We needed to remember all those words of wisdom about patience and pace of the culture when we went into Serbia.
The Macedonians were all cheery and friendly as we left. When we got to Serbia the people were less than friendly. We needed insurance. This is expected as no outside insurance company that we could find will insure you in Serbia. “That will be €100, no €300, we do not take visa, we have no bank machine but a driver can take you to the nearest bank machine.” “What is that extra €45?”. “That is the fee for the driver”. Uh, hello. Well, after about an hour with lots of negotiating and thinking about turning around we are allowed to drive ourselves to the nearest town to get money. The nearest town is all Albanian. Friendly, helpful Albanians in stark contrast to the Stoic Serbs at the border. We arrive back to the border about an hour later to get our insurance. Andrew struggled, found adding mistakes that brought the total up. Out of sheer exhasperation he repeatedly went behind the desk to collect his paperwork and money from the woman as she tried desperately to get extra money from him. They scanned our car documents with a fine toothed comb announcing “Problem, big problem.” Now we are not idiots, we know how to translate “big problem”. “Give me a bribe”. We do not have hard and fast rules about giving bribes. We have not taken a vow to refuse giving bribes or anything. It just comes down to the fact that Andrew is a self confessed “Stingy bastard”. Could be the fact that he is a New Zealander and of Scottish descent. Both cultures notorious for not wanting to part with their money. Andrew just doesn’t like to part with a single cent more than he needs to. So after hours of battling we get our insurance for the agreed price and collect our passports back. We are now on our way.
The roads are really great here. Much better than Albania or Macedonia. The Macedonian roads are quite rough for long periods of time. At one point a major road became cobblestone for about 2 km. Yeah, cobblestone. You know, those little tiny stones that you see for the small windy roads in ancient villages. Back to Serbia. The roads can be smaller that on the map, at times but they are smooth and good.
We stopped for lunch and were met by a terrible storm that turned into hail. The biggest hail any of us have ever seen.
So, what happens when you haven’t even seen an ice cube in months and you get hail? You make a gin & tonic. I have been saving my gin for just such an occasion. I feel like a proper British lady now.
As our day in Serbia continues. We came at a petrol station/truck stop on the side of the road. We parked with the trucks. Our three girls went into the toilets. Andrew took the dog out. I stayed with the truck. Three men started crawling all over our truck to wash the windows. Andrew yelled at them to get off. Andrew told me to grab the keys and camera from the front of the truck. Andrew saw Abi, told her to run and get her sisters into the truck. The other truck drivers were laughing. We are back on the road.
I wasn’t quite sure what happened. Andrew says that his adolescent life of crime taught him to know a scam when he see one unfolding. Those men wanted to clean the inside of our windscreen not the outside. They were way to old to be window washers. He also felt that we had no-one on our side. The other truck drivers were laughing at the rich tourist that was going to get robbed, not helping. In every other country we have been to the locals have been on our side, looking out for us. He was also concerned about the girls and the human trafficking problem here, as well.
Needless to say, Andrew is not enjoying Serbia too much. The people have been toughened by the wars and he can almost smell the blood from all the genocide of the last 150 years. “It is so fresh, I feel that war could come back at any moment.” I see him looking at the irregular land on the sides of the road. He wonders if the land was dug up by mines, trenches or bombs.
We found a really good truck-stop north of Nic. Instead of spreading out the rest areas they put 3 in one. The main one is called “Joy on the highway”. It has 3 petrol stations, 5 restaurants, 2 shower blocks and lots of parking with security.
The big road through the centre is smooth and big but unless things shift for Andrew, we will be in Hungary by tomorrow. That is OK. Just as some places you feel an instant connection. Strangely united by the pain and suffering, find beauty in unexpected places and some you don’t. Maybe it is not the right time for us to get to know Serbia, and it’s people.
Perhaps things will be different today.