we were nine riders on eight bikes. Our largest posse in three years for this trip.
The weather did not look too promising either way (again, it is September and we live in the North), but as usual, the forecasts give much gloomier outlooks that the reality has ever been on these trips. Yes, it is wet and yes, it is cold, but only at times. But it is fun all the way and we have the stories!
We even managed to get Omar to join us for the return run as our ninth bike and I am sure this was not what he was used to in his native Saudi Arabia!
Hats off to our brave Saudi! Hopefully it will be warmer in Portugal where he will be riding next in a few days!
This must be one of the motorcycle events with the highest possible level of sponsors. The organizing committee for the event is impressive: Minsk City Executive Committee, Ministry of Internal Affairs and State Border Committee, Harley-Davidson Russia and the CIS, and of course the main organisers, HOG Iron Birds Chapter.
Viktor Lukashenko, the eldest son of the President of Belarus andIgor Shunevich, Minister of Internal Affairs, both attended the event and promoted it in the media. Last year president Alexander Lukashenko himself led the parade on his Harley Ultra.
The event is officially aimed at strengthening friendly relations between countries and developing tourism in Belarus. It seems they were successful as according to media, over 4000 HOG riders plus 2000 other makes from 15 countries attended the rally.
Visa-Free Entry to Belarus
Following this high level organizing committee, entry to Belarus was visa-free for those attending the ticketed HOG party. Your event ticket is your visa. Formalities at the border do anyway take time when also the bikes needed import documents. Regardless, the border officials seemed very friendly and in good spirits admiring the bikes.
As one of the objects for the organisers is promoting tourism, there were some excursions available. Mirskiy Castle – a landmark of Belarus, The Stalin Line. “Immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the Great Patriotic War and feel the spirit of the old times!” and the Belorussian Automobile Plant (BAP).
I chose The Staling Line and the exhibitions were really good with some more recent missiles on show – The BUK.
Amazing Party for Everyone in the City
This was my third time in Belarus and it is always so much fun. The people in Minsk are some of the friendliest and the HOG riders are always cheering each other.
The public festivities with shows, events and entertainment were in the centre of Minsk at the Palace of Sports, kicked off with bands and motorcycle parade, arriving from the Mount of Glory. The event is closed with huge fireworks late in the evening. See some of the media clips at the end of post.
For HOG riders, a ticketed party at the Falcon Club was a blast with bands like the ever classic Nazareth, followed by The Presidential Orchestra of Belarus sharing the stage with a rock group.
Ending on the Patriotic High
The closing of the evening is something the Belorussians do well. They may have some big names performing (In the past Uriah Heap, Udo, The Rasmus, now Nazareth) but each year they have a closing number with a band that raises the roof and taps in to the patriotic spirit. This time was no exception. And the Presidential orchestra worked really well with the rock twist.
After the 2015 experience, attending the 2016 HOG Rally in Minsk was firmly in my diary for the end of the riding season.
This is probably the biggest festival of its kind, organized for both bikers and general public alike, in the centre of a national capital. Even president Lukashenko himself rode a Harley and lead the parade to the festival site.
Crossing to Belarus
If you thought that Belarus is difficult to get to and crossing the border is difficult, you can think again!
Our route took us via Vilnius to Minsk with a total distance between the cities of some 180km on the E28 (or A3 in Lithuania and M7 in Belarus). Border
crossing is only 35 km from Vilnius. The road is very good on both sides with only very few older not-so-even-mind-your-fillings -stretches on the Belarus side.
The organizers had done a sterling job and the Belarusian officials at the border knew we were coming. Attending the festival, access to Belarus was visa-free as long as you had the H.O.G. event ticket.
Border formalities were quick and followed an express-lane on the Belarusian side. There are still a few documents to be filled and they are all available at the border. Vehicle insurance green card is mandatory but if you do not have one, you can buy it at the border, costing two (2) euros 2016!
To make things quicker, you can also download and fill in the customs documents beforehand. Just be sure not to loose ANY of the documents you entered the country with – not even the festival ticket as that effectively is your Visa and you also need it upon exiting the country.
City Without Suburbs
When you approach Minsk, the city just seems to rise from the forest at the end of the highway. There is virtually nothing but countryside until the city high rises start – Misk does not really have suburbs! Regardless of their income or status, people live in flats. And new high rise flats are being built everywhere. Minsk is developing very fast and has a population of over two million.
Minsk is also very modern and a very stylish city. People make an effort to look good and they sure do. There seems to be a lot of money around, at least for some. Outside Minsk, horse pulled carts and Mercedes Brabus’ share the road.
Rally Hotels and Ticket Bookings
The organizers have selected a few high quality hotels for you to choose from and in my view it is a good idea to stick with the recommendations and to do all bookings as instructed by the organizers on their web site.
The organizers are amazingly quick to comment and to get back to you with any questions or wishes you may have. Be sure to bring with you all the documents you are sent or given, as they may even include instructions to the officials and may become useful if someone has not been briefed properly.
The Saturday Parade starts from the Mound of Glory outside Minsk, east on M2 and runs to Sport Palace Square in the city centre. Mound of Glory monument commemorates Soviet soldiers who fought in World War II and the liberation of Belarus. There is also other war memorabilia on display – tanks, etc.
Minsk has a bloody history during World War II with some 400.000 civilians killed in and around the city. Minsk is a Soviet Hero-City, a title awarded for outstanding heroism during World War II. Only twelve cities in the former Soviet Union have this title and it is worth noting that Minsk was awarded the title as late as in 1974!
This year a security check had to be passed to enter the start area. Also here, I was impressed by the professional conduct and politeness of the security personnel. Not sure if the security check was because of the president or the general political climate. Also last year the president was there but no special security checks were made.
