Now we’re really kind of worried. What would Bulgarian passport control be like if Turkey was this difficult. We drive a few hundred meters through no man’s land to the barrier that is the passport control for Bulgaristan, err, Bulgaria. (Gotta stop that Bulgaristan stuff.) We pull up to the barrier, stop the car and get out. We’re motioned over to the office windows and hand in the car docs and our passports.
This doesn’t look like passport control. It isn’t. This is mosquito control. Seriously. When we were coming to the Turkish border the road climbed continuously and even more through no man’s land. We must be at a 1,000 meters or higher. And it’s cold. And it looks dry. And it’s filthy with mosquitoes. I don’t get it but we quickly roll up the windows. At the window, a woman is writing on a form furiously and then she hands back the car docs and passports. A quick, unintelligible explanation and she points to a part of the form that say 2 euro and Mosquito Control in English. She motions us back to the car and when we get in the car a man motions us forward through a building with large puddle in it. The liquid smells like chlorine (I doubt that our poor tired tires like it very much) and this is apparently the “mosquito control”. The man says something the only word we understand is “malaria”. Oh joy, still another thing to worry about.
Through the puddle to passport control. An officer comes up to the car, takes the passports, walks approximately one step, hands them to another officer in the official office, thunk, thunk, hands hem back to the first officer who walks back one step, hands the passports back to us and motions us on to customs. Still another officer takes the passports, hands them to another officer who examines them while the first officer asks us in very precise English to get out of
the car. “Do you have anything to declare?” “No.” He looks in the window in the car’s hatchback and then asks us to open the trunk (yes, Brits, I know it’s a “boot”). We do. He can clearly see what’s there: 2 mounted tires, 2 rolling duffles, 1 gallon of anti-freeze, 1 gallon of motor oil. He motions toward the duffles. We volunteer to open them but he says “Not necessary.” He retrieves our passports, hands them back and motions us on. To the exit barrier. (It appears that immigration and border control may be the single largest employer in Bulgaristan, err, Bulgaria. (I GOT TO stop doing that.)
We hand the officer in the window. She says “2 euro” for the “mosquito control” (the mosquito control that’s probably dissolving the tires). Two coins, the barrier goes up, we leave. To find a vignette, an automobile tax stamp that non-citizens are required to buy for their vehicles, and there’s an office that sells them right outside the barrier. But he only has monthly vignettes – we want a less expensive one for a week. Down the road he points. Around the corner, down the hill,another vignette sales office. This one has weekly vignettes but show only takes Bulgarian currency. Conveniently, there’s a change bureau a few steps away. Up to the window, change 20 euro to Bulgarian lev and then back to the vignette office. I pay for a 7 day vignette, she fills out a form with John’s name (the car is registered in his name), explains which part to put on the windshield, where on the windshield to put it and I’m back to the car putting the vignette on the windshield.
We’re outta there. Down the hill to Burgas. Smack into a pothole. And another. And another. The pavement between potholes is better than Albania but the potholes are worse. It’s Albania Roads, Redux. We’re almost there. If we can just avoid breaking off a wheel. John’s doing a good job of weaving through the pothole landmines but he’s hitting his fair share of them. And now he’s getting “finish line fever” and that’s causing him to drive faster and, of course, hit more potholes. If we break this close to Burgas, I’ll just….
The road is getting better, though, as we get farther from the border. I suggest to John that he’s getting “finish line fever” and he’s slows down just as we round a corner into a police check point. They’re actually working the other lane but we creep by on our best behavior. Over a rise and we can see the Black Sea. And over another, Burgas, Bulgaria. As we pull into Burgas outskirts, we still can find our hotel on the map, the GPS or Google Maps.
We stop and start searching the map for the hotel and while we’re doing this a man walks up to the car window asking us where we are going. We tell him and he volunteers to get in the car and show us the way. He’s pretty scruffy and aggressive (and maybe Albanian) and we decline his offer just as I find the hotel on Google Maps and get driving directions. Finally, on the last stop, we actually drive straight to the hotel and park.
We’re done. Eight days, 15 countries, 3,500 miles. In a 300 pound sterling ’96 Ford Mondeo. That went the entire was with a misfire. And Wheels and Kate on the bonnet and doors. We’ve really done it.