Thursday, 7 February 2013

Day 273 – From Melbourne to the EU. (Border crossing Serbia to Hungary)

Border crossings had been becoming progressively easier for us since Central Asia, but as the entrance point to the EU we expected that the one between Serbia and Hungary might be a bit stricter and therefore more time consuming. On the other hand though we were fairly certain there wouldn’t be a jot of corruption, we just expected that they would want to search our car, make us buy insurance and complete a bunch of paperwork.

Leaving Serbia was a walk in the park; we drove up to the window and handed our passports to the lady behind the glass who was promptly joined by some colleagues who wanted to join in the curious task of checking foreign passports. I use the term “checking” with a stretch of the imagination; what they actually did was joyfully flick through all the pretty visas and get very excited when they got to one which they couldn’t decipher. The Laos visa was pointed out in one of the passports and we explained “between Thailand and China? Near Cambodia? Vietnam? In Asia? Just South of China?” but they really had no idea. One of the Pakistan visas was paused at and some eyebrows were raised, but only in the same slightly baffled “you guys are crazy” type of way. When they got to Nagorno Karabakh we decided to just tell them it was Armenia. (This is in no way a reflection on our stance on the subject, but not wanting to get into the details of the situation right then, this was just a way in which to make things simple for the point of crossing a border.) Some amused glances were exchanged between them, and between them and us, and then they got down to business and started inspecting the title pages of our passports.

“Thomas?” We strained to see which Thomas they were looking for and discovered it was Unkles. Tom Unkles waved and sat still while they inspected his face against his photo.

“Binyamin?” Ben leaned forwards to claim the name and waited for their satisfaction that he was in fact the Binyamin from the photo.

“Eelindy?” Process of elimination points to this being a rendition of my name, so I made eye contact and smiled awkwardly for the cursory glances.

“Thomas?” And then a wave of realisation crossed their faces as the fact that we have two Thomases sinked in. And then they kept reading and discover that this Thomas has four names! Four names! Well this was enough to send them into hysterics for the next few minutes, which of course we in turn found pretty amusing so joined in laughing at them laughing at us. Sighing and wiping the drops of laughter leaking from their tear ducts, they handed our passports back and waved us on, still chuckling to themselves.

The funny thing about this (well maybe not the funny thing, but certainly a funny thing) is that I also have four names and they didn’t even blink twice at that.

The Hungarian side of the border was a grand and professional looking complex patrolled by EU police and customs and immigration officials, not by Hungary itself. It was a bit confusing with lots of lanes and traffic cones and divided queues and we accidentally ended up in the area designated to buses. We were pleasantly but firmly directed to a different queue which involved reversing to do a u-turn around a bin and then moving some traffic cones so we could fit through a barricade and get into the lane which would take us to the right window. There we waited while the polite and well-dressed EU guards took our passports and car registration, glanced inside the car and made menial small talk with us. Shortly later our documents were returned and we were welcomed to the EU, the entire border taking us less than half an hour to cross.

It took almost 9 months, but after about 46,500 kilometres, we had finally driven all the way from Melbourne to the EU. There are many milestones along this trip, but this is certainly one of them.

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