Russia and Baltic countries. Any tips/recommendations?
I'm going to do a tour of Western Russia and the Baltic countries this summer. I'll fly to Moscow and rent a bike there, then follow this route:
Moscow > St. Petersburg > Estonia > Latvia > Lithuania > back to Latvia > Russian border > Moscow. (see map here)
For a total of around 3000Km in 13 days (25/07 to 06/08)
A number of questions come to mind and maybe some more seasoned riders can share their wisdom:
- Road police: any tips regarding those, particularly in Russia?
- Docs: the bike is Russian and insured to travel all over Europe and I'll bring my IDP. Anything else I should bring?
- Borders: Anything I should keep in mind crossing into the EU and back to mother Russia?
- Worthy spots: any tips on really nice places in Western Russia (around the route between Moscow and St Petersburg)?
- Same as above for each of the Baltics?
- Outfit: any recommendations? Is it all round hot at this time of the year or are there high passes where it gets chilly?
- Belarus: I thought of returning to Moscow via Minsk (and would actually love to), but heard it's difficult to get a Visa (I have Spanish and Brazilian citizenship) and I might have problems entering with the russian bike. Any experience on that?
Any other general advice or recommendations are equally welcome!
Thanks in advance,
Roads Police. Know and obey the rules and you will have no problems.
Documents spot checks are very regular, routine feature of RUS and not sinister. If everything is in order they wish you a good journey.
If you have done something wrong I would recommend being prepared to 'negotiate' a cheaper and quicker resumption of your journey than the official way. If doing so, don't let them see your money - my Partners daughter keeps a separate purse in her car and opens it to show she has only about 500Руб (12 Euro), which they invariably take and tell her to go.
You should have an idea of the official penalties to not get ripped off! They are far lower than they initially will tell you.
But best of all - obey the rules of the country you are visiting.
In RUS obey all speed limits (they extend quite long distances after villages) and NEVER cross a continuous white line - not even to get to/from a fuel station on the other side of the road.
Docs. IDP plus original Drivers Licence to support it. Insurance certificates valid (and understandable) for all countries you will be in. Vehicle Registration docs plus a letter of Authority from owner as listed in Registration docs. Passport with Visas, Migration Card and Registration in RUS.
In RUS always have vehicle docs when using vehicle and carry personal docs with you at all times.
Borders. There is effectively only one, RUS/EU (or maybe Belarus/EU). Motos ride to the front of all queues. Not only is it common practice but encouraged by other drivers and officials. Otherwise patience at some. Worst for length of time is E22 near Zilupe, Latvia which I heard is to be closed in the future - if true, will be a disapointment as Latvia is building a new dual road to the border.
Worthy spots. It really depends what you want. Sea, scenery, sex clubs, history, lakes, forest, old towns/cities - they all have them all!
Outfit. It will be quite warm, average temperature probably 25-30, possibly more at times. Ventilated riding clothes but no thermals! There is nothing of any altitude where it could get chilly.
Belarus. No direct experience. A separate visa required. There is no patrolled or stopping border with RUS - it is open to ride/drive through rather like most EU countries, with no more than a sign. How that works for foreigners with Visa requirements is unclear to me. I understand it is a rather boring industrial wasteland to cross.
Finally, if starting in Moscow - take care. The driving style is unique, to put it mildly.
It works for them but is one hell of a culture shock to visitors.
I have just seen your route map.
1. Your routes across Russia are just very long main roads with nothing special in terms of scenery. If you have time you may consider a deviation to the south west of your route to St Peter - turning off at Torzhok to Osthakov and Peno. This is area is called the Valdai region and has many beautiful lakes. Further north the old town of Novgorod might be interesting instead of the new by-pass.
2. An interesting alternative to the Estonia Baltic coast road would be the inland route from Tallin to Tartu then the Valga to Riga road, my personal favourite - gentle rolling hills with small lakes and farms and occasional pretty villages set in large clearings in the dark forest. I find it quite enchanting and a good riding road. My dilemma is whether to enjoy riding the road at speed or enjoy looking at the countryside slowly - usually the latter wins!
