We entered Schengen Europe from St. Petersburg, Russia on 13 Jun 2015, crossing the border by bus to Tallinn, Estonia. We had intended to head north to Finland to prepare for our cycling phase of travel. However while in Moscow, about 8 days before the border crossing, we had some thoughts to explore the 3 Baltics states as we were already so close. Another reason was that Sean could visit some old friends, people who had helped and sheltered him and his cycling partner SK, almost 11 years ago. We could try to locate their house by the address that they had given and pop the question, “Do you STILL remember me?”. It would be a great surprise and wonderful chance to reconnect.
We spent about one fantastic month traveling in these 3 countries, catching up with old friends, making new ones and also found the equipment for our bicycle tour. Now with only 60 days left out of the 90 days limit in the Schengen zone, how should we continue our initial plan to visit Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Czech Rep, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and exit the Schengen to the Balkan countries? Somehow, we convinced ourselves that we would manage by taking transport like buses, trains and ferries along the way to cover the distance. At the same time, we were looking up the Schengen website for details and reading about travelers’ account on this matter. It seemed that rules are simply, 90 days within a 180 days period of entering, otherwise the penalty would be a fine and restricted travel to the zone for few years. Most travelers avoid any hassle and adhered to the validity. Some re-enter the zone before the 180 days period but stayed within the allowed 90 days. Well, we thought that we would do so and carry on as planned with cycling and taking transport along the way. At some point, we were even considering that we wouldn’t care about the permitted period and just go with the flow. After all we are just a family traveling by bicycle, and not planning to become illegal immigrants. Surely they would understand, right?
Time flies. Oh boy, it flew faster when you’re on the move and before you realised, it’s gone. We were much slower than expected, very much slower. By the 83th day, we have only reached Vesterfjell, a village in the island Senja in northern Norway. That is about 1500 km from Oslo, Norway’s capital in the south and more than 3500 km to the Balkan countries, our exit from Schengen. How?! What should we do? Should we continue to cycle as planned and go with the flow? Surely, they would understand, right? Hmmm … well, the more we thought about that, the more we were worried. We panic. Thankfully, our host gladly let us stayed a few more days to sort out a solution. We also had the best fishing trips and enjoyed fresh fishes too!
There was really just one solution for us. We turned to the internet and searched for the nearest airport and the next available flight. Lucky for us, Bardufoss airport was 65 km away. We quickly booked the flights to Oslo and then another to Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, our exit from Schengen. 4 days later, on the 87th day, we bid farewell to our friend in Vesterfjell and cycled 20 km to the city of Finnsnes and caught the bus to the airport. We managed to find a friendly host to stay with very near to the airport that night.
Early next morning, we rode the last 2 km to Bardufoss airport and began to execute the plan to pack our baggage at the check-in counter. We were entitled to 4 hand carry (10kg each), a child stroller (our child trailer is ok!) and a child seat for free, while we paid for 2 x 20 kg check-in and 1 sport equipment. We packed accordingly and the Norwegian Air check-in staff greeted us kindly. They also helped to wrap the child seat in a big plastic bag and even handled our unboxed tandem bicycle without any fuss, only requirement was to keep it neat with the handlebar fastened parallel to the frame. It was as smooth as we had hoped. 1 hr 50 mins later, we touched down in Gardermoen airport, Oslo, at 13:10. One down, one more to go.
Our 2nd flight would be at 09:40, the next morning, hence we had ample time to prepare. However, the plane would be departing from Sandefjord airport, Torp, about 150km away. We had to take the intercity train which costs as much as one third of our flight tickets and lasted 2 hours. After much wandering around in Gardermoen, at 7pm we reached Torp. From the train station, we managed to load everything onto the rather empty free shuttle bus to the airport. At the airport, we found that it would close at midnight until early next morning at 4 am, so sleeping over is not possible. Maybe somewhere near to camp? So we rode out from the airport towards some farm houses. No luck, we didn’t get accepted into any. Since our travel in Norway, we had always received wonderful hospitality, but for that last day of our stay, sigh … However, we did have much help from a young man who gave us a handful of strings and a couple of large plastic bags for us to pack our baggage. He also offered his family old storage barn where we could camp for the night. Though a wall was missing, it had a roof and we sort of had a good night rest, away from the cold wind. Early next morning, we went back to the airport and have much time to prepare for the flight.
We had the same baggage arrangements as our previous flight with Norwegian Air, but this time with Wizz Air. We were entitled to 4 hand carry, a child stroller and a child seat for free, while we paid for 2 x 20 kg check-in and 1 sport equipment. At the check-in counter however, the lady thought otherwise. Our bicycle child seat was consider too sporty and was not accepted as a regular child seat (for the car). Furthermore, she also felt our child trailer cannot be treated as a stroller and demanded that we have to pay extra for them. Oh no, our nightmare had began. These extras were on top of the penalty that we have to pay for not checking in online, a clause from the airline which we knew, but missed anyway. How can these be happening to us now? The check-in lady threatened us to pay up those extras, or missed our flight. So mean. We had to argue and negotiate some sanity back. After too much persuasion with that lady and her colleagues, we would have to pay for one extra check-in and the penalty. This added up to be almost 90% more! It is like buying another sets of air tickets. Oh Wizz Air… arrgggh..
On 9th September, we touched down at Tuzla International airport. Tired and somewhat still frustrated with the ordeal, but relieved that we were still on the move and at last, arrived safely in Bosnia I Herzegovina. As we stood in queue for the passport control, we could see a cyclist looking through from the arrival hall. “Welcome to Tuzla, Bosnia! I’m Mustafa. Let’s go to my home.”