First, a nightlife report from Vodice. Now that the tourist season is winding down, there really doesn’t appear to be any. I walked into town last night to check out a couple of bars, including the Playmates Bar, and to find the bar where I had seen a pool table the day before. One tourist bar on the water did have a few people, and there were a few people dancing there when I was walking home, but the Playgirls bar and the disco next door were closed. I couldn’t find the bar with the pool table because I think, it, too, was closed. This could be a real boring town at night over the next two months.
Now, about the headline. Yesterday, I tried to gather a little more information about traveling in Europe under the restrictions of the Schengen Agreement. There are 26 European countries in this agreement, which allow their citizens to move freely within the SA zone. However, those people from other countries, like me, can only stay in the zone for up to 90 days. Then we have to leave the zone for 90 days before we can re-enter. This is obviously the region’s way of keeping illegal immigrants out, particularly from Africa and the Middle East.
When I entered Croatia, however, I was struck at how little attention immigration paid to my passport. So, I decided to ask a fellow traveler, Roger, who I have met online and is giving me some advice on Turkey. Turkey is where I’ve decided to spend my 90 days outside the zone, and in between my stays in Greece and Italy. Roger is experienced in what I am trying to do and is the person who alerted me to the Schengen Agreement.
My questions to Roger were, “How do the SA countries police this policy? If I tried to go straight from Greece to Italy, bypassing 90 days out of the zone, would Italian immigration stop me at the border? Or would Greek immigration prevent me from flying to Italy? His answer was straightforward, that passing among the SA countries is perfunctory, and that probably the only danger point would be when I left Italy. At that point, Italian immigration might fine me, detain me long enough to miss my flight, ban me from re-entering the zone for years, or just ignore it. Apparently, all those options have happened to people. Roger also suggested, since he did not have any first-hand, or even second-hand, knowledge of the possible penalties being meted out, that I should try the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum for real-world experiences on the subject, which I did.
I signed into the forum and asked basically the same questions I asked Roger. You would have thought I was a bunch of Mexicans scaling the border fence in Arizona. The first response was rude, saying basically that the question had been answered many times already. I don’t know why the person needed to chime in if he/she was irritated by the question but he/she proceeded to tell me what I was suggesting was illegal. Subsequent posts were equally as condescending, rude and, especially preachy. It felt like a tea party slamdown.
I asked if they needed to be so rude and I guess that got their danders up. They weren’t being rude, just telling me that what I was suggesting could get me in trouble. Duh! No one really answered my questions except to tell me about the same penalties Roger had already shared. Finally, I told the person who answered first, and who was the main problem with my post, to go fly a kite – in more vivid terms than that. Which, of course, brought more derision – now I was not only inciting illegal immigration activities (discussion of illegal activities is banned on the forum), but I was also foul and abusive. Well, they got the latter right anyway. More piling on followed.
When I was researching my move to Costa Rica last year, I frequented a couple of forums and experienced some of the same sort of behavior from what I assumed were regular posters on those forums. But they weren’t nearly so nasty. Irritated a bit that the same old questions were being asked, but really, what do they expect?
So, here is what I’ve learned. First, Western Europeans, at least those represented on this particular forum, can be rude, condescending and preachy. They definitely are concerned about the alien hordes invading their space. Second, I can spend 90 days in Greece and then go to Italy for another 90 days – without any problem. However, once I’m ready to leave Italy, immigration might just pass me through as an American going back home (from what I’ve learned probably the most likely outcome), or they might be more difficult and make me “pay” for not observing the law. If I’m fined, it will most likely be less than what I would spend in Turkey for 90 days, so there is a tradeoff there. Being banned from the EU for a couple of years doesn’t bother me, and missing my flight to the U.S. would be inconvenient but not a huge problem, “forcing” me to stay in Rome for an extra day or two. My friend, Roger, says Turkey is a great place to visit, however. I’ve got four months to make a decision.
Used suitcase for sale
For some time now, I’ve been considering slimming down the 2 Bags and a Pack tour to just one bag and a pack (but not change the name of the blog). I carry around a lot of stuff, most of which I use, and mostly clothing for different climates, like I will experience over the next year. But lugging two heavy suitcases around is no fun, and costs me in airline baggage fees, so I plan to assess what things I absolutely need and what I can get by without. This might mean buying new clothes as I travel and wear out the old ones.
Also, here are three others doing what I’m doing, but with far more experience. A couple of them have written travel books and at least one of them is making money from his Web site to finance his journeys. The vagabonding site is putting up a short Q&A with me about my adventure.