First impressions can be wrong.
Cars were one of the first things that left an impression in my mind on belgradestreets. All those months ago, late in the evening of 31 January 2011, when I arrived full of all the expectations, hopes and fears associated with arrival in a new and unfamiliar city.
Having spent the previous four years in Sydney, Australia, where big and brash V6 and V8 Fords and Holdens battled for street supremacy with 4×4 urban tractors, my immediate impression was how small the cars seemed on belgradestreets. In truth this would apply in almost any European city with the possible exception of one or two of the more affluent financial centres…
Moments later, I realised how ancient some of the cars were, and, with deep disquiet, noticed the quantities of black smoke that belched from the exhausts of some of the more obscure examples.
My first ride on belgradestreets was remarkable, memorable.
Met at the airport by my hotel’s driver, he drove fast and hard, with scant regard for the speed limits, in blissful ignorance of the seat belt which dangled by his side of the car. Gazing out the window at the deep snow lining the sides of the motorway, the smog laden air and the crumbling concrete ‘bloks’ of Novi Beograd, my first thoughts were interrupted by the driver’s curses and enthusiastic use of the car’s horn.
The provocation? A small, ancient car had swerved in front of my driver who, taking this as a challenge to his manhood (or something…), and after more liberal horn sounding, took chase of the hapless car that had so offended him. After forcing the offender off the road, my driver leapt out of our car and fired off a fusillade of yet more colourful curses through the window of his quarry. Dusting himself down, duty done, honour restored, he climbed back behind the wheel, grinned at me, shrugged his shoulders, drove me to my hotel.
Another day, I may write about a journey into the south of Serbia. A tale which involves one rugged old Lada Niva spinning off the road, impaling itself on the roadside crash barrier, and being disentangled by a pair of antique tractors…
…and continued with me holding the gear shift in place in yet another, even more ancient, Lada Niva, as our driver negotiated the snow, ice and treacherous slopes of a mountain road.
Later, I experienced my first, and to my frayed nerves, very welcome, taste of home brewed rakija at the summit of a snowed in, fog bound mountain.
For now, here are my impressions of the vehicles that ply belgradestreets. Some familiar to any city dweller.
Some perhaps less so.