It’s been great traveling by car during this trip — QN’s little BMW is a nice little car, and I’ve really enjoyed the independence that it’s given us. At first, I admit, I was a little worried that having a car would mean missing out on good travel adventure stories. (Nothing like a van-ful of Israelies and Cheetohs to make a trip memorable…) Turns out, however, I had nothing to worry about: Driving has proved plenty adventurous.
On our way from Budapest to Plitvice, we took turns driving and discovered both that the locals drive like crazy on the tiny forested mountain roads, and that the police is pretty strict. I was driving at the time, and had about five cars sitting on my trunk just waiting to pass me and drive faster, when we come around a bend to find a cop with a radar gun waving me over. Naturally all the others continue merrily on their speedy way, but I got stern lecture about going 79 km/h in a 50 km/hr zone. I naturally was very surprised, given that the last speed limit sign I had seen was 80 km/hr, but apparently when you enter a village the limit automatically drops to 50, and youre just supposed to know that (because its not marked). The cops wanted us to pay the 300 Kuna fine on the spot, but we only had a handful of Kuna and a few Euros; also, he didnt seem to know quite what to make of my Virginia drivers license (or the fact that I was driving a Belgian car with a German guy and a French girl who looks Vietnamese. At the end, he finally just handed everything we had given him (passports, drivers license, money) back to us and told us to go on our way. Which we did. Very slowly.
Unfortunately for another set of travelers, the road rules lesson of obeying the (unposted) speed limit was learned an even harder way. Our trip from Split to Dubrovnik, two days later, was supposed to take 2.5 hours, but ended up taking 7 hours because there was a massive accident that effectively closed the entire windy, two-lane highway in both directions. It involved a big truck and a tiny car, which was totally demolished — most gruesome. Interestingly, just after the accident was one of those “priceless” Mastercard billboards that had a picture of Dubrovnik and “Arriving: Priceless.” After 7 hours of sitting in the hot sun, we certainly felt the value of arriving at our vacation spot, but also, after seeing the bad wreck, we had the added appreciation of the value of arriving safely.