Friday, 14 November 2008

The Balkans - 6 - Romania to Serbia

The final leg on my short (in time, if not in distance - 2400km in all) Balkans tour was to take me from the bridge crossing at Ruse in Bulgaria into Romania and thence to cross back over the Danube into Serbia at Drobeta Turnu Severin. I had intended to visit the BGRORS tripoint marker on the Romanian bank of the Danube on the way but the lateness of the hour, a traffic jam on the Bucharest ring road and the early sunset in November sadly precluded that. Maybe another day.

When I got to Drobeta-Turnu Severin I was perplexed because I didn't realise just how far north of the town the bridge across the Danube lay. This is not really a bridge actually - really it is a dam. Anyway, I had seen no signs to "Serbia" and so had started to make plans to drive further north in Romania when suddenly the crossing appeared. It was so poorly marked that, in the dark and the rain, I missed the turning, went past it, and had to turn around to find the entrance. All this despite having Garmin GPS maps of both countries on my laptop connected to a GPS - but the crossing was not shown on either of them!!

The following video shows my journey across the river - this was not the best quality as the autofocus kept thinking it should focus on the raindrops on my windscreen rather than the outside objects - and the rain and dark made it not especially clear - but it is the best I could do.

After that it was simply a matter of driving about 2½ more hours to Belgrade, finding my hotel, and checking in to relax before flying to London the next day.

So that is the end of my short Balkans tour - There are just 4 more countries in the region for me to visit (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia-FYROM), or 5 if you include Kosovo (which I shall eschew for a while until things are a bit safer there - plus I don't want to get into the politics of whether it really is a county or not either). Additionally, once I have visited those, Moldova and Monaco I shall have set foot in every European country on the continental mainland. (I'm choosing not to count Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan as "Europe" despite their transcontinental nature if you have a certain opinion of where the border of Europe lies).

This tour took me to 2 new countries for me - 5 new borders - and added 5 more countries to my list of where I have found geocaches (bringing that total to 42).

Still lots more borders to cross and areas to spend more time investigating - so more blogging WILL follow for my subsequent trips.

Friday, 7 November 2008

The Balkans - 5 - Bulgaria to Romania

Crossing the Danube from Bulgaria to Romania needs a ferry if you are going to do it anywhere west of Rousse (variously spelled Ruse, Russe according to roadsigns I witnessed on the way there - it is, after all, consistently spelled Pyce in the Cyrillic alphabet so the Roman alphabet spellings are simply phonetic). So I chose to take the bridge as you can see in the video below. This brings you out south of Bucharest.

It was a fairly uneventful crossing and went very quickly, which was a welcome change after my experiences in Turkey, especially as I had a long drive ahead of me to Belgrade.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The Balkans - 4 - Turkey to Bulgaria

Distances are longer than they seem on the map sometimes. After my visit to Gallipolli I drove to the Turkey Bulgaria border just west of Edirne in Turkey. This involved a short distance of toll road and I had no Turkish money and they didn't take credit cards. This presented a small problem but the toll collector indicated I could pay him one Euro. However I only had 50 Euro notes in that currency so it looked like I was going to have a problem. But then he said "One Dollar" - and having some US dollars in my wallet I was through (saving some expense compared to the Euro price in the bargain).

It was dark when I reached the border and for some reason I did not run the camera as I went through so there is no video - sorry. I had originally intended to see if I could arrange to visit the BGGRTR tripoint but my e-mail to the Turkish officials had gone unanswered and it was very late and dark anyway so I had to forego that pleasure.

The Turkish side of the border crossing is undergoing major construction work and is pretty chaotic, with few signs to indicate just where you should go and many unpaved roads, uncompleted buildings and so on.

The final check on the Turkish side was to examine the vehicle's papers and there was a (mercifully short) line there - but, even so, each car took about 4 to 5 minutes to be processed and that meant it took me over an hour to get through even this short line. It seems amazing that there was only one person checking these papers.

Once across the bridge into Bulgaria I had a repeat of the process I went through crossing from Serbia (with the "chip" and so on).

Then it was off to Romania and the last couple of legs of my tour.

The Balkans - 3 - Greece to Turkey

Having crossed from Bulgaria into Greece I drove down the eastern border of Greece to the crossing into Turkey near Ipsala, Turkey.

First of all, however, I made a small detour near the Bulgaria/Turkey/Greece tripiont into the Greek village of Kastanies which has a border crossing with Turkey. I think this is the only land (as in not even across a river) border crossing between the two countries. I did not want to enter Turkey at this point as I had a mission to find a geocache in Greece first - but I did check out the border post on the Greek side as you can see in the following video.

