Monday, 13 June 2016

Border Crossing with a Malaysian Passport – Train from Budapest to Belgrade

I was in a dilemma for a long time plotting my route through Europe especially this part of Eastern Europe. I had a plan …. Fly in to Madrid in Spain and fly out of Istanbul in Turkey. How I got there was up to me or rather base on the force of nature pushing me where I ought to go. Scandinavia once I had decided I will bite the bullet and spend the money it was a simple decision and from there on there was no way I would miss the Baltics.

The dilemma really started when I reached the end of the Baltics, coming down from Tallinn to Vilnius in Lithuania I would have to cross over to Poland since Russia required a Visa and Ukraine was not practically stable. The missile shooting down the Malaysian airplane MH 17 did after all came from Ukraine soil and a recent one at that. Poland was still a no brainer and of course the next logical route was Budapest.

What’s after Budapest ??? My mind ran scenario one after another but there was a few things I could not change even if I wanted to. Mental restrain for it would cost too much to force my way through things really instead of the physical cash problems. Romania or Serbia. This two countries was my biggest dilemma. I had no time to do them both for the dateline to reach Istanbul was approaching. Bulgaria would be next after any of this two before Turkey.
I even considered at one point to postpone the plane ride thinking I would pay the penalty and change the flight date. I scour the internet for the nearest office for oneworld which happens to be in Budapest, actually tried to change the flight ticket dates by calling Malaysian airlines on skype which ended up with an hour of talking, passing lines, waiting and finally a disconnection or maybe I got hung up on without even knowing the outcome. I even emailed Malaysian airline seeking help but other than a reply email that they would look into it, after 2 weeks of no reply I knew it was a lost course.

I hate traveling too fast from one city to another. It’s like you only see the cover of the book but never got to experience the soul inside. Hence I tried to even check for budget flight from Budapest to Istanbul. The idea was if I got a cheap budget flight I could spend less time hopping from one city to another and instead really delve into Poland and Hungary instead of just hopping every 3 days from Warsaw to Krakow to Budapest. I would also get to explore more non touristy parts of the country …. No such budget flights from Budapest to Istanbul ….
I had no choice …. Now its to just hop hop hop … maximum of 3 days at one place to get to Istanbul in time. I was still left with the question of the route …

The Route …
Hungary à Romania à Bulgaria à Istanbul ?
Hungary à Serbia à Bulgaria à Istanbul ?

I dread going to Romania with such a short time. I felt that Transylvania was a place you needed time to sock in Dracula and its beauty. Such unlimited adventure in Romania and I would ruin it by skip hopping though it I thought. Serbia then …. I had no idea what it was and it seem small enough that maybe just the capital Belgrade would suffice to represent the country. Some country are such …. Baltics was one of them I guess but not Romania.
Time for detailed research. ….

Republic of Serbia …. Malaysian passport holders are required to apply for Visa prior to visiting Serbia …. F*CK ….
I did not lose hope and still tried to find an embassy but other than the fact it located in Budapest I had no idea how much it would cost or how long it would take to get the Visa …. Going through the webpage I notice a sort of a disclaimer or a note to the visa requirement … general info …

For those who need visa to travel into Serbia but already have a Schengen Visa or USA visa or and a few other I could not remember …. They are not required to obtain a Serbia Visa prior to arrival.
Was this one of those countries which accepts other big nation countries Visa as well ??? It was risky … the General Info date posted was Nov 2014 not even a year …. A new change to their immigration laws … although I was happy that I could now go into Serbia, my mind still ran the paranoid worst case scenario. If the so call officer who board the train checking passport had no idea his own government new change in immigration laws then technical I will be illegal in his eyes and I could see shit happening in 100 different ways.

F*ck It … I’ll risk it … and argue my way in if need be … .
To be safe I did printed the website page onto a PDF format into my phone.

Train Ride from Budapest to Belgrade
I took the day train to Belgrade from Budapest …. 10 am departure from Budapest and we arrived 7pm in Belgrade ….
The Train ride from Budapest to Belgrade

The train ride was pleasant other than the fact the toilet near my carriage was choke with shit and urine so whenever the automated door opens a whiff of smell would sting the nose till it was close again and enough people inhale the foul gas to purify it.
Border Train stop for Passport Control
We reached the Hungarian Border about 1pm Kelebia and two officers board the train checking passports. I had no idea I was still in Hungary and thought they were Serbia officials. Thou still apart of Europe and Schengen the officer were frowning on my passport looking at it back and forth and after a long discussion within themselves they stamped and return it to me.
I thought it was done .. I was in Serbia …. Checking the stamp, it looked oddly like an EU stamp …. Oh … it was a stamp going out of EU …. Darn .

Half an hour later after every carriage was cleared by the officers the train continue on its way to the Serbian side of the border, Subotica. Two officers came in and I presented him with my passport. No question was asked at me and the officer was very professional flipping through my passport till he located the USA Visa and proceeded to give me an entry stamp. I was relived, the anxiety was over …. Then the officer said I will return this to you later and pocketed my passport and walked on to the next passengers.
What! Everyone one of the people I observed got their passport back immediately after it was stamped and mine was the only one at the back pocket of the Officer. As he proceeded down the carriage into the next carriage, I lost sight of him. I could only wait at my seat anxious again of what was going to happen.

Imagination ran wild again that 20 minutes waiting but one scenario stuck in my head …..
What if the officer forgot my passport was at his back pocket and after going down the line of carriage he waves to the train driver and the train start moving?

I would be stuck in the train onwards to Belgrade without my passport on me. At this point I could only wait, maybe pray and hope everything goes well. Every jerk of the train, as the driver makes adjustments cause me to panic thinking the train was moving off the platform and I still without my passport. Finally the officer came back, handed me my passport and as soon as he stepped off the train, we were on our way again.
Flipping my passport, I saw the beautiful new stamp of Serbia.
Sunflower Field along Train route in Serbia

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