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Sneaking into Bulgaria: An Affair on the Orient Express

Travelling can be a fun, rewarding experience. Except when it’s not. David Fischer, who was a consular officer in Sofia from 1972-74, tells of one particular gentleman who probably wished he had stayed home. He was interviewed in 1998 by Charles Stuart Kennedy and Robert Pastorino.



FISCHER:  I was the duty officer one night and about four o’clock in the morning I got a call from the Bulgarian border guards at the Yugoslav-Bulgarian border to say that an American had been arrested trying to enter the country illegally.

At eight o’clock in the morning I got in my car, drove up to the border which is about an hour away from Sofia, and I met this guy who was disheveled, unshaven, who was the manager for IBM in Vienna, Austria. He told me the following story.

He was afraid of flying. He covered Eastern Europe, but he decided he was to take the train from Vienna to Athens, Greece where he had a conference. It’s a two-day trip on the Orient Express.

Shortly after the train left Belgrade the night before, he was in the dining car and met a very attractive young lady. Well, one thing led to another and she invited him back to her compartment. He dutifully went and spent the night with this girl.

But what he didn’t know was that after the train leaves Belgrade, it split into two sections. One train went onto Vienna and the other train proceeded to Istanbul via Bulgaria. So his passport and jacket and whatever else were in the section of the train going to Athens and he was in the compartment on the way to Istanbul.

When the train arrived at the Bulgarian border, he was taken off since he had neither passport nor visa. I assured him this had happened before and that if he paid a $300 fine, we could issue him a passport and have him out of jail that afternoon.

He said, “What’s the alternative?”

I said, “God, the alternative is a month in the Bulgarian jail and you have no idea what a Bulgarian jail is like, worst thing in the world.”

He said, “No, young man, it’s not the worst thing. Trying to explain this to my wife is even worse than that!”