Sure, there are challenges, trying to circumvent this world, as we travel full-time, but, as long as we get to keep moving, we are happy.
After a full five-hours of travel planning this morning after I woke up; the very activity that is more difficult to do during COVID times, than ever, I finally had a plan for us that would get us out of Bulgaria, and in to Turkey. We have had different kind of challenges for this border crossing, unlike the other during the COVID pandemic.
At first, I lined up a local hired car and driver. The drive would take three hours from the Sofia Airport, where we had to drop our rental off at; here in Bulgaria. From the airport to the border would cost $135. He told me Bulgarian rules would not allow his driver to pass through the neutral zone to drop us off in Turkey… a little problematic, but we’ve walked these neutral zones before. I then asked the driving company if they had associates in Turkey we could line up the pick up with, on the Turkey side of the border. He said no, but I made a reservation for a 2PM pickup at the airport today. That was hours ago, so obviously it didn’t happen, as we are still in Sofia, Bulgaria in a hotel room, feeling a little stuck. The challenges at this border crossing have nothing to do with COVID19. We do not need a test to prove we are negative, and there is no requirement to quarantine for 14 days after arrival. Turkey had opened it borders for tourisms, some months ago
In the meantime, Daryl was working on getting our Istanbul Visa applied and paid for. This took several hours, but we just now got it. NOW, to get it printed. We hope the hotel reception will help. This was $193 we really did not want to pay for, again, but because we were locked down in Greece, and our travel limited for awhile, due to border controls, our Visa for Turkey expired. If the pandemic had not happened, we would have been able to return to Turkey to get our suitcase and do some more touring, after our time in the EU and non-Eu, while our first Visa was still good. Oh well, the world still turns.
After I lined up the 2PM driver, I contacted our host in Istanbul, where we will be staying, to ask if he knew of a driver we could hire to meet us on the Turkey side, we we figured for the two and. half hour drip, it would cost another $135, or around that. It was only then, that my friend told me “walking” across the neutral zone was forbidden by Bulgaria and Turkish authorities. WHAT? WHY? Apparently, there has been a surge of Syrian immigrants trying the breach the border, so for awhile nownow all visitors crossing by land, have to arrive by car or bus, and drive through.
More info if you are interested on the border crisis: :https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/28/tensions-rise-between-turkey-and-russia-after-killing-of-troops-in-syria
I contacted the hired driver again and told him his hired service have little value to us, if we can’t get to the Turkish side. THEN he informs me it can be done, but it requires paperwork to be completed and approved, prior to departure. Since it’s Sunday, the admin offices are not opened. I said okay, let’s move our reservation to tomorrow (Monday) and make an earlier departure. He said they were fully booked. I told him thank you for his time, but we needed to cancel our reservation for today. I got the feeling he didn’t want to do extra paperwork.
Next up, I’m looking at buses, but same issue with crossing through the neutral zone there, too, without proper documents, unattainable on a Sunday. 11 hours on a bus is not our idea of a good time, anyway; though at around $30 pp, very affordable
BTW, yesterday, when we were at the border crossing, and were turned away because we did not have the right vehicle insurance, we did see a backpacker who was detained. We wondered why they had stopped the individual, as he/she walked across the lanes. Now we think we know, why. We did not want that for us.
Finally, as a last resort, I start searching for flights to Turkey. For an afternoon plane tomorrow, it would cost $1007.00 pp 😳 But, for an evening flight, we were able to get two fares for $300, total. Whew! The good news is, we will only be in the air for 1h 50m. We can easily get the local currency at the airport ATM, but at 11:30PM, not sure if kiosks will be open for SIM cards. The bad news is the distribution of the weight of our belongings for flying purposes we must contend with. We have limited luggage, so we are not sure how to fit everything into our one big suitcase, and other small suitcase to check. We have plenty of weight allowance, just not enough suitcases to distribute over. We have not flown on a plane for six months! We will hope for the best and pack as good as we can. Our small carry-ons will be overweight for the cabin, but we hope to gate-check them. Did I mention the latches on our one big suitcase we do have broke? This is are very nice metal Halliburton. Daryl can replace the latches, but not till we get to Istanbul. In the meantime, he bought some heavy cord to tighten down the suitcase with, to insure it stays closed. He knows how to do fancy knots. Not a great plan for flying, but the lock still works, thankfully. We had not planned on flying with this suitcase till Daryl fixed it; after our Turkey visit,but continuing our rental car usage, the company was going to charge us 55 euros a day (it is a nice rig) from our contract amount of 25 euros a day, PLUS $200 and some dollars for insurance to leave Bulgaria, and not be able to go beyond Istambul!
The hotel, here in Sofia, could extend our stay by another night, but we had to change rooms. After 1PM, tomorrow, we can pay by the hour, till we leave for the airport for our evening flight. Now, our room is over a car washing business with a few power washers running. Thankfully they will close, sometime this evening… we hope.
We filled the rental up with fuel, and headed for the airport to drop it off. We were told to have it back by 3:30PM, today. We were all paid up on the rental, and I had purchased our plane tickets, so this was the next likely step; only nobody was working the rental car counter. Nobody was in the drop-off parking lot for rentals, and there was no drop box for the key. A security guard gave Daryl a hard time for entering the airport to drop the keys at the counter. No English of course, so that was 20 minutes we will never get back, before they let Daryl go to the counter and leave the truck key, insurance/registration and parking card. We hope the rental company finds it where he left it, but we were done with it and did not want to pay 55 euro a day for it. Why they told us to return it, today, when they were closed is beyond us.
Our friend and host in Istanbul, at Galatolia Suites was kind enough to change our room reservation for us, to arrive tomorrow night, instead of tonight. Our suitcase we stored with him six months ago is editing in our room, and it will be great to get into, as we need some supplies out of it, plus some warmer cloths for upcoming cooler weather in Europe.
It’s never dull in our world, but grateful for our health and ability to continue to do what we do, one way or another. One thing is for sure, that Turkish Bath is going to feel extra wonderful, for all the effort involved in getting back to beautiful Turkey! Getting a Turkish Bath is one of my favorite things, now; right next to massages
Incidentally, because there are tensions flaring between Greece and Turkey at this time, we have decided to only travel (driving ourselves) in the North and East of Turkey, and forgo the rest of our planned adventuress that are closer to the the southern border. Its alright, because going to Cappadocia to go ballooning is at the top of my bucket list for our Turkey adventuring on this visit!
More information on the tension between Turkey and Greece, if you are interested: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53497741