3. Your chosen border back into RUS took me over 8 hours in a car last Sunday. There were only 30 cars ahead of me! My fastest of 3 crossing into RUS at this point on a moto still took me over 2 hours. It is very very busy with freight traffic - being the nearest direct RUS border with EU.
Last week, when talking with Officials while waiting they recommended the Grebnova border point (A13 E262) a little further north near Karsarva, as being quicker with less queues.
I have not actually been on it much, but I imagine that the main road between St Pete and Moscow is dreary and full of traffic, trucks, and road police. No fun at all. As long as you have a little time and don't mind getting lost every now and then, I highly recommend taking some of the back roads between the two cities, although you would probably want to intersect the main road toward evening when you are looking for a place to stay (bed & breakfasts are few and far between--actually non-existent--in the boonies). The smaller towns/roads are just more interesting, much less--often zero--traffic, and the people are just much friendlier, and often surprised and pleased to meet with some strange foreigner in their small town.
I have not had the same bad experience as Tony with crossing the Russian border, but at least last time he was in a car rather than a moto, which makes a big difference. Generally it takes me less than an hour to get through the Russian border these days (just cut right up to the front, so far no one has objected), although I've done it several times now so kind of know the ropes. In my experience, the Russian border people at the smaller crossings at least are extremely friendly, helpful, and professional. Maybe they are more surly at the bigger crossings, dunno.
Haha, no moutain passes in this area, but it can still get cool even without altitude (although usually it is 20-30 degrees at this time of year). I can rain a fair bit but lately it has been pretty dry, so who knows.
I personally would avoid Belorussia, only because it is just one more border and I don't see how it would add much to your trip. Because of the Russia/Belorussia customs union, I don't understand how the bike paperwork works on these borders, so if you do it please post here and let us know.
I have visited St. Petersburg in 2009 with my girlfriend on an overland motorcycle trip from Italy.
We got into Russia at Estonia / Russia border (right past Narva): it took about 2.5 hours in total but only because there was an Estonian bus in front of us and all the passengers were checked one by one.
The Russian customs officers were very professional, no hassle at all.
Different is our experience when returning back to the EU (Finland): there was a woman (customs officer) who really bothered me because my passport was not in perfect conditions (it had some small folds at pages' corners...) but at the end we managed the situation with no major hassle (no bribes were asked).
Her male collegues were much more friendly, and one of them (with higher degree) waved us out of Russia even if this ball-breaking woman told us to wait for another document's inspection (you can imagine my satisfaction in that moment :cool4:...).
I also confirm what Tony P told you as concerns the traffic police: out of 140 km (about) from Narva to St. Petersburg, we ran across 8 police checkpoints, but none of them pulled us over because we were respecting the speed limit.
The only time I had to ask road informations to a cop, he was friendly and helpful.
In case, if you change your itinerary and enter at EST/RUS border and ride the road to St. Petersburg, pay attention to a small checkpoint some km. past the border: there is only a small aluminum cabin on the gravel right side of the road with a STOP sign on it.
STOP ABSOLUTELY: there's some patrols hidden behind that are always ready to chase you.
Stop there, feet on the ground, ask permissions to restart to the cop inside and he'll wave you beyond.
Pay much attention, because it's not so visible and immediate to spot (you can confuse it with a cabin for road workers...).
As written above, we found it while riding with direction Narva-St.Petersburg, but easily there was another trap like this also in the opposite direction.
Weather: in august 2009 it was hot as hell, so no particular winter outfit.
Thanks heaps for all the info! In that case, I'll be very careful when leaving Moscow, since I'll still be getting used to the big GS (I'm a compact Ducati rider myself). The rest seems to be pretty much common sense foreign country riding so I should be alright :)
As for the routes, indeed, the lake region seems to be promising. The only problem is, roads seem to just die there and go no further. Do you know if there is a road going from Peno up to Novgorod (via Staraya maybe)?
