From the conception of the very idea for this trip, Istanbul was the destination. Entering Turkey was the only solid in a sea of vague during the whole planning process. A quick google told us the entry procedures were pretty straight forward: Get an e-visa 48 hours prior to crossing the border and purchase a ‘green card’ (mandatory third party vehicle insurance) at the border. Simple.
You may have read our recent post about camping on the beach in Sozopol. We sat back, relaxed and revelled in the knowledge that the goal, the Turkish Border, was just an hours drive away. We were so relaxed in fact, that we completely forgot to apply for our e-visa or do any research at all! We were all too pleased when we sailed through the first check point with just a flash of our passports and V5’s. We snapped some pictures at the Turkey sign and you can tell by the look on our faces we we were in. Done and dusted. Bish, Bash, Bosh. We’d made it!… or so we thought.
Then we remembered about the visa. The great news was, you could purchase a visa on arrival at the border for just €25. The bad news was, they only accept cash. Bulgarian Lev or Euro, absolutely no card payments. The guard laid out our options. 1. go back to Bulgaria and get cash, or 2. go back to Bulgaria and stay there. We chose option 3. convince him to log us into the wifi so we could buy and e-visa then wait for it to be approved. Worked like a dream and we had our passports stamped within twenty minutes without leaving no-man’s land. We said thank you very much, geared up and headed for the exit.
Customs and the Green Card
The bored looking lady at customs rapped on the window with a look on her face that said ‘where do you think you’re going!!?’ Our relaxed border crossing was beginning to become a fail. She reminded us of our lack of green card and pointed us in the direction of a big green neon sign. Here a friendly man delivered the news that to enter Turkey for real, we would have to hand over 960 Bulgarian Lev (€240 each!). Our lack of research in the days prior was beginning to not pay off. We jumped back on the wifi as we had been expecting to pay €20-50 for each bike. With limited time it was difficult to find reliable, non-conflicting information. Most of the posts we could find we a few years old and very few included a price. We tried to politely argue and we tried to tell the guy he was wrong but he stood his ground and again we were left with two options: Go back for cash or go back and stay there. That was hard to swallow but we could only really blame ourselves! After a lengthy discussion I waited in no-mans land for over an hour while Rich had his visa cancelled and headed back to Bulgaria.
We have been ripped off at borders before in Asia. We tend to not even think of it as being ripped off, its part and parcel of crossing and you factor it in. On this occasion though it wasn’t $20. The cherry on cake was the last border guard who checks your passport after you have been searched and driven a few hundred metres down the road. He asked us how much we paid and then told us it was too much. Like we didn’t know already. When we asked him how much we should have paid he suddenly didn’t know the price and told us to get on our way. When we tried to push him a bit further for the information he became a bit more aggressive so in order to protect our investment we headed into Turkey while we still had the chance. The whole experience left a sour taste in our mouths for the rest of the day.
We have since met one other British motorcyclist who came through a Greece-Turkey border, he also felt like he had been pillaged and had paid €80. He was happy to learn that there is always someone worse off though! Our advice, which we didn’t take and will be religiously following in future, is to do your research on the particular border crossing you expect to use and then make sure you do some extra research on it in the days prior to making the crossing. Also possibly try and avoid the E87 Bulgaria-Turkey border if you can!
The rest of the day was filled with such minor fails like a leaky water bottle which soaked the camera (now successfully dried in a bag of rice), setting off the alarm on the toll road, a 90 minute detour to an ATM 2km away and a stolen bikini. ugh.
In the evening we reflected on the day. We’d reached Turkey, our original goal, and it felt… like a huge anti-climax. We were minus some of our budget and minus a few positions but we still had our bikes and we had each other. What more could you want!