July 31, 2004

Bulgarian Horror
Bulgarian Border Crossing

Today started out just fine. We had a nice breakfast at our hotel. I finished preparing my web log entry of August 30. We checked out and went to an internet store, where I posted my second Bulgarian entry. I thought it would be the last from Bulgaria. Little did I know how wrong I was. Finally we headed for the ferryboat. We had actually come to Vidin thinking that there was a bridge here; alas, no bridge.

In my last posting, I talked about the horrible Turkey-Bulgarian boarder crossing. True to form, the Bulgarian side of the crossing to Romania was another horrible and frightening experience.
We arrived at our departure area at 12:40. As always, a guard or immigration officer looks at our passports. We were directed to a waiting area. Two cars were soon lined up behind us. I had gotten out of the car looking for direction as to what to do. A customs officer in uniform took the passports, and we continued to wait. As I said last time, speed and efficiency is the last thing on their minds. Before long another customs officer, at least one might think he was - based on the word customs printed on the back of his black t-shirt. Yes, unlike the other border personnel, this guy was not in uniform and had no badge. He looked in the trunk of our car, messed with the wine, and seemed to be satisfied. Once again, I cannot figure out why customs has any business bothering us as we leave a country because that is a job of customs upon entry into a country, but I have tolerated the exit searches so far. Somewhere along the way, he asked about where we had been; once again I went through the litany: Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungry, Romania, Bulgaria, Istanbul, and back to Bulgaria. Later I discovered that, oops, Istanbul was the wrong answer for this guy. A diplomatic car pulled up beside ours. I guess that he expected rush service, because within five minutes the gate was lifted and his car pulled into the next area and we and the two cars behind us were waved into the next holding area. Soon the customs agent was telling me to back up. He spoke to the driver behind me, and I expected all of them to back up into the previous zone. Wrong, he expected only me to back out of this area. With some difficulty, I complied. Before long he had me parked in front of a building, telling me to enter and he was going to search the car. Let me see: no uniform, no badge, wants me to enter a building - where I expect he will shut the door - and he wants to search my car. No way! I asked him to identify himself and show me his credential. He refused. I asked what he expected to do and why. I told him I was not driving into this garage and he would have to search the car in public for all to see. He did not like this. And I was outraged. In a country where they do nothing but bilk the tourist of money at the border, I saw only more of the same in my future. I drove back to my starting point and waited. Several times I asked him to search the car and give me my papers. He refused to respond. It was clear that he was waiting. As it was, he had called his supervisor, who showed up in shorts and a casual shirt. Too bad that his Saturday afternoon was disrupted. At least he spoke good English and could explain what was up. Surprisingly, when he appeared, so did the badge of customs agent. Unfortunately, he wore it in a way that it made it impossible to even read the number. Forget trying to read names in the Cyrillic characters. So, the chief tried to reassure us that this was all OK under Bulgarian law and that the agent had the right to search the car. I did not feel all that reassured. After all we were on our way out of Bulgaria, why now? How could we be sure that they were not planning to plant shit in the car and then take our money? As far as we were concerned they were way out of bounds. Law or no law, what they were doing was harassing ordinary tourists, simply because they had visited Turkey. Finally I relented. I told Betty to make sure the door of the garage stayed open. The only reason he wanted me to pull in was to check the gas tank, a favorite hiding place for smugglers. Great, in my rented Fiat Punto they think I have put in a new special gas tank for smuggling - what fucking idiots! We got the feeling that the chief knew this was all crazy, but like a good leader he was backing up his man. Five minutes later, we were back in the line to go to the ferry boat. Again we waited for our passports. The police were doing there final check. Their slowness and inefficiency was on par.

Finally we drove down to the boat after one-and-a-half hours. Funny thing, all the cars that we had seen at the start were still waiting on the boat. We drove on to the boat paid our $29 crossing fee and waited another hour or so for the boat to depart. Meanwhile only one more car drove onboard. This is the insanity of crossing the Danube that is about half a mile wide here. But finally we were off, sailing about a mile or two upstream before crossing to Calafat.

The horror was almost over now. Here, there were the typical bullshit fees, first for driving through the port, second for driving through the town. Having relieved us of our $10 we were free to queue for immigration and customs, and the passing went quickly. All this took less than 20 minutes. I must say the Romanians got it right. Still it was now 4:10, three-and-a-half hours to travel three miles.
We tried to change money in Calafat, but nothing was open and there were no ATM's. We headed to Criaova where we found an ATM machine and got a very inexpensive room. A few hours later after a nice meal, our day of horrors was over.

Up until the beginning of the day, I thought it possible that I might return to Bulgaria. I especially liked the Black Sea coast. But now one thing is certain, I plan never to return to Bulgaria. I cannot recommend that any of my friends visit this place, at least for the near future. If one day they change their police state mentality, perhaps then it will be a really good place to visit. Until then I say, "Stay out of Bulgaria!"

Posted by bill at July 31, 2004 10:54 PM