Last time you heard from me, we were still stuck in Romania after our departure from Russia in March. We had visited the castles, do you remember?
Still in Bucharest
Since then I’ve been rather quiet. It wasn’t a question of having nothing to write about. Romania, and Bucharest in particular, is a beautiful place to be and we loved every minute of it. We’d extended our Airbnb stay a couple of times because we just weren’t able to go anywhere else in the world. The borders were either closed to both of us, or just closed to me due to my Australian passport.
In July we had to change our Airbnb location because we left it too long to extend our stay and the host had already booked it to someone else. So, mid-July we moved into another apartment in the centre of Bucharest. It was more expensive, but really well located for exploring the city.
I’m not sure you can imagine our situation unless you’ve lived something similar yourself. I know that most of you are in your home countries with your families and friends and can’t imagine being ‘stuck’ in a country you had no plans to go to. I also know that some of you have been stuck in a country that’s not yours, either by choice or not. It’s hard. It’s expensive. And it’s very stressful.
What about our future?
During our time in Bucharest, during lock down and after, Olivier and I spent a lot of time trying to decide our future. What now? Our time in Russia was finished. We couldn’t take our Asian/Australian holiday as planned. We were stuck in Romania not knowing what to do.
So, I did some research and I found that a lot of people ‘retire’ to Bulgaria. Not necessarily full-time, but sometimes just for the summer, or for 6 months of the year. The rest of the year they’re back home with their extended families, or jobs. They move to Bulgaria for the weather, for economic reasons (it’s less expensive than ‘western’ countries), for the ‘back to nature’ aspect of life there.
Why would we want to move to Bulgaria? We’re not old enough for retirement.
Back to nature
A couple of years ago I started to wish for a house, with some land for a garden. I wanted to grow vegetables. I wanted chickens. And maybe a dog.
I’d been living in apartments for more than 15 years, and I wanted to have some nature around me. Nature that I could call my own.
But we didn’t really think it was the right time to move to the country and live with chickens. We’re still young! We still have lots of living and travelling to do!
But then as you know 2020 put a stop to everything. And while we were sitting in Bucharest waiting for borders to open, realising that we wouldn’t be going anywhere near Asia, or anywhere else for that matter, we decided that maybe we weren’t too young after all. Maybe we could enjoy a bit of a quiet life after the 24 hour life we had lived in Moscow.
And Bulgaria was just over the border from Bucharest. All we had to do was wait until the border opened and we’d be there in a few hours.
The border eventually opened, but not for me and my Australian passport. Olivier would have been able to go without me, but we’re a team so we stayed together and watched the border reports every day to see any changes.
Why not Bulgaria?
And while we were waiting, we researched Bulgaria. We discovered that it’s not so expensive to buy a house here, depending on the condition of it and the village it’s located in. And it’s not too difficult to get residency for an EU national and his Australian wife.
We decided that when the borders opened, we were going to a town called Veliko Tarnovo. It’s the closest big town to the border near Bucharest, and it looked lovely in the Youtube videos we watched.
Mid-July, just after we’d moved to the new Airbnb (which we booked for a month) we had news that the border was now open for Australians, with no quarantine or testing required. We had to make a decision, do we go as soon as possible, or do we stay in the Airbnb which we’d paid for until 12th August. If we wait until 12th August, could the border close again before that and we miss our chance? If we go as soon as possible, we will lose our Airbnb rent that we paid.
We made the decision to go as soon as we could, and say goodbye to the Airbnb rent. It’s only money!
So, with no international trains currently running between the two countries, the only option was to take a taxi. Yes, a taxi!
For my Australian friends, it’s probably impossible for you to imagine taking a taxi from one country to another. But here, it’s absolutely possible.
I found a taxi company that travels from Romania to Bulgaria and booked them for 27th July. We would lose money from our accommodation by leaving early but that was the decision we made.
Getting the right information
I’d contacted the Bulgarian Embassy in Romania to be 100% sure that we both had the right to cross the border into Bulgaria without a 14 day quarantine, and received a reply confirming that.
I’d also got a copy of the official law allowing all foreigners an extension on their visas in Romania due to the pandemic. I usually have 90 day visa free in EU countries. I’d been there 129 days because of lock down, so I didn’t want to get a fine for overstaying. All foreigners who arrived before or after lock down (23rd March) could stay until 12th August without penalty. (And then it was actually even extended longer, so currently they’re ok to stay until October without worrying about overstaying.)
The taxi arrived at 11am on the day, and we bundled in our suitcases and ourselves. It was a really nice car, with 6 seats for passengers in the back, although there was just Olivier and I taking the trip. The driver wasn’t very talkative and we passed the next hour quietly, looking at the countryside, seeing the last of Romania.
Then we arrived at the border. Friendship Bridge, also known as Danube Bridge. We crossed the bridge, and then we arrived at border control. The Romanian border police and the Bulgarian border police sit side by side. In a little box with a window.
The Romanian guy stamps you out of Romania and slides your passport over to the Bulgarian guy, who stamps you into Bulgaria.
Unless you’re me.
Just a small drama
If you’re me, there’s a delay after the Romanian guy stamps you out.
We waited for a while in the car, not knowing what was happening.
Two Romanian border police eventually came to our car door and asked to speak to us. One of them decided to challenge me for over-staying in Romania. He told me I could only stay 90 days, and I’d stayed 129 days. According to him I’d overstayed. He asked me why I overstayed. I tried to tell him about the law for foreigners, that all visas were extended, but his English wasn’t really good enough. Or he just didn’t want to understand me.
I showed him a copy of the law on my tablet, which was in Romanian. He didn’t look happy. After reading it he dismissed me and walked away. I don’t know if he thought he could get a fine out of me for ‘overstaying’ or not, but it shows that it pays to know your rights at the border. It also pays to be polite and respectful.
Then, the Bulgarian border police said that I’ve come from Russia so I can’t cross the border because at that point in time (and maybe still now, I’m not sure) people from Russia were forbidden to come into Bulgaria. So, even though he had my passport in his possession, with all the stamps and dates right in front of him, I had to explain that it had been 4 months since I left Russia and that I’d been in Romania since 21st March.
That seemed to be enough for him, and he stamped me into Bulgaria and let us on our way. We were at the border control window for about 15 or 20 minutes, which was a lot longer than the cars that had been in front of us.
In these uncertain times, regardless of the laws, I think we were lucky that we got through so easily.
And then, we were in Bulgaria! Another 2 hours in the taxi, driving through beautiful countryside, and we arrived in Veliko Tarnovo – our new home!
That was 2 weeks ago, and already we’ve done so much to get settled here, but I’ll leave that for another post.
By the way, 3 hours in the taxi, just under 200km, cost us only 82 euros (AUD$134, USD$97).
Let me know if there’s anything you want to know about our new life here in Bulgaria. We’re slowly learning about the culture and the language, and making new friends. Never a dull moment at Born in a Car!