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Old 7 Sep 2008
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"Hot" borders in Europe - Cyprus, Transnistria, Kaliningrad


I just finished a one week trip (by air) to tick off my missing country points in Europe. Some of the border crossings reminded me of the special atmosphere you sometimes get at African border controls:

Cyprus - UK Sovereign Air Base - Northern Cyprus
The border crossing was more interesting than I thought. The houses along the UN controlled green line still show bullet marks. There is still the special atmosphere of a conflict zone.

Moldova - Gagauzia - Transnistria - Ukraine (Odessa)
Gagauzia is an autonomous region within Moldova but there is a huge border sign and it's worth to make the detour from Chisinau. The crossing from Moldova to Transnistria at Tighina/Bender worked easier than I expected (no visa, no payment, no waiting, no bribes), but when you leave Transnistria again for Ukraine, you will need to pay ca. 10 Euro to the border guards. The reason they make up, in order to get a bribe, is that you don't have an exit stamp from Moldova in your passport (which you don't get, because Moldovans consider Transnistria part of their country). Transnistria feels like a voyage back to the old days of the Soviet Union.

Kaliningrad - Poland (Danzig)
I flew to Kaliningrad by KD Avia. If you just want to collect the country point, you can make a stopover on Air Baltic's flight from Riga to Copenhagen. The land border out of Kaliningrad into Poland was much rougher than I expected. The Russians give hell to tourists, mostly Polish. Some wait for 24 hours in their cars. I took a private "taxi" from Kaliningrad to the border station and intended to walk over, then hitchhiking on the Polish side. But walking across the border is strictly forbidden! You MUST cross in a car (or on a bike). Most of the waiting cars (Russians; or a Polish car queue of 1 km!) will refuse to take you onboard even if you offer to pay them. It took me three hours to catch a ride. It was with two Polish guys in a big car who just jumped the whole queue and who the Russians let pass swiftly. Let me tell you: there is a lot of smuggling around this area and the system is totally corrupt... If you don't want to play the waiting game (at any ex-soviet border, I guess) put ca. 20 Euros in your passport, keep an arrogant and self-confident composure and just walk straight to the top of the line.

I didn't expect so much "fun" to be had in Europe ... but then I look forward again to Africa, where those kinds of border hassles are rewarded with beautiful landscapes and people.
Gentleman Adventurer
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Old 8 Sep 2008
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Did you pay the $10 to a Transnistrian or to a Ukrainian officer? If you paid it to a Transnistrian officer, did you complain? If not, please look at wikitravel how to do so. You can also contact an English speaking officer responsible for fighting corruption at mosers@hotbox.ru. You can also give a phone number. Please take the effort to complain. It may be useful for other travellers.
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Old 9 Sep 2008
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It reminds my of those people you meet who talk of "the locals" as if they were guests in your country, not the other way round.

I guess the broadening of the mind that comes with foreign travel takes longer with some "foreigners" than with others.

Kudos to Caminando for his restraint.
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Old 9 Sep 2008
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For what it's worth, this is my take on crossing the Kaliningrad-Poland border on a bike a couple of years ago:
Beside the Seaside

(I can go on a bit..! You'll find the border about halfway down the page. The queues are something else; what I'll remember most was the kindness.. and drunkenness.. of the Poles and Roosians who urged me to jump the queue. They were unbelievably friendly.)

And I'd recommend kaliningrad to anyone. It has more variety than you might expect. Yes, bits are grey and depressed and very very poor. But there's good spirit, amazing history, and the road from the city south to Poland was *gorgeous*.

Travelbug, I think I understand what you mean by 'country point'. I just don't quite understand *why* ;-)

---I'm back. Now what?---
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Old 10 Sep 2008
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Originally Posted by Mike View Post
Travelbug, I think I understand what you mean by 'country point'. I just don't quite understand *why* ;-)

Hi Mike,

;-) I don't understand it either, but then that's why it's a bug ...

I count countries on three lists:

1. UN List: United Nations member states - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

2. Travelers Century Club: The Travelers' Century Club

3. Charles Veley's List: Most Traveled People - Where Have you Been?

Thank you for your wonderful description of this nightmare border. Your first paragraph gives a good account:
The Kaliningrad-Poland border
It's a living nightmare. I got through in under two hours. In order to do this I rode, slowly and uncomfortably, down a thin road collapsing under the weight of parked cars. I wish I'd counted them but there can't have been less than 400. There could easily have been twice that number. I wish I'd had the guts to take pictures but -- my bleedin' heart Western liberal mentality -- I don't take pictures of the plight of others just for the sake of it. 'Plight' is not too strong a word. These people - Russians and Poles - must take two or three *days* to cross the border. They were sleeping. Eating packed food. Dozing. Standing in small groups talking. Staring off into space. I rode past one man having a loud, sweary argument - with himself. Alcohol may have been involved. I rolled along the road beside them. Some smiled, some waved, some ignored me. I hardly knew where to look.

Now imagine, you are jumping that queue on foot, searching for a ride, and it's raining and grey.

Have fun in Albania !

(... where they have overcome their Soviet legacy as compared to Kaliningrad and Transnistria).
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