The 80 kilometer stretch of Bulgarian road leading to the Turkish boarder was like a bad omen, warning us of the troubles that lay ahead. The “road” looks more like a pegboard with potholes the size of upside down umbrellas and it snakes through forest with dangerously low hanging branches. My fantastic husband drove like a Rockstar and got us safely to the Turkish border in record time, considering.
The border. I’d like to remind all of you that Turkey is the 18th country we have visited in the last 7 months and that we’ve been through 9 border crossings thus far. First thing we do when we arrive is drive through the wrong alley and have to do a big U-turn to park beside the border office. Out of 8 buildings 7 were abandoned and the only functional one was not lit, very confusing.
With all the usual paperwork needed for this process in hand we head to the first window marked “Entrance”. I hand the woman our passports, the car passport and the car’s “green card” proving that the insurance is valid in non EU countries. The young woman can’t speak a lick of English except for the word “problem”. Problem? After lots of hand gestures and 4 additional people trying to translate for us, we understand that she has an issue with fact that the name showing on the car passport does not match up the names on our passports. We bought the van in Poland, the car passport has the original owner’s name on it, The name on the insurance clearly states “Owner of vehicle: Mathew Ploszanski”, plus, we have our proof of purchase receipt with EVERYONE’s name on it. It’s never been an issue but the girl can’t read or speak Polish, English or French. Still on nerve from the ride there, lack of food and X amount of coffees, Matt and I were beside ourselves, Arek arrives in a few days and Carla in less than a month, what do we do! During our little meltdown the border patrol lady goes in the back and talks to God knows who for a good 10 minutes then emerges with her hands over her head repeating “AHHHHHHHHH, it’s OK, it’s OK!”. Maybe a quick moment with Google translate set things straight for her? OK! We’re are all good, no problem, she’s about to set us up, “Sorry, Police Border before, me OK later”. Damn, wrong line, the title “Entrance” really meant “almost final step”.
Hello Police officers, here are our passports. Nope, you must talk to the “Entrance Visa” guy down there first. Right. Visas for Turkey bought by Canadians will cost you 45 Euros a piece. Fair enough, I hand over my Visa credit card, lets get this show on the road. More hand gestures, more “problem”. The freaking place doesn’t take credit cards, nor do they have an ATM , the closest Bulgarian machine is 80 Km away down the same ridiculous road we just drove in on! Luckily there is a money exchange store onsite but they refuse to take Romanian Lei or Polish Zwoty, too bad, I have a ziplock bag full of each of those.
Solution. A cab driver is recommended to us by the officials, he makes a good portion of his living helping out stupid tourists like us. The deal is this; he pays for our visas (90 euros), then we follow him in our van the closest Turkish city with an ATM (45 Km away), we pay back the 90 euros with an additional 30 euros for his services (a total of 290 Turkish Lira). Shit, at the moment this is the best option for us.
Thank God the road on the Turkish side was a dream. The sunset was truly amazing and I will never forget the surreal shades of tangerine glowing in the sky.
We finally arrive in Kirklareli, it’s dark, nearly freezing and the road traffic is somewhat organic with no rhyme or reason, just millions of cars weaving in and out without looking, laying on the horn as they go. STRESS!!! I hop out and go to the bank, nearly dying twice crossing the road. Long lineup at the ATM, when it’s my turn I try and take out money and I can only take out 100 Lira. Pop the card back in and this time it lets me take out 50 Lira, only 140 Lira to go. My Visa tells me that that’s all I can do today. I try my debit card, I might as well have tried a Starbucks card, this Turkish machine doesn’t recognize it. Polish Visa card next but the chip must be demagnetized and nothing happens.
I’m running around the crazy roundabout intersection like a chicken with it’s head cut off trying to find my cab driver and explain what happened. Obviously he’s mad now and I’m racking my brain what to do next. I grab my ziplock bag full of foreign currencies and head back to the bank. They won’t take my money but inform me that there’s a currency exchange down the street. The cabby considers taking my Romanian Lei but I’m still a little short so he assigns a tall handsome young man to escort me to the money exchange store. We get there and she won’t take my Polish money OR my Romanian Lei. WTF! I’m really starting to breakdown at this point and the lack of food and the buzz of coffee really isn’t helping. I noticed another ATM across from the money exchange place but of course I left my cards in the camper when retrieving the useless ziplock bags of bunk money. Walk back to van, dodge traffic, walk back to ATM, try all 3 cards, same results. Thankfully I see an open Wifi connection right next to the ATM so I open my internet phone app and call my bank. Enter the gazillion numbers on my card, answer the animated questions, listen to muzak while waiting on hold for 15 minutes in -3 degree weather before I get disconnected from the Wifi and I have to start all over again with my frost bitten fingers.
It’s 8 pm, we arrived at the Turkish border around 3 pm, I haven’t eaten all day, this day is a mess, I’m on my second try with the Visa people and so far I’ve been on hold for an additional 15 minutes while they play a horrible acoustic version of Nickleback when I hear “it”. Over a loudspeaker, broadcasting across the city of Kirklareli, is the call to prayer. Haunting yet soothing, I take a brief moment in my horrendous day to actually realize where I am, I’m not in Kansas anymore, I’m in Turkey, almost as far away from home as I’ve ever been in my life. Suddenly my call connects and a lovely lady, probably sitting in a stiflingly hot call centre somewhere in Sir Lanka, comes to my rescue. With the touch of a button I am back in action and money comes out of the ATM, rewarding me as if I hit the jackpot Lotto 649. My precious and patient escort brings popsicle Amalia back to the cab driver, I pay him, hug him, do a little happy dance and return to my worried husband who had been guarding our house in an illegal parking spot for the last hour. Success!
That night we ate a tiny bit of rice before retiring to bed early, spooning each other harder than ever. Finally safe, finally over, tomorrow is going to be so freaking awesome! Stay tuned…