Poised at the gateway to Asia

Austria, Hungary and Romania all choose to confuse travelling motorists with their vignette or road tax requirements.  Bulgaria makes excellent use of the Cyrillic alphabet on road signs for the same purpose.  Turkey has chosen to make its border as difficult to navigate as possible, bar the use of actual landmines or barbed wire.  Of course, if you’ve done it before, you know that you get stamped out of Bulgaria, stop in between at the duty-free shop to buy your Turkish motor insurance, walk back out of there and past the row of passport control cabins to buy your visa from the cash office beyond where they stamp you into Turkey then back to your bike and ride through passport control to have your new visa stamped, then up to customs and insurance checks, then onwards to check stamp one, then again on to check stamp two and out into Turkey.

Dan hadn’t been through here before.  Dan got himself stamped out of Bulgaria, and not needing any cheap perfume, booze or a comically large Toblerone, rode straight past the duty free shop.  Rocking up at passport control with no visa, he expected to be able to buy one there.  No, go to something three.  Passport away, gloves back on, three point turn between the kerbs of the single file lane of traffic, and squeeze past the line of cars behind to go looking for something three.  Ah – building B3, that’ll do.  Police office – no visas here, go to cabin 53.  Cabin 53?  Out the other side of building B3 and over towards B2.  Half a mile of trudging in full motorcycle kit later, no one in cabin 53.  Walk into building B2 (customs head office) and look for someone helpful.  A few blank stares.  Then a few more people.  Then a phone call and “go to cabin 92, visas there”.  Trudge the half mile back across the enormous border plaza, in one side of the police office, out the other, not stopping to thank them for their duff information and out in search of cabin 92.  There it is!  Just beyond the man who stamps you into the country.  Of course.  Where else would you sell visas?  15 Euros later and Dan has a visa.  Back to the bike, rejoin the queue.  Stamped into the country and onto customs.  This is easy.  Man at customs looks at passport, registration document and demands green card.  Green card?  You’re a customs man, not traffic police! No problem, I know I need to buy one – where is the insurance office?  You get from free-shop.  The duty free shop?  Next to the Toblerones?  Awesome.  OK, hold that thought, I’ll be back in a bit with some insurance.  Documents away, gloves back on, another three point turn between single-file kerbs and squeeze back past the queue of traffic and backwards through passport control to the duty free shop.  25 Euros later, and Dan has three months of third party motorcycle insurance for Turkey.  Heading for passport control, the guy who stamped him in before sees him coming and waves him to the next queue along.  Genius.  This is going to be interesting.  The border guard in the next cabin along looks confused.  Dan points towards the other border guard whilst trying to perfect a “he stamped me in 40 minutes ago but the customs guy told me I needed insurance so I went and got some and he sent me to your queue” sort of look on his face.  After leaning out of his cabin to shout across to the first one for confirmation, border guard number two waves Dan through to customs again.  Aside from taking a while for anyone in this newly opened lane to realise that the customs hut up ahead wasn’t manned and you needed to walk across to the one that had turned Dan back before, the process then went smoothly.  It’s certainly hard to imagine how it could be streamlined.  It’s possible the entire process has been designed to make European visitors go home and lobby their MEPs to grant Turkey EU membership so it can all be bulldozed to oblivion.

In fairness, Turkey doesn’t need to have the border like that to confuse foreign motorists.  Their motorway toll system is easily adequate for that.  You can’t pay in cash or card, you have to have one of their RFID cards which you hold near a sensor at the toll gate.  And you can’t credit this new unwanted account with a normal card, either.  It’s Turkish Lira cash only, or Euros at a shockingly poor exchange rate made up on the spot by the bloke in the booth.  It’s also not at all clear whether motorcycles just end up paying at the same rate as cars.  After paying ten euros for 17 Turkish Lira of credit on a piece of plastic he didn’t want like the world’s least attractive savings scheme, Dan headed off onto the motorway network of Turkey.  For reference, the actual exchange rate today is 2.276 Turkish Lira to the Euro…

As we learned during our African expedition a few years back, every year the drivers of Nigeria organise a competition to see who can make the most dangerous overtake.  Extra points are awarded for the nearness of the miss and the pointlessness of the manoeuvre.  If it won’t actually get you anywhere, that’s a bit like a double word score.  This year, the competition has been thrown open to international entrants, and drivers from across Eastern Europe and Turkey are practising hard.  The Romanian and Bulgarian guys were good, but they’ve got a way to go before they can take on the Turkish – these guys are naturals.  Dan will continue to keep his eyes peeled for entrants from the remaining countries on the route…

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2 Responses to Poised at the gateway to Asia

  1. Chris says:

    Dan, I’m loving the Turkey border saga. I do enjoy it when you’re having a blast too, but the imagary of that RIDICULOUSLY designed arrangment had me in stitches.
    Perhaps they used the same consultants that helped the STC Canteen arrange their food vending and payment layout?

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