Thursday, August 11, 2005

Cliff Driving

A Peugeot 407 Euro-Diesel station wagon is what we ended up with when we landed at Zagreb's airport. Due to some mixup, our originally promised Opel Vectra S/W was already doled out.
"Would we mind taking the Peugeot? Same price?", we were asked.
No arm-twisting necessary! Diesel motor. Five speed manual trans. High torque. Bigger and roomier than the Opel. No, no further thought was needed. Only 4k km on the odometer. Magnificently long moon roof.
We piled in the luggage as quickly as possible and drove off before the rental agency changed its mind.

Driving on the newly completed (June 24,2005) Zagreb-Split highway was a major positive impression. A drive that had taken 12-15 hours before was now cut down to 4 hours. Average posted speed was 130 km/hr (roughly 80mph) and the majority of the highway was 2 lanes in each direction. When talking with the natives, once safely past the touchy subject of the drubbings a Hungarian soccer team had pasted onto the (Dalmatian, specifically Split) soccer team "Hajduk" in the past week, they were most likely to engage you in conversation regarding the Zagreb-Split highway. This road's future existence had been discussed back in the days of Tito and Southern Slav Unity. I recalled national lotteries held to raise money for this transportation concept. People were buying Loto tickets so money could be raised for a road on which they would be paying tolls for the pleasure of driving on them. Years later, the NFL latched onto this concept when they created stadium seat licensing, which allowed a rabid fan to pay for the opportunity to pay for a seat. For the highway to actually exist and to be successful is an incredible source of pride for most Croatians. However, as in most things Croatian, pride is soon joined by cynicism and its companion, corruption. As Dragan Antulov, in his excellent Croatian-based blog, Drax Blog III, points out, "Croatians travelling on business prefer old roads (over the new super highway) and for one very simple reason – road toll is highest in Europe." As I was speeding along at a 150 km/hr clip, I tried to juggle the pride and corruption thing in my head. The BMW's, Audi's, and Saab's blowing past me, at a 200-220 km/hr clip, however, kept my thoughts to the single one of keeping my hands firmly on the steering wheel, lest our car get caught up in the backwash of the passing cars. The road was remarkably fun to drive and the rest stops a welcome stop for refreshments and photo ops.
If there is any opportunity for a cafe (I prefer the Croatian "kafica" (little cafe)) to be squeezed into a space where people can sit and ponder life's fickle ways, it will be taken. An outcrop of rock hanging over a precipitous 500 ft. drop? Of course! On the coast, everybody's a business man/woman and every place is a spot to serve coffee and cake. Parking may be a chore/adventure and your car may be dented upon your return. But hey!, there's a fellow down the road who can take those dents out, easy. And while you wait, he'll offer you a cup of coffee at his roadside kafic so you can enjoy his hammering and banging while stirring the kavicu, searching for trip premonitions.

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