I'll take the hint of idyllic inland gentle hills with small lakes and farms for the Baltic countries (you touched a soft fibre here ;)).
Will rework the route tonight and share again for comments.
Hi Motoreiter / Holy Graal,
Thanks for all the information. That first decision is taken: I'll avoid the M10 and take the back roads. Getting lost every now and then is no problem (done that in Morocco recently and actually enjoyed heaps ;) ). I'll try to remember the little small aluminium checkpoint, hahaha!
And worry not, if in the end I decide to do Belaruss I'll post all the details of border crossing here :)
Looking at my bigger scale atlas there is a way round west from Peno via numberous back roads and villages to Kholm then the P51 north to Staraya Russa. The area has marshes which may explain no aparent route between neighbouring villages that you would normally expect to be connected.
Russian road signs are a rare thing and not comprehensive by any means ("Why do we need signs - we know where we are going" is the attitude!) so I would recommend you pick up an atlas in Moscow.
Let me know when you are coming and if I am not away maybe we could have a beer (on a non-riding day - strict Zero limit here!). I can't help with accommodation but suggest you contact "motobelka" via HUBB. She and her husband "DEAN rus" have a brand new house in Khimki near Sheremetevo airport, where they were planning a guest room with garage space for bikers. They are a delightful family, very keen riders (in the business and for own pleasure) and speak perfect English.
Let me know when you're in Vilnius.. We could grab a beer and I could show some nice places around town.
I could as well recomment to go to Paulius GUEST HOUSE IN TRAKAI, LITHUANIA | Enduro Lithuania
He know Lithuania very well and could recomment the more unknown places to visit.
Thanks again Tony! Digging on satellite photos I think I found a way north of Peno (i'm just not sure how old the pics are). But I'm hoping the Russian atlas will confirm it all. The udated route can be found here
I'll be in Moscow on 23-24/07 and then on 07-08-09/08. A beer is ALWAYS an irresistible invitation, specially from a fellow adventure biker, so let me know if you'll be around! :)
Thanks for the invitation and the tip Ongediertebestrijder (that sounds more Dutch than Lithuanian, btw). I'll let you know when I have a schedule to arrive in Vilnius, would love to share a beer!
The route looks good.
My concern was the link between Rvenitsi and Mamomovshina but the Sattelite shows something - at in summertime. So it's looking good.
It will b e a busy 2 weeks for you.
Those dates are looking a bit doubtful for me right now, we are thinking of a holiday in France, but it could change nearer the time.
Sorry, I think I've missed why you're going to Peno? In particular, it looks like you are dipping south from Ostashkov to Peno, which is kind of out of the way?
I have never been on these particular roads, but have been on small roads in this area. If you are on street tires, I would be wary of that stretch south of Shubino (Шубино), the road could be a dirt track through a swamp, which is dicey on a GS. There will be little, if any, traffic on these roads so if you go be prepared to hoof it out if necessary. I got stuck in the mud on a similar road about 100km away a couple of years ago, and it took me about 4 hours to get free, during which time not a single vehicle or person passed by. Here is a contemporaneous account, if you are interested: Motoreiter: August 2009
Especially if the weather has been wet, I would just go via Demyansk...
As far as Lake Seliger goes, I was kind of disappointed. The lake is not visible from 99.99% of the road, and many of the places that have lake access seem to be closed to the public (various camps, etc.).
I'm doing the Peno stretch on TonyP's suggestion. And checking the satellite imagery I saw some interesting lake configurations, so I'm expecting nice scenery.
Yeah... Shubino down to Marevo looks a bit unclear from the satellite. As a backup, I traced an alternate route via Demyansk. I saw your blog and honestly, Being myself a mere 5' 3" and rather skinny, there's no chance I can get the GS out of mud on my own. My strategy is therefore clear: at the first sign of mush, turn back and take the safer route! :D
Good luck on the road of bones!!
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