On our way to Budapest, Hungary from Venice, Italy we made a pit stop in Croatia. We did this for two reasons. One, to say that we have been to Croatia (duh) and secondly, to experience leaving the Schengen Agreement (which also means more stamps in the passport!)
For those of you who do not know what the Schengen Agreement is, I will give a quick run-down of it. The Schengen Agreement was created in 1985 in a treaty written by the European Economic Community (the precursor of the EU) in order to allow for easier passage of people and goods through borders of the member states. When the area was first created in ‘85, there were only 5 members. Now there are 26!
This means that once you are in a country that is a member of Schengen and go through customs, you do not have to show your passport as long as you travel to another Schengen country. So from travelling from France to Spain to Italy and to Greece and back we did not have to show our passport once to cross the borders of these countries. However, as Croatia is not a member of the EU, they are also not a member of Schengen. Thus more difficulty (and more stamps!)
Driving from Schengen into Croatia was much simpler than driving back into Schengen. When driving into Croatia, they simply asked for our passports, stamped them, and we were on our way. However, upon re-entering Schengen we encountered a little more difficulty. First of all, they examined our passports much more; even counting the number of people in the van just to make sure we were not smuggling people back into the rest of Europe. Secondly, they asked to look through our car. We had to open our trunk and they questioned us about what all our suitcases could possibly be holding (other than clothes haha).
While experiencing this, I almost thought it was frightening, especially after seeing a work truck being inspected by hand for the whole time we were there, and more once we left. Yet it is important for all of us to note that this is the only border check for nearly the rest of Europe. All of the other borders are entirely porous, making it very easy to move illegal goods and persons around once they are in Schengen. So if they do not do a good job here, an illegal good or person could make it from that border to France in maybe a day. In order for Europe to protect themselves from countries that are not a part of their union yet, they must be careful and scrutinize those that cross into their territory.
We all have commented that this trip 20 years ago must have been much more difficult and stressful, especially when visiting 10 countries in 10 weeks also meant taking out your passport at every single border. So I think we are all thankful for Schengen, even if we do not get an awesome passport stamp for each country we visit.