As I grew up in the UK, the idea of crossing a border by land still seems a little alien (Scotland and Wales do not really count). When I hear such language, I always find myself thinking of Le Carre spy novels or of Bond movies with men dressed in black scurrying around and attempting to avoid the beams of massive search lights and the barks of ferocious looking dogs. Obviously, this is not really a fair reflection on the modern-day reality. In fact, since the formation of the EU, you barely notice passing between countries - going between France and Italy is the same as taking a regular train within either country. For example, the train from Nice (where I currently live) to Ventimiglia simply continues into Italy after the French town of Menton and no-one checks anything.
My crossing from Romania into Bulgaria managed to maintain just a touch of the drama I had allowed myself to conjure up, although it proved to be a less than glamorous scenario. As we arrived on the Romanian side of the border we were greeted by a scene of complete squalor. The road was crumbling, the majority of the buildings were in a severe state of disrepair and wild dogs seemed to be roaming the area - it was a panorama that did little to make me want to return to the country. So, we quickly paid our fee of 6 Euros to cross the bridge that spans the Danube (You can pay the toll in Romanian Lei, Bulgarian Leva or Euros).
The bridge itself was in a similar state of disrepair to the Romanian border posts. In fact, it seemed almost like a clichéd example of post-Communist decline. There were four large pillars erected to mark the start of the bridge that seemed to be tottering and were supported by scaffolding. And, the road was so badly worn in one area that the crossing was restricted to just one lane of traffic. However, the poor state of the bridge notwithstanding, the view it provided was immense. We were able to look west along the river past the Bulgarian town of Russe and watched the Danube - which, sadly, was not at all blue - wind away into central Europe. The one disappointment was that we could not stop to take photos. We were not allowed to do this and it would also have stopped traffic on the bridge.
Thankfully, the Bulgarian side of the border was not anywhere near as decrepit as its Romanian counter-part. It was heralded by a huge white, green and red flag, which flew alongside that of the EU on one of two very imposing flag poles. There also seemed to be far fewer wild dogs roaming around. The whole scene just seemed far cleaner and whole lot less depressing.
As much of an improvement as Bulgaria seemed to be. There was one moment that really opened my eyes. As we moved through passport control, the border officer stopped the car in front of ours for inspection. The car was full to bursting with shopping bags - the boot was not properly closed and there was no room for any passengers. The border officer clearly suspected there was a case of smuggling afoot. So, he appeared to be questioning the driver rather stridently. That was until the driver handed a shoe-box with a Nike label to the guard. The guard examined the contents of the box, walked to his office and put the box down and, miraculously, the problem went away. The car passed through the border having paid no tax on the goods, save for a pair of sneakers for the border guard.