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)


bathmate said...

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bathmate said...

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Wurst said...


interesting hobby - a bit like mine :)

at the bulgarian border i once could look at the screen of the borderguard. there was noch much on the "chip": my name, make of vehicle and registration number, number of passengers and amount of money that i should pay.

i read a leaflet that i got at a small border crossing (the friendly borderguards had plenty of time for me there)
that the chip is a help for a better organisation (that you don't miss a control step...) and at every control booth they make a remark if you have to pay something and how much. in the end you pay at the "bank counter" and surrender it at the final control upon leaving the control area.

Tribun Populi said...

Hugh, it was quite a long time since I've been in Bulgaria for the last time. In your clip I saw a new type of control checkpoint which wasn't there before - the last one.

There were: 1.disinfection site (first check) 2. border police checkpoint (passport control) 3. customs checkpoint 4. road tax agency. Now I saw the fifth-one, so I'm curious about it's purpose?

I'm from Serbia, so I'll solve you the mistery - you passed serbian border at 6:00 in first clip. :)