There’s a few border crossing coming from the EU, either from Poland, Slovakia, and Romania. I have crossed the border a few times before, but always from Poland, and once, back in 2013 from Moldova. This was my first time at the Uzhhorod border crossing. Well, actually, back in 2013 I crossed the border at this place, but that was coming out of Ukraine.
The border processing is, strictly speaking, customs and immigration exit, and custom and immigration entry. And in between exit and entry, there’s the no mans’ land. Getting out is easy. Ukraine does not require visa for EU citizens, so it should all be a piece of cake. And it was for Thonny and Michael. Well, the border crossing can take a little time due to the processing, but no hazzles really.
But I wasn’t going to get in to Ukraine that easy. A Ukrainian customs officer would not let me in with my drone. There are no particular drone rules in Ukraine, it was purely based on that it was “too expensive”. I can understand for citizens that you can’t just buy stuff and bring it back home, but I was clearly a tourist bringing lots of camera equipment, and a drone.
The camera equipment, some GoPros, DJI Osmo, lots of gadgets, iPhone had no interest. It was the drone. Then I was required to produce a proof of purchase, so I got the Amazon receipt downloaded. “Da – too expensive”. But I was bringing my motorcycle as well – clearly much more expensive than the drone.
Well, I was asked to return to Slovakia and leave the drone and then come back. No way I would leave the drone, but I prepared to go back and just try another border crossing. I was pretty sure the officer was in the wrong. Starting to repack all my luggage (as it all had to come out), the officer had second thoughts, and he told me I could enter.
I don’t know what made him change his mind, but I suspect that he did not want to have to explain to the Slovakian officials why I was denied entry.
I got the paperwork sorted, and was clear to go. There was a check point a little later, so a rule of the thumb, keep all the papers that is given to you and keep them safe all the way until you exit the country again.
This entire process had taken a few hours, and Thonny and Michael had been waiting at the shops that are usually located close to the border crossings, but outside the controlled areas. As they couldn’t go back to ask what happened, they had been thinking about what was going on.
Later, when I spoke to Vova, he was sure they had wanted bribe. Ukrainian officials are too often bad guys. They’re not going to help you. On the contrary. There might be a few good cops out there, but generally, don’t expect them to play by the book. Outside border areas, make sure your camera is recording. Ask them why they are holding you.
I have been to Ukraine before, so I wasn’t surprised. Well, I have never experienced dodgy officials at the border. Just police, once you’re in. I must admit, had Vova, who is Ukrainian, and know his way around, not been joining us on this trip, I would probably have skipped Ukraine. And that is a shame, as the Ukrainian Carpathians are awesome, and the people so friendly, accommodating and hospitable.
We checked in at Hotel Ungweiser. Unfortunately there was no private parking, so the bikes had to be parked on the street. I am never a fan of parking the bike on the street. No matter the city, no matter the country.
Uzhhorod is actually a very interesting historical town. With Ukraine struggling, and the finances are low, building maintenance is not a top priority, but for these historical buildings, they do do a pretty good job.
We had arrived at the hotel early, despite the ordeal at the border, so we had some time to kill. We found a nice place in town with street cafes and restaurants, just next to the river.
It was a great evening. This was the first time Thonny and Michael met Vova.
Time to head back to the hotel. When we got there, we wanted to have a quick beer at the hotel bar. Shortly after being seated, this guy approaches us, asks us if it were our bikes outside. He was a rider too, and all drinks were on the house.
We had a good time with way too many shots. He showed us his second bar, a Russian styled bar, dedicated to the former CCCP, with portraits of all the Russian presidents, from Staling to Putin. There was a lot of war equipment and guns. They had been modified so they couldn’t shoot, but were real guns.
I’m not sure the helmet with the Viking horns were real, though, but it was great fun. And the shots we had, made it even more fun. It was a fun night.
It is amazing what you get to experience hen you travel the world. This encounter was not planned. But it turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire trip. When we talk, Thonny, Michael, Vova and I, we still talk and laugh about this night. People are amazing.