Mongol Rally: Why Do We Still Drive Without Vignettes?!

Mongol Rally: Why Do We Still Drive Without Vignettes?!

After the Romanian Party, we took a well-deserved day off in Constanta.  We literally stayed on the beach all day –like bums– and slept again on the beach with no tent, just sleeping bags.

It was funny waking up early in the morning the next day to find Stephen sleeping on a beach chair a few feet away from his original spot. It happened that in the middle of the night, two stray dogs cuddled next to him and stayed there until he noticed.

He moved away from them and settled on the beach chair, but what he didn’t notice was that one of the dogs left with his shoe! Stephen was shoeless.

The following day we made our way from Constanta, Romania to Istanbul, Turkey – crossing through Bulgaria.

The day was pretty much event-less, except for Lizzy’s first maintenance check (we had to feed her some oil, but she deserved it), and the fact that I could make a Coca Cola can with MY name!

Coke with my name

When we reached the Turkish border with Bulgaria, I got off the car to present our passports and the car registration. Then the immigration official asked for the vignette. Again, we forgot to buy the vignette to use the highways in the country.  My face went blank!  Oops!

Poker Face meme

My first reaction was to play dumb and ask, “What vignette?  We don’t have that!”

She went on, “You had to buy this at the entry border.  You can be fined for not having it.”

I just gave another blank stare.

“I can sell it to you know”, she continued, but you’re not supposed to buy it here.  It costs 5 Euros.”

I turn towards the car; “guys, do any of you have 5 Euros?”

“No”, they replied in unison.

I asked the officer, “Do you accept US Dollars?”

She shook her head. “It would be 10 Lev.” (Bulgarian currency)

Again I turn to the car, “Do you have Lev?”

They shook their head.

I looked back at the officer with an I-don’t-know-what-to-do face.

Baffled Dog

This was not a well-transited border crossing, so there was absolutely nothing there and we were in the middle of a forest.  No ATMs around, nothing.

She looked at me and signaled me to get closer.  Oh, no… I almost expected to get bribed.  Instead, the said very quietly, “Go, but don’t tell anyone.”  And off we went to the Turkish border.

The Turkish border was the first one we crossed where we needed to do “major” paperwork, but it wasn’t painful. First, we got our visas for $20 each. Then we got stamped in. Then we had to buy car insurance for $35, present it to immigration, and finally have our car inspected and approved to enter the country.

Sounds like a lot, but it was pretty easy and everything took about 30 minutes. And off we were to Istanbul!

Mosques in Instanbul

This was my second time visiting Turkey. I already knew where to stay in Istanbul, so we headed straight there to drop our bags and enjoy our day.

I love this city so much that I revisited many of the major sites like the Blue Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque, walked around Hagia Sophia, and a few others. I definitely couldn’t miss eating Baklava again at Karaköy Güllüoğlu. Seriously, this is the best Baklava in the world!


One of the places I failed to visit on my first trip to Istanbul was the Basilica Cistern, popularly known as “the sunken palace”. I was highly impressed by it! I love it when I revisit a city and still can get to see new things I didn’t know about before.

Basilica Cistern

This cistern, considered to be one of the most magnificent historical structures in the city, was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 500s AD and it consists of a rectangular underground space with 336 marble columns, most of them different since they were taken from various old buildings from the Roman Empire.

The reason why it is called the Basilica Cistern is that there used to be a basilica on top of it.

What makes the cistern look so interesting and beautiful is the lighting and the reflection of the space in the shallow water.

Also interesting are two column plinths with Medusa’s face.  Not only are they strange enough, but also the fact that one is placed on its side and the other upside down makes them even more mysterious. They really are quite mysterious.  I mean it, don’t miss this place when in Istanbul.

Medusa at the Basilica Cistern

Now we are off to Cappadocia!

Oh, on a side note… remember our Slovakian and Bulgarian vignette issues.  At the moment we are traveling through Turkey’s highways with no vignette (because we haven’t been able to find them at any gas station). Here in Turkey, they work by radar, so every time we pass a toll we trigger the alarm!

Apparently, when you cross them without a vignette you have to pay 11 times the cost.  I guess that when we cross the border from Turkey to Georgia we’ll have a fat book of infractions waiting for us… ay, ay ay! We’ll see… (Update, we never got those fines… phew!)

Read the next post about our Mongol Rally experience!


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4 thoughts on “Mongol Rally: Why Do We Still Drive Without Vignettes?!”

  1. I’ve never heard of that place but it looks incredible. Those Medusa heads are HUGE. I was imagining them much smaller for some reason. Looks like an amazing place to see.

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