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I've gone through very few border crossings in my life, but the most memorable one was entering Belarus from Poland at the end of a long Eastern European road trip last autumn. Russians are politely waved through at these check points, but if they're traveling with an American, they will quickly be transported back to Soviet times in an instant, with questioning, slow efficiency, and border procedures reminiscent of the Cold War era. I wrote before that getting my visa for Belarus was very expensive and time consuming. The whole trip I waited for the opportunity to flash this shiny object to border patrol at the Poland/Belarus crossing.

At first everything was great. No lines, but we arrived during the shift change from the evening to morning crew. Everyone moving so slowly to begin work!! We waited patiently until the new crew was in place. Finally a stern border agent waved us forward, we showed both passports and then he asked for proof of insurance for me. I gave him my U.S. insurance card because the coverage is worldwide. But he quickly informed us it isn't acceptable for Belarus, and we were told we couldn't enter. An insurance agent is usually available at the crossing but on this day she was "on holiday." No other alternatives were offered. The first Belarusian border agent a real mudak! Sometimes in this region of the world the mentality is mind numbing. If there's a problem, it's yours and yours alone. "NO!", a very easy answer while creative solutions require thought and brain power that some workers believe is beyond their pay grade.

We were determined to enter Belarus so Sasha asked for the Chief, and a light at the end of the tunnel appeared. He offered to call an insurance agent from another location. She arrived quickly and the cost for the temporary coverage in Belarus was only 2 EUR. We hopped in the car and waited for our stamped passports to be handed back. Wait, wait, wait...what the hell is taking so long? After an hour, we inquired about the reason for the delay.

My U.S. passport was some type of alien to them. An American had never appeared at this border crossing, and the U.S. example they had in their system was outdated. America moved to biometric passports with electronic chips in 2007, but the equipment at the border crossing wasn't able to read or authenticate my passport data. What to do? Agents had to request an update to their system. From where did the update come? I never figured it out. After four hours of sitting in the car, our passports were returned. Fresh stamp on my $458 single entry visa! None of the agents at the border spoke English, and if I had traveled through the crossing alone I would've been totally screwed. It was an adventure to even use the toilet during the four hour wait. All bathrooms locked, a real chore to find someone to open them. More fun when a rowdy border control dog decided to attack me, snap at my hand and bark incessantly. Perhaps he didn't recognize the scent of an American woman? Some strange and exotic import that required further inspection? :)

photo (2)

By this time, it was already noon and we still had a four hour drive to Minsk. We arrived in the city late afternoon and walked around for a few hours with a local. My first and very brief impressions of Minsk and Belarusians are good. Roads are good compared to Russia, people are very friendly and open and the city is relaxed. No pushing and shoving on the sidewalks, lots of personal space, respectful drivers and pedestrians. A rule of law exists and it's obeyed by the majority. A simple formula for a civil and happy society. Many times people stared at me with fascination while walking in the city, maybe curious to see a foreigner? Belarus - I don't think it's a top travel destination for Americans or Western Europeans so perhaps we're an anomaly there. However, Minsk still has decent tourist infrastructure. The main tourist map in the city center has English writing, making it easy for visitors to locate attractions and navigate. And where are such signs in Moscow? I think they are finally starting to appear.

photo (3)

Can I say that Belarus was worth the $458 visa cost? Absolutely not because I didn't have enough time to fully explore the region. It's a real pity, but the visa was necessary even for transit on the long drive back to Moscow so I simply had to absorb the cost. I'll never pay the single entry visa price again, so Belarus will likely remain a country unexplored by my curious eyes and mind.

When we entered Russia on the return, I was again smacked with the harsh reality that sometimes accompanies travel in your country. We stopped for breakfast at a Russian restaurant, a waiter asleep and snoring in one of the booths, no one to help or assist. An hour to get a meal with no smile or greeting. A stark contrast from the neighboring countries we visited during the journey. People often ask me why I choose such weird travel destinations like Russia, Belarus and the Baltic States. Perhaps like Russia, I'm also a bit strange. :)

How about you? Any interesting adventures at border crossings around the globe?

