Don't Smuggle Cigarettes

What is the fastest you have ever visited 4 different countries? Our record is now 4 in less than 6 hours. We had a long and really unique trip a short time ago that led to this. We were going to travel from the Ukraine down to Varna on the Black Sea in Bulgaria.

First, we checked the flights and while they are only one and a half hours long they were incredibly expensive for a short flight like that. Our flight from Kiev to Odessa was $59 each but, they wanted over $180 each for the trip to Varna so we checked and going through Romania by train was around 20 hours and still over $100 each. Last resort was Maxtours bus service. They run from Kiev in the Ukraine down through Moldova and then Romania eventually arriving in Bulgaria and then across the entire country with stops in Varna and Sofia. Total cost $22 each which was great, total time 18 hours overnight which was not so good. We boarded the bus and set out, little did we know that the trip would eventually take over 21 hours to complete. Just before boarding the bus an official from the Ukranian government boarded the bus and stressed that you were only allowed 2 packages of cigarettes when leaving the Ukraine. We did not understand the message but before the end of the journey, we would.

The first part of the journey through the Ukraine was horrible. We left Odessa and headed to the border with Moldova which is only about 250 KM and should take three and a half hours. They had had a really long hard winter in the Ukraine and the road had been marked with potholes everywhere and our speed was only around 15 to 20 KM per hour. We did not arrive at the Moldova border until around midnight. The three-hour trip had turned into an eleven-hour trip. Finally, we arrived at the border. We pulled into customs there and a guard boarded the bus and gathered up everyone’s passport. After around 20 minutes they came back on board and gave them all back. The bus driver then called out between 20 and 30 names and told them to get off of the bus and take all of their belonging with them. He also had them remove all of the stored luggage from under the bus. These poor guys and girls were all but strip searched looking for contraband cigarettes and alcohol. Turned our the cigarettes in Ukraine are $1.50 a pack but due to taxes, they are upwards from $8.50 in both Moldova and Romania. Since both countries have socialized medicine anything that is bad for you medically is taxed as high as possible to keep you from using them. Finally, everyone was back on the bus then once again 5 more names were called and they were taken inside for further questioning. We waited forever and after almost 3 hours we were allowed into Moldova.

The funny part, we are only in Moldova for less than two kilometers for less than 5 minutes and we pull up to the Romanian border. Again a border guard grabs all the passports, 30 minutes and they are returned. Everyone on the bus off with all of their belongings both inside the bus and in the luggage compartment. Everyone forms a line and starts being check by one of the two guards. Took forever and sometimes like with us the guy asked “Got Any Smokies” I said no and started to open my first bag and he laughed and just waved me by. Laurel was next and he just smiled and waved us by. The people behind us had multiple bags and he opened ever one of them and every box, envelope or bag inside of each one. We assumed that anyone who makes the trip a lot is looked at really hard as a possible smuggler. We lost three passengers and were then allowed into Romania.

The roads in Romania were great and around 6 AM we arrived at the border for Bulgaria. Our passports were collected and returned in around 30 minutes and we off to Varna. One of the strangest 6 hours of our travels but we did do 4 countries in less than 6 hours.

Long story short if you make this journey have a lot of patience and NO CIGARETTES!!


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