Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Lada Legend: The Colonel Goes West - Part Eight

Getting out of Bulgaria was no trouble at all. It really is amazing how interested each country had been so far in getting rid of us. Never a question about where we had come from or where we were going. The official we dealth with seemed more thrilled by the journey the Colonel had made more than anything. "This car? From Azerbaijan?...wooow," just about summed up his disbelief.

The scene on the Serbian side of the Bulgarian-Serbian border was as you would expect for the easiest transit route for anyone looking to go to Hungary and beyond (you bypass the Carpathians and the Transylvanian Alps by going this way). Four or five lines of cars, most with German license plates and filled with nationals ostensibly of Turkish origin. We had faith in the Colonel so we decided to turn it off and just push the ol' boy whenever the line moved. Others quickly followed suit.

At last our turn came and I handed over all the requisite documents. The female officer wasn't particularly fazed by the situation at hand and seemed to have no problem with the insurance we purchased in Bulgaria. By this time, we were getting pretty cocky at borders. Did anyone really have the balls (or lady balls) to stop us? After some incredibly light passport stamps, she waved us on to the next step: customs.

An older man came out to greet me. The first words out of his mouth, "Zhiguli? From Ukraine?" I told him where we actually had come from and his jaw dropped. "You came all this way?!?!" Then the woman who had stamped our passports came running out of her booth and said in rapid-fire Serbian something along the lines of, "Get a load of these guys. A Canadian and two Americans driving an Azerbaijani-registered Zhiguli to Croatia. What do you think we should do with them?"

The man thought it over for a few seconds and then asked to see the trunk. He seemed positively taken aback by this relic from his younger days. "So you're going to Croatia, are you?" he said with a big smile on his face. "Safe travels." And that was that. Welcome to Serbia!

It took us a while, but we eventually rolled into Belgrade. We had no real plan for accommodation, so we figured we would just find a parking spot and start walking around. Little did we know that in that fine city, one must pay for parking with his/her mobile phone or at a booth. How much you pay depends on what zone you're in. Ignorance being as blissful as it is, we walked away and began our search. Not forty-five minutes later, we came back to collect the car and found a parking ticket on our windshield. Note that if this hadn't been after an incredibly smooth Serbian wheat beer, I may have been more irate.

We moved the car up by our hostel and parked it in a spot the owner of the place said would be totally fine. The next morning when we woke up and walked out the front door, guess what was sitting on our windshield. How is it possible that in less than twenty-four hours we would get two parking tickets and, better yet, not get towed? Remarkable stuff. We learned our lesson pretty quickly and moved the Colonel to a parking garage down the street. No more of this parking ticket nonsense.

A couple of days later we left Belgrade and headed southwest to Bosnia. Some of the side roads we took were magnificent. Tight corners, lush scenery, up and down mountain passes. That must've been why we completely missed the turn to the Bosnian border. Eventually Sarah said to me, "Umm...I think we passed the place where we were supposed to turn." I had pulled over to give us a chance to check the map by this time, but it was hard to focus with the mountain lake on the other side of the road. A guy also parked at the pull-off sensed out confusion and sauntered over. "Do you need help?" I told him we were going to Bosnia, so he just pointed down the road and told us to turn right at a specific city.

His directions turned out to be flawless. We turned right and continued along this beautiful road that skirted a lake. This brought us to a border town that we weren't really sure was a border town until we came upon the border post. It took us by complete surprise. First, because we just weren't expecting it, but second, because it was a couple of small shacks on the side of the road. The border guards sat on chairs by the side of the road and just lifted the barrier everytime someone wanted to pass. Things seemed totally relaxed.

We surmised that this probably was a good thing. More relaxed meant less likely to abide by the strict Bosnian temporary auto import rules, right?

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