Related Post
Visa Woes!
belarus


Comments

( 172 comments — Leave a comment )
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real_marsel
Oct. 8th, 2013 03:51 pm (UTC)
I adore Belarus so much. I adore Minsk.
peacetraveler22
Oct. 8th, 2013 03:55 pm (UTC)
The small part of Minsk I explored was nice and the country is well kept compared to Russia. We traveled on the Belarusian roads for many, many hours on the return. Pity they make it so expensive and difficult for tourists to visit. I would definitely return but only if my work or someone else pays the visa costs again.
(no subject) - real_marsel - Oct. 8th, 2013 03:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asharky - Oct. 8th, 2013 04:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - real_marsel - Oct. 8th, 2013 04:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asharky - Oct. 8th, 2013 05:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - real_marsel - Oct. 8th, 2013 05:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
peacetraveler22
Oct. 8th, 2013 05:22 pm (UTC)
Visa was so expensive because they denied my request for a 90 day tourist visa. Then they contacted me at the last minute and said they would grant a 30 day visa, but my departure date was very close so I had to pay "expedited fees." Complete game of manipulation to milk more money out of foreigner visitors. I'm not sure if they play this game with everyone, or only Americans.
qi_tronic
Oct. 8th, 2013 04:18 pm (UTC)
Do you think that Lukashenko would be a better ruler for Russia? :))
I know he wanted to be a president of the Russia-Belarus state after Yeltsin.
But this never happened.

www. youtube. com/watch?v=0rHjakawG8M
- one of the best folk-rock bands ever.

peacetraveler22
Oct. 8th, 2013 05:25 pm (UTC)
Lukashenko once said that lesbians in Belarus turn to each other because men are so horrible and untenable! Women have no other choice but to love each other. A dictator who loves lesbians can't be bad!! :))
(no subject) - onkel_hans - Oct. 8th, 2013 10:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 9th, 2013 05:44 am (UTC) - Expand
Women ... - onkel_hans - Oct. 9th, 2013 03:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Women ... - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 9th, 2013 03:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Women ... - onkel_hans - Oct. 9th, 2013 03:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Women ... - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 9th, 2013 03:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Women ... - onkel_hans - Oct. 9th, 2013 06:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - igor_dr - Jun. 26th, 2014 06:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
qi_tronic
Oct. 8th, 2013 04:33 pm (UTC)
What do you think if I buy this souvenir for your nephew?

www. sportmaster. ru/catalog/sport/futbol/myachi/1202165/

It's a small but fully functional ball. My 6 years old son likes it.
peacetraveler22
Oct. 8th, 2013 05:30 pm (UTC)
My nephew is a soccer star! He plays in leagues all year round and follows international teams. :)

 photo soccer_zps6ea90add.jpg
(no subject) - amandakysses - Oct. 8th, 2013 06:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - qi_tronic - Oct. 8th, 2013 06:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 8th, 2013 06:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - qi_tronic - Oct. 8th, 2013 07:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 8th, 2013 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
yarowind
Oct. 8th, 2013 04:37 pm (UTC)
>>Today when we entered Russia on the return I realized once again that your country is crazy,

Russia - a country of strong peoples :))

peacetraveler22
Oct. 8th, 2013 05:30 pm (UTC)
Yes, i think you must be very, very strong and patient to live in Russia. Absolutely! :))
mybathroom
Oct. 8th, 2013 04:38 pm (UTC)
I heard that Belarus is a nice country and you confirmed it (not counting crossing the border of course).
peacetraveler22
Oct. 8th, 2013 05:31 pm (UTC)
I wish I could have seen more, but the parts I saw were nice and cheery. Not grey and dull.
peacetraveler22
Oct. 8th, 2013 05:32 pm (UTC)
Capturing moonshine makers! It's a travesty! Have you ever tried American moonshine, from the hills of Tennessee or West Virginia? It will knock you flat on the ground after a couple of sips. :)
(no subject) - asharky - Oct. 8th, 2013 05:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 8th, 2013 05:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asharky - Oct. 8th, 2013 05:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 8th, 2013 06:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - amandakysses - Oct. 8th, 2013 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 8th, 2013 06:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - amandakysses - Oct. 8th, 2013 07:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 8th, 2013 07:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asharky - Oct. 8th, 2013 06:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 8th, 2013 07:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asharky - Oct. 8th, 2013 07:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - onkel_hans - Oct. 8th, 2013 10:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 9th, 2013 05:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - onkel_hans - Oct. 9th, 2013 03:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
amandakysses
Oct. 8th, 2013 05:10 pm (UTC)
Cant wait until your back. And to hear more stories of your interesting trip. Be safe.

