Peter has agreed to write this blog about our experience at the Bulgarian border…
Before leaving Nis, Serbia we chose to visit two interesting sites. The Skull Tower that was built from the skinned heads of Serb soldiers lost in a battle during the Serb uprising in 1809.
The second was a near perfectly retained Nazi concentration camp.
Both, but particularly the concentration camp, thought provoking places. Why would you place barb wire on the floor of confinement cells? How did 157 people sleep and be housed in just one dorm, dorm 12, measuring about 8m x 12m by my estimation?
And then we were moving again.
Pondering yesterday morning, our entry into Bulgaria, two thoughts came to mind. Firstly, we don't have original documents for our bikes, only copies certified as correct and signed by a lawyer, no less. No less than Kerry, I should add. Secondly, no green card. We have done the "very sad look" and you get into Bosnia without them, were not asked at the Serbian border as I expect they assumed we had them by getting this far East.
Both are needed to enter with a vehicle into Bulgaria. One of the other bikers has been waiting at the Romania/Bulgaria border for three days for his original papers to arrive from Ireland.
Here is the commentary.
Arrive to multiple long queues at Serbian border but get through quite quickly. The Whizzers choose the best line to join.
Ride on 200m through 'no man's land' to the Bulgaria border checkpoint. Again choose the dry inside track that proved the winner. Our turn. Here we go. Play a straight bat, we are from Australia, we are riding these things all the way to Mongolia, aren't we stupid, pity, pity, pity.
Bike Documents? Rego dics. Copies only. ❌
Border Guard. "Original. These are copies."
They look like copies but are prints of electronically delivered registration papers. We don't get originals in Australia. And as we were concerned about that, we had a lawyer certify that they were true and correct representations on the original documents .
BG. Leaning back in his chair sighing.
"Can't go. We need originals."
Repeat above explanation. Look sad and confused.
BG. Green card?
No, we don't use a green card system in Australia. Our bikes are insured as shown in the papers.
BG. Throws passports and papers on counter, leans back saying, "Go back to Serbia".
More explanation of the reciprocal registration agreement with EU countries on vehicle insurance.
BG. "Move your bikes off to the side over there."
Few minutes later another BG, higher authority BG (haBG) arrives to check our papers and declares them unsuitable. Kerry pulls out our medical insurance stating that it covers third party motor vehicle insurance as well.
haBG studies it. "Where is bike details"?
It is in the fine print. At which point Kerry pulls up the 50 page document on her phone and starts scrolling through pages.
haBG very amused and barely interested in fine print. This action did buy us valuable time to be friendly and very concerned.
I state it was our intention to get a vignette at the border. Thinking a vignette was insurance. It is not.
His reply. You're not getting into Bulgaria today.
haBG. Come with me. Kerry (the lowly female) stays with bikes and the two of us walk across to the office (more great opportunity to talk) where Highest Authority BG is seated.
I explain we arrived in both Bosnia and Serbia without needing a green card and that it is our mistake, as Australians we did not fully appreciate the requirements.
"This is Bulgaria, not Bosnia or Serbia!".
haBG explains to HABG our situation while demonstrating, with finger strokes, across our passports, how Kerry had been scrolling the fine print on her phone.
Wry smile, I briefly notice, appears on HABG's face and he asks me if we have insurance. I assured him that European countries have reciprocal arrangements with Australia explaining how we were free to spend 6 months in the EU without further needs for registration and that the bikes were insured. I further explained the copies and that they are certified and signed by a lawyer.
He looked again at the papers, looked at me, smiled and said "welcome to Bulgaria".
It had nothing to do with him being hoodwinked. He was simply amused with our passion to get into his country and it showed. Other plusses – Australia remains a curiosity, clearly, in this part of the world. Big plus.
We were in Bulgaria! Getting back to the bikes, I smiled at Kerry, saddled up and we departed, quietly. Riding on to the first booth to buy vignettes, we were waved by. Bikes are free, said the attendant. Vignettes are akin to roads taxes.
For the next 30km it felt as if we should not rightfully be here.
We are arrived and the pivo tastes great.
It is interestingly to observe and reflect when travelling in these parts of the world.
Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia and Bulgaria – all with a GDP ranging beteeen USD$4,000 to $7,000. Australia – over $50,000.
Their purchasing power clearly has a much smaller difference within their respective countries but nevertheless, there is a great divide in incomes compared to the West. Looking around, how people live, their beautiful and well kept houses and properties, dress, pride and in most other measures. No such divide.
We came past a rubbish tip in Serbia yesterday. No rows of perfectly working, but white, 2 yo fridges could be seen, no piles of pushbikes with one flat tyre, no plasma TV sets.
Therein lies the biggest difference.
Riding along at the speeds we manage, back roads, all roads, some, not really roads, in the open air, open face helmets, we get to see, feel and smell many things. The freshly rained on wheat stubble, the pine sap in the forests, the ripening gardens of capsicum and peppers, road kill. Time to think a lot about life.
Steve (Kerry's boss for those that may not know), if you are reading, I am sadly informing you that these are Kerry's words, uttered today over our headsets as we rode. "It's all beautiful, when I get back I am going to re-skill, become a postman and deliver mail".
That was just before we arrived at the Bulgarian border gate. We had such good fortune getting through, and, just like that, a big black Bulgarian dog took a liking to our bikes, actually Kerry's bike, racing out at her from behind the last booth as we rode away. What was the dog thinking?