March 7, 2012
We rolled into the border about two and a half hours behind. Apparently no one had any idea how bad the roads are in eastern Europe and our trailer rig just can’t take any more speed. We had to have some welders come and fix the hitch assembly in Bulgaria. We all had to get up and walk our passports through. Then we had to go through customs. Then we had to get our visas stamped. Blah, blah, blah.
Net result after over six hours’ wrangling with the locals: ONE temporary work visa for a driver (we have two); 135 Euros for tourist visas for 9 of us; no signed and stamped carnet from the UK so we couldn’t get the gear cleared. By the time we’d gotten to this point, our driver had reached his legal limit for hours on the clock by union rules.
So even if we’d been waved through, the gig was still four hours’ drive. The drivers are prevented from over-driving by a keycard system that cannot be negotiated with. SOMEBODY (Mark Strickland, Tour Manager) dropped the ball on the gear manifest and fronting the visas for the drivers. Our gig had to be cancelled (biggest pre-sales of the tour, of course) and we are currently sitting in front of a Burger King in the travel plaza, catching up on emails and such. Sheesh. So much for Istanbul.
Next stop (hopefully): Thessaloniki, Greece.
Update: This debacle finished with several more hours of sitting, followed by a customs/border check system that seemed designed to induce sleep deprivation. Once we were back on the bus and rolling, every 90-120 minutes we were awakened to walk through some station in the cold and display our passports. This happened four more times after 10 pm, the last being just shy of 6 am.