Edited at 2013-10-08 05:11 pm (UTC)
peacetraveler22
Oct. 8th, 2013 05:33 pm (UTC)
We've been living in hotels for the past two weeks, in the tiniest beds. Not American sized. :) So I will be very happy to cuddle up with my warm comforter, pillow and mattress when I return.
(no subject) - amandakysses - Oct. 8th, 2013 06:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - plushevii_zaits - Oct. 8th, 2013 11:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 9th, 2013 05:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - qi_tronic - Oct. 9th, 2013 12:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 9th, 2013 01:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - plushevii_zaits - Oct. 9th, 2013 12:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 9th, 2013 01:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - plushevii_zaits - Oct. 9th, 2013 04:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 9th, 2013 04:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - plushevii_zaits - Oct. 9th, 2013 06:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
qi_tronic
Oct. 8th, 2013 07:46 pm (UTC)
Offtopic:
Interesting, Britain and America had almost Soviet posters :)
www. pokazuha. ru/view/topic.cfm?key_or=1171030&fclick=1&lnt_type=1

lavagra
Oct. 8th, 2013 08:24 pm (UTC)
It's great expirience! I hate Belarus border too...
peacetraveler22
Oct. 9th, 2013 08:44 am (UTC)
It was interesting for me to cross borders. I'm usually traveling between countries via plane not car, and before this trip had only crossed the U.S./Mexico border.
(no subject) - nektotigra - Oct. 14th, 2013 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
whiteeye
Oct. 9th, 2013 03:50 am (UTC)
Real mudak - so cute:)))) You are improving your russian:))

Definitely we got used to living in Russia, we know how to deal with all this staff, described above.For others it loooks weird:)

See you next time in Russia, I do hope you will have free time then.
peacetraveler22
Oct. 9th, 2013 05:51 am (UTC)
I know a lot of naughty Russian words! :) I will be back, and we will definitely meet then. Things that Russians have grown accustomed to are very abnormal and illogical for an outsider. So many problems very easy to fix, yet nothing is done.
(no subject) - onkel_hans - Oct. 9th, 2013 03:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 9th, 2013 04:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - onkel_hans - Oct. 9th, 2013 06:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
denis_berdnikov
Oct. 9th, 2013 03:59 am (UTC)
Off topic:

Shennon, have you seen Real Russia video blog? Two Russian guys are making video about "typical" Russia for English speakers. If so, what do you think about it? I'm asking, because you already have been to Russia and you have your own experience. There are a lot of Americans :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzmZxiIv8mA

Thank you! :)
peacetraveler22
Oct. 9th, 2013 05:53 am (UTC)
Oh yes, I have watched these videos! Very, very funny. :) But of course they perpetuate Russian stereotypes.
(no subject) - denis_berdnikov - Oct. 9th, 2013 07:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jack_cracker29 - Oct. 10th, 2013 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
fesma94
Oct. 9th, 2013 05:04 am (UTC)
Real mudak (c)

LOL :-))))))))))))))))) You just created new Internet meme ))
peacetraveler22
Oct. 9th, 2013 05:55 am (UTC)
On this trip it was necessary to use a lot of dirty words! Frustration at many points.
(Deleted comment)
peacetraveler22
Oct. 9th, 2013 08:00 am (UTC)
But now you live in the land of peace and harmony, with gays, hay fields and wine. :)) Only necessary to deal the bureaucracy from a distance.
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Oct. 9th, 2013 08:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
peacetraveler22
Oct. 9th, 2013 07:58 am (UTC)
Please do not spam my threads. If it happens again, I'll block.
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