Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Taste of Crazy: Driving In Belgrade

My daughters and I are currently visiting Belgrade, Serbia, the home of our beloved former exchange student Jovana. We rented a car to get around but the first day, I wasn't comfortable driving. It is definitely different driving here than at home.

Streets are narrow and cars park on the sidewalk. Those backing up don't always yield to traffic on the street. Sometimes 5 roads intersect at the same point and collisions are barely avoided. But everyone seems to be ultra aware of their surroundings and able to react at a second's notice.

Busy Belgrade street
Jovana explained the rules to me. Stop signs are like stronger yield signs. Sometimes, you stop at stop signs, but never if there isn't anyone around. But some are like super strong yields so you definitely need to stop. If you want to change lanes, you turn on your blinker and move over...the other guy will slow down. If you need to stop somewhere and there's nowhere to park, you just pop on your hazard lights (even if that means blocking a lane of traffic) and you run in. No one likes it, but everyone does it.

Last night, we went for pizza and my girls fell asleep in the back seat. Chubby's Pizza is on a busy avenue with two lanes of traffic in each direction. Jovana pulled up behind someone in the right lane with their hazards on. She turned hers on and got out to go in and order. Sitting in the car, I noticed two more cars stopped in back of us to run in as well. When the guy in front of us left, two more cars pulled into the impromptu parking lane. Jovana was gone about 10 minutes and then we were on our way.
The woman in the maroon car popped on her hazards and ran into the store. Red car is going around her.
We've been staying in Jovana's family's second home and driving to her apartment daily using gps. While I appreciate the device and technology, I've been frustrated because it takes anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes to traverse between the two homes. Anyone from Seattle would chalk that up heavy traffic...but it's not that. The gps is taking me a different way each time. It's been difficult for me to learn my way by memorizing landmarks. Yesterday, I got a tour of some country road with fields. I'm supposed to be in an urban area, not rural. A couple of nights ago, the gps had to keep "recalculating" my route because I thought the streets it mentioned were driveways...not even wide enough to be an alley.

Thankfully, Jovana wrote down some instructions for me so that it'd be easier. And the past few trips have been much better.

One of the hardest parts of Belgrade driving for me is that the traffic signals are maybe 12 feet off the ground and placed on both sides of the intersection. I'm working on retraining my brain to see them since my automatic response is to look high above each lane for signal directions. I don't think I've run any lights. But if I have the Serbians around me have adapted well.

Notice the motorcycle going the wrong way?
While driving in Belgrade is crazy and often like an obstacle course or driving video game where you try to avoid the hazards popping out all over, it's got an upside, too. Here, my mind has been 100% on the driving task. Part of what keeps me present and in tune with the car and road is driving a manual transmission. The other part is that there is no friendly allowance for zoning out. You zone out and you've crashed or maybe hit someone. It's intense.

I believe Americans are too comfortable behind the wheel. Traffic is well regulated and roads are wide and smooth, making driving too easy. Our brains insist on being active (or falling asleep - not good for the driving task) so we look to our phones and other distractions to stay engaged. While dodging other cars, pedestrians and potholes may not be ideal, I do believe these drivers are more focused on driving than we are at home.

6 comments:

  1. Slovenia is a little less crazy, traffic-wise. A little. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good to hear you survived driving in Belgrade :) Thanks to Jovana. Traffic will require you to be extra aware of your surroundings and your full attention to be on driving conditions. However, if you follow some general safe driving guidelines, you’re sure to pull through that nasty traffic jam without a problem.

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  5. Well this is impressive news anyways i heard many news like this about the driving in belgrade and your article is totally different thanks for sharing your experience with us..

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