It so happened that the first and last partner of our Bulgarian foundation for projects under the Erasmus + Program were from the Baltic countries. You remember the map of the Three Sees Initiative, don’t you? It is like a straight corridor – Bulgaria is at the bottom (South) and the Baltic states are at the top (North). It turned out to be quite difficult to transport people along this corridor.
This summer, a Lithuanian partner that had to send us a group of participants for an Erasmus+ youth exchange in Bulgaria told us in plain text to forget about it. It wasn’t so much because of the Covid-19 situation (though that mattered, too), it was just that plane tickets were too expensive. I checked this and it turned out to be true – no plane tickets could be found to fit in the rate that the European Union’s Erasmus + program allows for travel between destinations in Lithuania and Bulgaria. In order to arrive, the Lithuanian participants had to either book their flights months in advance (which is impossible in the conditions of COVID-19), or pay out of their own pocket the significant difference in price. Of course, this is not encouraging at all and does not stimulate the exchange of youths and ideas along the North-South axis – and especially in the Three Seas Initiative area.
Recently, I myself had to go through the same ordeal, trying to send two staff members to a transnational project meeting in Estonia. Naturally, I tried to reach directly, through the geographical corridor, from one of the southern seas of the initiative (Black Sea) to the northern one (Baltic Sea). Well, there were no good options to get from Sofia to Tallinn with only two flights in the area. The only one theoretically possible was through Warsaw, but the flight arrived in Tallinn in the middle of the night. It wasn’t very inspiring, nor was the cost of the air ticket.
The other options bypassed the region. They took me either East or West, along with a rise in ticket prices.
There was a third possible route, which, however, did not sound very logical to me. From Sofia (Bulgaria) I would first have to go further South to Istanbul (Turkey), from where there were already flights to the North. So, I had to head in the opposite direction to what I was looking for. Thant is, I had to kind of take a step back and then step up to jump to my original destination – practically increasing the distance and flight time.
This reminded me of a similar situation, in which another Estonian partner, trying to find the cheapest route in order to compensate for the already two expensive trip and stay of our Bulgarian Erasmus+ group, finally sent us back to Sofia via London. Two hours in one direction, а long wait at the airport, and three hours to the final destination.
After such recurrent travel troubles, one cannot help but think positively about the Three Seas Initiative and its efforts to improve transport links in the area. And not only on land, but also in the air!
Finally yet importantly, in this line of thought, it is no coincidence that in the new programming period (2021-2027) the Erasmus+ Program stimulates eco-friendly travel (by train), giving higher rates and additional travel time for this way of traveling. If there were good rail connections in the region, I personally would choose to travel this particular way.