The actual crossing into Turkey, however, was another story. As you can see from the following video, the Greek authorities were concerned about my camera as well as the documents for the car. The car being registered in Serbia, and being a rental, they wanted to check that it was permitted to take it into Turkey before they would let me through. Although the insurance documents were in order there was no annotation in the rental contract about taking it into any other country. Fortunately I eventually remembered that I had a paper copy of the original booking off the internet and that explicitly stated that I was allowed to take the car into both Greece and Turkey and that satisfied them. As for my camera, they wanted to check that I had not taken any video of "prohibited" places in Greece (although how I was supposed to know that an particular place was "prohibited" I don't know). They spent some time looking at the video footage I had taken and eventually seemed content to let me proceed, asking me not to video the area between the inspection post and the border. You can see the result in the video below. For a fuller video of the actual border crossing I have found this one on YouTube which may be of interest.

Once I reached the Turkish side it was a matter of a lot of stops, my failure to understand the instructions being given in virtually non-existent English about where to go to buy a tourist visa, all of which combined with the delays on the Greek side to make this border crossing take about 2 hours. Sadly this meant that I arrived at the Anzac memorial to Gallipolli just after sunset (1715 at this time of year) which lessed the impact of that most interesting place.

The Balkans - 2 - Bulgaria to Greece

Stage 2 on my Balkans tour was to cross the Bulgaria-Greece border at its eastern end by driving along the E85 between the two countries. This was fairly straightforward and I did not even have to show my passport at the Greek border as can be seen from the following video

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The Balkans - 1 - Serbia to Bulgaria

Before some meetings in London next week I have the opportunity to visit the Balkans for a couple of days. I planned my visit so that I could cross as many borders, visit as many (new for me) countries, and find as many geocaches in as many (new for me) countries as possible. The main region of Europe that I have never visited lay in the southeast, the Balkans.

While planning my trip one consideration was to find somewhere that I could rent a car that I would be allowed to drive into other countries. At first I had considered flying to Bucharest but rentals from Romania cannot be driven into the former Yugoslavia or (I think) Turkey. Rentals from Bulgaria or Greece could not be driven into any other country. However rentals from Serbia and Macedonia were less restrictive. Macedonian rentals could not be driven to Bulgaria or Turkey but could go to Greece, Albania and the rest of the former Yugoslavia. Rentals from Serbia could not be driven to Macedonia or Albania but could go to Bulgaria and (it appeared) to Turkey. So I elected to fly to Belgrade and start my adventure from there.

Because of the time differences and flight schedules it was going to be a tight timeline - my flight would not arrive in Belgrade until 15:50 having left Canada the night before (changing in Frankfurt) and sunset was shortly after 16:00. I planned to drive to Sofia, Bulgaria on arrival and the border crossing would also take me into another timezone where I would lose yet another hour. Naturally Lufthansa managed to lose my suitcase which then meant that I was further delayed by almost 2 hours at Belgrade airport sorting that out - and they would not deliver the case outside Serbia so I had to arrange for them to deliver it to the hotel in Belgrade that I would be staying in on my eventual return there. I had to live without it for a couple of days. Fortunately I always pack the essentials in my carry-on including all my navigation equipment (computers, GPS etc.) so my only discomfort was not having a change of clothes and not having the nice computer stand that I could install in the rental car to make the navigation computer more accessible (I therefore had to operate it as it sat on the passenger seat).

Driving to Bulgaria is mostly Motorway - the following two videos were shot from my dash mounted camera as I went through the various checkpoints at the border.

I found it fairly confusing at first figuring out whether I had left Serbia or not - some borders have the check points from both countries together and I had thought that might have been the case here - you will notice my confusion on the video.

Then the process of entering Bulgaria was interesting. There were numerous stops - customs, passport control, purchase local currency, vehicle document checking, purchase vignette to allow driving on the main Bulgarian roads and finally payment of all necessary charges. To follow you through all this they give you a USB stick at the first checkpoint that is referred to as a "chip" at each subsequent one and you are expected to hand this to the agent at each of the points as you go through for them to update. I was very tempted to pop it into my computer, which was on the seat beside me running my GPS, to see what was on it. However, by the time I had thought of doing so it was too late and I was at the final check point.

So, here are the videos:

Part 1 (9 min 52 secs)

Part 2 (5 min 14 secs)

Friday, 15 August 2008

Suderwick - Dinxperlo

A short visit to the Dutch-German Border divided town of Dinxperlo/Suderwick. Here is a brief video (in 2 parts because of the YouTube limitation to 10 minutes per video) of my drive through this town - not as large as Kerkrade-Herzogenrath but similar in that the border runs down the middle of the street. I was alerted to this place by someone who had viewed my Kerkrade-Herzogenrath video on YouTube.

Suderwick/Dinxperlo are situated as shown in the map below:

The video starts at point 1 in the map below, proceeds to point 2 where I turn around and drive to point 3, where I turn around again and return to point 1.

Part 1 (5 min 50 sec)

Part 2 (6 min 37 sec)