Sunday, 16 December 2012

Day 251 – Bad cops turned good. (Border crossing Turkey to Bulgaria)

Having heard disturbing reports from various people about the levels of corruption at the border crossing between Turkey and Bulgaria, we had considered going to Bulgaria through Greece. It would be a bit of a detour but perhaps it would be worth it if it really was as bad as everyone was making out, and if it really was that bad then two borders crossings might just be quicker than one. Ben did a bit of research beforehand though and found that things had been cleaned up a bit under the general guise of the EU, including the arrests of 30 border guards from this crossing on the basis of corruption. We weighed up the fact that we’ve driven all the way through South East Asia, Central Asia, Iran and the Caucasus and not had any problems, and decided to take our chances.

When we entered Turkey from Georgia two weeks previously (Blog Day 237 – Good luck), we felt like we were leaving professionalism and efficiency and entering chaos, but oddly enough we felt like this again leaving Turkey and entering Bulgaria. We sat in the organised single file queue and waited for the Turkish border guards to promptly stamp us out of the country, wish us well on our travels, and send us towards Bulgaria. It wasn’t the same type of jovial chaos as we experienced when entering Turkey, but more of an uncontrolled ex-Soviet wasteland. Approaching the dingy cement booth where we would have our passports checked, we noticed warning signs provided by the EU plastered on all the grey walls. Written in Bulgarian, Russian, Turkish and English they outlined exactly what travellers were and weren’t required to pay.

All drivers on Bulgarian roads are required to purchase a vignette, for which the prices were outlined on the signs (5 for 5 days, 13 for one month and 34 one year). We were informed that these can be purchased either at the border or at any petrol station within 30km of the border. It was highlighted that no one should pay anything at the border if they felt at all uncomfortable and no fees other than the vignette are required. We were also informed that all police in Bulgaria will be in blue jackets with “POLICE” written on the backs, with or without yellow reflective vests and driving white Opal Astras with blue “POLICE” markings, and no one should stop for or pay money to anyone that doesn’t fit this description. It’s slightly concerning when such statements need to be made, but seeing as they do, it’s fantastic that they have.

They guards weren’t particularly open and friendly, but the system ran smoothly, we weren’t asked for any illegitimate payments and the entire process took just under half an hour.

For more information on the vignette there are plenty of web pages if you just search “Bulgarian vignette”.

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