The atmosphere at the start was festive with all the bikes getting organized, rock’n roll band playing and tv-crews with cameras and drones and a helicopter filming the event. The clear indication that parade was about to start was when security teams got busy and started running around. Soon enough president Lukashenko rode to the start line with his son to lead the parade. No trike for this president but a proper HD Ultra Classic!
As one would expect with the road captain of this calibre, the road was cleared before us withpolice bikes, security team and camera crew were riding in the front with the helicopter touring above us. The parade was four to five bikes wide and remarkably well organised. As it was mainly HOG riders, the drill was familiar to all.
Party at city centre
Approaching the city centre the roads were lined with spectators with their cameras, waving to riders. Sport Palace Square is huge area and it was absolutely packed!
There is something unique in the way that Belarus has organized the event as a party for everyone in town. Although this is a Harley Owners Group event and Harley-Davidson brand is in the fore-ground, it is an event for all bikers and for all people.
Huge area for food, stalls, bands, test rides, exhibitions, demonstrations, para-gliders, kids program and a fantastic show put up by the police and police stunt team – surely can’t be ordinary policemen riding like these guys did? After the show the police PR work and playful interaction with the public was great to see. See their riding in media coverage at the very end of the blog.
The evening continued till late with even more bands and entertainment, ending with a huge fireworks display.
HOG at the new Falcon Club
Another great party – so much going on that it cannot possibly be organised in one place! Some of the Sports Palace Square evening events were relayed by video to the Falcon Club HOG party.
The party had great Belarusian food, the customary chapter presentations and a line-up of local and international bands from classical concertos and modernised folk music to heavy-in-tights, all topped up by my native band, The Rasmus, who gave a brilliant show – made us proud!
The People of Minsk
The people in Minsk must be the friendliest crowd ever! They are just fantastic, cheering, admiring the bikes, taking pictures with riders, posing on the bikes – all ages and just all smiles!
Returning home, even one of the border officials asked ”Did you enjoy the festival?” with a wish-I-had-been-there-too -smile.
Great reports from the event by the Belarusian TV. See some great police riding!
While Belarus might sound a bit daunting with visas, border crossings, paperwork etc, all preparations have run smoothly. Necessary documents include Green Card for the bike – which most touring bikers anyway have – and a Belarus Visa. Getting the Visa was a painless exercise. What one needs is the application, passport photo, proof of personal travel/sickness insurance and an invitation. This on top of your passport. We had invitations from the dealership in Minsk but also after you book your hotel, they can arrange one. I took my documents to the embassy and friendly staff looked the papers over and I got my passport back with the Visa in only a few days. With a few euros extra, one of our party got his visa in just minutes as he could not leave his passport with the embassy. Our friends from Vilnius and Minsk (with HOG you have friends everywhere) had made hotel bookings in both cities, so we were set to go.
Road to Vilnius
A mid-morning ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn. Seven guys, seven Harleys crossing the Gulf of Finland in some 2 hours. And some 2000 fellow passengers. A very popular route these days. Ride to Vilnius is 600+ km and there is really not much to see. Just straight road, a few roadworks and generally a good road surface these days. With an occasional eastern style driver to be mindful of and thousands of trucks. We had a beautiful, sunny day. Temperatures 20c -25c, so it was a very pleasant ride. A little drizzle just before Vilnius did not matter. Our hotel was City Hotel Vilnius and although I have been to fresher places, it was clean and comfortable and really good value at €30 incl. breakfast.
Heading towards Minsk, some 50 bikes from several chapters came together and the procession was led by our Lithuanian friends. Crossing the border was a wind from the past in true soviet style. But clearly everyone knew their role. A lot of paperwork, several stops, another document writen or stamped or handed to the officials. Some with big hats, some with huge hats, some with caps. All in all it took some three hours and we could continue to meet our Minsk chapter friends greeting us.
Ride to Minsk was spectacular. The city skyline is clearly planned to impress from afar. The gate to former Soviet Union we were told.
Sadly my new GoPro failed me at this stage. Sadly no footage.
Golden Autumn in Minsk
This was clearly one of the best organized HOG events I have been to. We were made specially welcome and really taken good care of. Hotel Viktoria was an excellent venue to stay and all events were within easy reach. Particularly as we were taken by bus when not expected to ride ourselves. Friday evening was spent in a fabulous restaurant. Great food, great band, great audience. Really good time was had! The main evening event was on Saturday at a covered stadium. Again another spectacular show with great classic bangs like Uriah Heap and UDO. The main number (!?!) was Garik Sukachev. A new acquaintance to me but clearly well known by the Russian speaking world. Everyone just went wild.
At the time for the Saturday parade, the weather turned damp. With such high spirits among the riders, this could not hold anyone from coming to the parade. Brass band playing and off course tanks lined up at the start. Well, these were for only display at a memorial site where we started from. The event was for everyone in the city and the city centre had bands, market places and other events taking place. Trying to leave the main area was difficult as there were so many families, kids and ladies wanting to have their picture taken with us or on the bike. Good fun was had by everyone! Even president Lukashenko joined the parade and naturally the press covered the story. Also Local tv covered the event and was filming with flying camera drones when we started.
On Sunday it was time to head home after a really great party. Good spirits were needed in pouring rain and 10c temperature leaving Minsk. Another 600+ km later in varying but cool weather reaching Pärnu Estonia it was again 10c but luckily no rain. Heading towards Alexandri guest house and time for sauna! The next morning the final leg to Tallinn and ferry home. Good meal on the ferry, many happy memories richer, tired but happy faces…
Video clips from the ride
… that elusive day we keep putting good things off to…