After discovering Bratislava was less than an hour’s drive from Vienna, we couldn’t resist popping over to see life beyond the Iron Curtain.
Before actually entering Slovakia, one of my travel companions had decided to stay home. Her reasoning was that she was trying for a special type of visa where you are only allowed in certain European countries, but you can spend three months in each. None of us had heard of this exception, and a big discussion ensued about how borders in the EU these days are really just a “You are now entering…” sign and no one would ever know she popped over to Bratislava for lunch. Nonetheless she decided to err on the side of caution and stay home.
“Spot the border crossing” had become a bit of a road trip game, as sometimes it is hard to tell you have entered a new country (a serious novelty when your home country is an island). There was no doubt, however, that we had found one on our way in to Slovakia. All of a sudden there was this massive checkpoint, and police waving us down and making us pull over. There were angry sounding words coming at us left right and centre. We couldn’t tell if it was Austrian, Slovakian, or German (we had German license plates) but the policeman was getting very frustrated at us. We managed to work out he was demanding our “documents” and a certain amount of euros. There was even more confusion in the car. Were we meant to pay to get over the border? Were there different rules for the newer EU members? Was it actually not part of the EU like we thought? Could we just turn around and go home? Was this some kind of dodgy Eastern European police bribery scenario? Had we unknowingly broken the Law? Why don’t any of these cops speak English? Good thing we left Lucy home, she’d be furious!
Before we knew it the policeman was marching two of us over to a van on the side of the road. We had absolutely no idea what was going on and whether we were in trouble or what. Who knows if we were going to return safe from this mysterious black van, or where he was taking our passports. As it turned out, in the van was a little man with a portable EFTPOS machine, who thankfully spoke English and explained to us that it was a road toll checkpoint and we were being fined for not displaying the correct sticker that allows us to drive on the motorway. So 140 euros later, we finally get the memo on how the road tolls work (its an 8 euro sticker!) and realise that actually the (unnecessarily, IMHO) angry policemen had nothing to do with the border and were in fact just using the old set up as a convenient checkpoint stop. They certainly were good at making us feel like it was an incredibly stressful situation and we were in some huge and mysterious amount of trouble!