Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Soviet Bloc: Round 1

Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria...

Cy and I heard that Serbia was charging $180 for insurance, so we decided to avoid Serbia. This means going through Romania and Bulgaria, and we had no idea what we were getting into. You've probably already read Cy's post about the speeding ticket in Bulgaria... we also got pulled over one more time because of our weird Russian transit plates. (and DWT)

But the most most striking parts of Romania and Bulgaria for me was the general state of the buildings and infrastructure. The roads varied widely from short stretches of new superhighway (funded mostly by the EU) to looooong stretches of absolutely terrible twisty mountain roads, going through tiny run-down towns.
There were also some remnants of the soviet era -- giant housing blocks that look exactly the same from town to town. But now where there might have been a picture of Stalin or a hammer a sickle... we get an ad for 7up.

Here's a kinda crummy picture of soviet housing. More to come...

Finally... the gas stations. Probably because gas is the most expensive thing around (still around 6 bucks a gallon) the gas stations are invariably the nicest buildings in town. They have restaurants attached, with air conditioning, outdoor umbrellas, etc... It's eerie against the backdrop of the gray soviet housing. They're also open late at night, so they end up being the place to hang out, at least for the rich kids.

All in all, the detour through Romania and Bulgaria ended up taking a ton of time and at least $100 in mysterious border fees (my personal favorite being the Environmental Insurance, which was $16 but we talked them down to $10 because we were just driving through). But it was great fun.

Our luxurious ferry from Romania to Bulgaria. Ok, so it was only 300 yards. Interesting tidbit from the ferry ride... a couple of our fellow passengers -- large Bulgarian ladies, apparently, had bought a bunch of cigarettes on the Romanian side, and were smuggling them into bulgaria... in their bras. It was very amusing to watch the cigarette placement process, which was performed in a very obvious and open manner. No, we didn't take any pictures.

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