Escaping Bulgaria: Money Laundering, Booze Running and Visa Border Runarounds 2 of 2

Staring at the bottle of whiskey as the border approached, contemplating whether to hand it over to the driver or just leave it be, it occurred to me that I was just being ridiculous. It was only the slight shock and surprise of the odd encounter with the young Turkish man, who had fled on foot post-haste from the bus that had caused me suspicion. My fears eased as we pulled into border control.



Courtesy of

Well I almost felt like this.


Filing off the bus I shuffled in line with the rest of the passengers. A rather small and sparsely-staffed checkpoint, I felt at ease. This was unlike the heavily-guarded U.S. and Europe border crossings that I had encountered. There was one old man, stodgily sitting in a small glassed enclosure glancing over passports and waving passengers on.


It was not until I handed him my passport that he bothered to look up and remark that I was American. This elicited some conversation between the border agent, the awaiting bus driver who leaned against the waiting room windows and the women behind me in line. I am uncertain what was said as it was in Turkish, but the old man's impatience seemed to grow as my passport failed to scan.


My mind drifted back to the scene, which played outside the bus in Veliko Tarnovo. I remembered the the laughing as they held my passport in hand. It had always worked before. Maybe this was the reason for the border agent's frustration. Whatever the case, after much back and forth with the bus driver, the border agent eventually entered my passport manually and I was allowed to pass.


We lined up to board the bus, only to get off at the next check point, two minutes down the road. As we filed out once again to check in with the next border agent seated behind a small glass enclosure, I walked a bit slower as to be the last one in line to avoid any inconveniences for my fellow passengers should they arise.


Not to my surprise, they did.


Once again my passport failing to scan caused some confusion with the two guards inside the booth. After another several minutes of questions and failed attempts to scan the microchip in my passport I was directed to a building some good distance away. There was more confusion as it was decided who, the bus driver or his assistant, would escort me. Eventually one was chosen and I followed along as he scurried across the road.


Courtesty of

It seemed that we were disturbing them from something very, very important. 


Entering the mostly deserted building, we eventually found the room where there lounged several armed agents, who weren't the least bit concerned with showing their dissatisfaction for being bothered at this late hour. We both were abruptly showed out of the room and pointed into the direction of our next destination. Another lonely glass enclosure.


It was here where I finally gathered that I must pay for my Visa. Having anticipated this I proceeded to get my Bulgarian Lev from my wallet. I was promptly refused and another confusing conversation ensued. I gathered that Bulgarian Lev was not accepted and offered my bank card instead. This was also refused and elicited a bit more frustration from the border agent.


I had looked into this ahead of time and was aware that US citizens were expected to pay in US dollars or Euros for their visa if coming from the US or Europe. I had found no such information about coming from Bulgaria, a country in the EU, but one in which the Euro is not fully introduced. I had kept my eyes open at every stop along the bus journey for ATM's which would give me either Euros or Turkish Lira, but never encountered one.


Stuck with this situation I explained, as best I could that alas, it was only Bulgarian Lev I had and offered to visit an ATM if the border crossing had one. I was informed that indeed they did not. A bit uncertain about what to do I stuck out my Lev and offered it again. He snatched what I had in hand and issued me a Visa. As the border agent and my escort traded money it looked as if my Lev was being exchanged for Lira between the two.


We made the long way back to the where the bus was parked. Well where it was once parked, because it had moved. Fortunate it had not gone that far, but when I got there everyone was standing around and the baggage doors on the outside of the bus were wide open with all the luggage missing.


It turned out that border inspection had commenced, myself present or not. Searching around for my backpack yielded no results. It was only a few minutes later when the driver arrived carrying it that I felt a sense of relief. I guess this small sense of fear that my belongings were being searched, seized or generally groped about by border agents is what I get for not having US currency to speed the process along.


As we all boarded back onto the bus I remembered that my carry on had been left in my seat and was no longer there. Silly of me to assume I would be present for inspection and able to keep track of my belongings. I realized that I would have to ask the driver, who didn't speak English, as to the whereabouts of my bag the best I could before the bus left.


After a bout of confusing roe of words he realized it was my bag I was looking for and produced it from some nether regions of the coach I have yet to fully comprehend. With all my belongings accounted for I sat back down and looked forward to an uneventful rest of the trip into Istanbul. But it wasn't more than three minutes when we were stopping again outside a dark and very much closed (or so I thought) duty-free store.


It struck me that maybe there was something else going on as the driver and his assistant argued in the front of the bus about whether it was alright to go in.


To be continued...(The finally.  I promise.)


Turkey has a unique history and a fascinating culture.  The time I spent in this country has peaked my interest of one day living here for a spell.  If you share a similar such interest you should consider buying an apartment or villa from Kalkan Property.  It is situated on the south west of Turkey just between the islands of Rhodes and Cyprus.

About Author

Post by Kurt Trumble
The Low Down:

Kurt grew up on Long Island in New York. He spends his time learning emerging open source technologies and social media. He runs Travel With Drupal, focused on Drupal webdesign and blogging. ( Beatnik literature and The Beatles top his list of interests when not backpacking around.