When the first police officer with a gun asked to see my passport I was a little unnerved. When the second wanted to see my credentials I assumed it was just a standard procedure. By the time the third wanted to have a look at my travel documents I began to wonder whether I was ever going to see my family again.
Here I am, writing this travel blog from a Croatian jail cell, convicted for a crime I didn’t commit. At least it will make for a good Netflix documentary. Probably not as good as Tiger King or Making a Murderer but on the B level tier I hope. I should probably point out that I am not actually in a Croatian prison, as I am writing this post we are currently in lockdown due to Covid-19 though so you are still getting a post from the prisoner’s perspective.
While this wasn’t the first time on my interrail trip that I thought I was going to be shot, it was the first time I had actually had a firearm waved in (near) my face. I can’t say it was an enjoyable experience. The fact that it was happening on the first train of the trip also led me to believe that I was going to be coming into contact with more guns than Mr. Beretta over the next few weeks and all I wanted was a peaceful holiday.
The armed police finally got off the train and we began moving once more. I took this opportunity to fire up Google (other search engines are avai… who am I kidding, everyone uses Google). At times like this free data roaming in Europe is a godsend, if we lose that privilege as a result of Britain leaving the EU I will be even more annoyed at the entire Brexit issue than I already am. Remember Brexit? It was all we ever heard of in the news for years and we wished for it to go away. How I long for a day of Brexit news and being able to go outside freely in our current Covid state. No more politics from Free Range Ben anyhow. Let’s skip to the next paragraph.
As I wondered how to word my Google search, “men with guns asked me for my passport in Croatia,” seemed like a bad idea, I was taken back to a conversation with one of my friends in the pub a few weeks previously. We had been discussing my trip and the different currencies I’d need when he had mentioned something about “Schengen.” I don’t claim to be an expert in European politics, as you could probably tell from the last paragraph but I did have a rough understanding of what Schengen is. I deleted my initial inquiry and replaced it with a simple, “is Croatia in Schengen?” No. Croatia isn’t in Schengen. But what is Schengen?
For those of you who already know the answer take five points and you can skip this bit. For those who aren’t in the know I will try and explain without making the whole thing sound like the headache it is. The Schengen Area is a group of countries which allow freedom of movement between them. This means you don’t need to show your passport at the border basically. As Croatia isn’t part of the agreement it means travellers have to show their passports on entering and exiting the country. This is well worth knowing if you want to avoid guns, potential delays or just to prepare yourself for their appearance if you are planning a train trip in Europe. This website gives a list of the countries included in the agreement. I bet you didn’t think this blog would be an educational resource did you?
After a trip to the toilet to check I hadn’t made a mess of myself (always pack brown underwear) and safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t being framed for drug smuggling, I sat back and enjoyed the ride to my next destination. A place I will be covering in my next post, Zagreb.