Five ways to get more European stamps in your passport

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia.

Yesterday, I wrote about the fact that European passport stamps have become harder and harder to get. The expansion of the Schengen zone has reduced the number of times tourists are compelled to show their passports to immigration officials. For most Americans on multi-country European itineraries, a passport will be stamped just twice: upon arrival and upon departure.

Where’s the fun in that?

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your passport’s stamps. They’re souvenirs. So ignore the haters and treasure them. You won’t be the first to sit at your desk alone, lovingly fingering your stamps while daydreaming of your next adventure. You won’t be the last, either.

And if you are a passport stamp lover with a penchant for European travel, don’t despair. There are plenty of places in Europe where visitors have to submit their travel documents to officials to receive stamps. Some countries, in fact, even require Americans to purchase full-page visas in advance.

The Western Balkans remain almost entirely outside of Schengen. Russia, Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan all require visas for Americans, while Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia do not. Immigration officers at the borders of all of these countries, however, will stamp your passport when you enter and when you leave. Turkey provides visas on arrival. These cost €15. Among EU countries, the UK, Ireland, and Cyprus remain outside of Schengen for the time being, while Romania and Bulgaria will soon join it.

Pristina, Kosovo.

Ok then. How to maximize the number of stamps in your passport during a European jaunt? Here are five ideas.

1. Fly into the UK or Ireland and then travel from either of these countries to a Schengen zone country. You’ll obtain an arrival stamp in the UK or Ireland and then be processed when entering and leaving the Schengen zone.

2. Plan an itinerary through the former Yugoslavia plus Albania by car, bus, or train. Slovenia is part of the Schengen zone but the rest of the former country is not. Traveling across the borders of Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania will yield all sorts of passport stamp action.

3. Visit the following eastern European countries: Turkey, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and/or Azerbaijan. Unavoidable passport stamp madness will transpire.

4. Visit San Marino and pay the tourist office for a passport stamp. The miniscule republic charges €5 to stamp passports. The bus fare from Rimini on Italy’s Adriatic coast is worth it for the bragging rights alone.

5. Visit the EU’s three Schengen stragglers, Cyprus, Romania, and Bulgaria. In the case of the latter two, visit soon.

Russia pushes visa-free Russia-EU travel

At the 25th European Union-Russia summit in Rostov-on-Don, Russia yesterday proposed that both parties mutually abolish visa requirements. Currently, the two entities impose reciprocal visa requirements upon each other’s citizens.

In the name of improving business and tourist links, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russia is ready to drop its visa requirements of EU citizens. He also tacitly acknowledged that several EU member states have reservations regarding any mutual lifting of visa restrictions.

As it now stands, Russian citizens have to apply for Schengen visas to visit the 27-country European Union, and citizens of European Union countries, in turn, have to apply for visas to visit Russia. Tourist visa costs are relatively low for all parties, at around €35 for Russians entering the EU, and also €35 for the citizens of most European Union states seeking to enter Russia.

Meanwhile, in an independent but fascinating development, Russia and Kazakhstan are moving toward a customs union. Starting July 1, the two countries will charge identical tariffs on trade with the external world while enjoying internal free trade on a bilateral basis. Originally, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus were supposed to join a three-country customs union, but Belarus has opted out over details related to oil export duties.

Russia is trying to coordinate its accession to the World Trade Organization in a small bloc alongside Kazakhstan and Belarus, a decision announced last year to widespread head-scratching among trade experts. Joint accession to the World Trade Organization is unprecedented.

(Photo: Flickr/timo_w2s)

Movie Posters from Belarus

Have a look at this movie “poster” found in Belarus. Any idea what American movie this is? I’ll give you a minute. (The answer is after the jump.)

You can check out more posters at the wonderful English Russia site. I love these images because I think films can be a good common ground to share with others in a foreign country. I once had a very interesting conversation about American films with some German guys at Oktoberfest in Munich. I learned from them that the Cameron Diaz movie The Sweetest Thing was called Super Sweet and Super Sexy in Germany. Yeah, shocking stuff, I know.

(Thanks for the tip, Mike!)

A. Just Married starring Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy.