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Berlin – Sofia: The Only Idiot on the Road

Carrying my entire office downstairs and firing up the Diesel in Berlin were the first two steps I took, on Unity Day. Hardly any Berliner was even awake yet, when I raced down ‘Karl Marx Straße’ towards that expensive, French gas station.

07:42 a.m.: I knew gasoline and Diesel prices were high before I got to the ‘Total’ gas station, but isn’t 1.48 Euro per liter exaggerated? Once I had filled it up, the guy behind the counter told me the “night prices” were still valid, and that drivers could expect a decrease of about 13 Euro Cents per liter at 10:00 a.m.. WHAT? Thank you, ‘Total’. They should rename their damned enterprise ‘Totally Scandalous’.

08:05 a.m.: Only a few kilometers further south, I leave freeway A13 at Groß Köris because of a traffic jam, caused by one of the many construction sites, in spite of the early hour. Following the official deviation takes longer than expected. At around 08:40 a.m., I am back on that freeway. The detour was probably not worth it.

09:18 a.m.: Leaving the A13, driving into the center of Dresden, since I figure the city must be empty at this hour. The intention is to grab the A17 towards the Czech border and Prague in the city, instead of driving around it in a big circle. In Dresden, I add 12 liters of Diesel, at ‘Total’ again, for 1.37 Euro per liter.

09:46 a.m.: Leaving Dresden, heading south-east. The 149 km to Prague are uneventful. On the way from Sofia to Berlin, I had gotten stuck in the worst traffic jam ever, but this time things look better, because I did not hit the rush hour.

You insist on traveling between Bulgaria and Western Europe by car?
Follow these tips if you want to:

> Purchase your vignettes for HungarySlovakia and other countries in advance.

> Make sure your car does not break down in Serbia. Many drivers in that situation have been cheated.

> Do not speed on Serbian freeways (British English: motorways). They will know because they measure your travel time between two toll booths.

> Changing 20 Euro into some 2,200 Dinar at the Serbian border is good enough. It will cover the toll from Pirot to Subotica, a chocolate bar and a can of Coke. This should also apply to those who take the Batrovci route towards Croatia, or who travel in the opposite direction.

> Try not to hit big cities like Budapest or Prague during rush hour, unless you want to sit in the car for an additional three hours.

> Be careful.

11:15 a.m.: One of the most boring parts of the trip are those 200 freeway kilometers from Prague to Brno. This entire trip basically consists of several legs of 130 to 220 kilometers. This is the third one on the way back to Sofia. I had already purchased a vignette during the outbound trip. A big traffic jam throws me back by at least 90 minutes.

02:10 p.m.: Finally. The Brno freeway interchange is in sight. Going towards Bratislava now. On this stretch, borders come and go. At first, during the times of Czechoslovakia, there was no border here. From 1992, after the separation of the country into Czechia and Slovakia, a make-shift border checkpoint popped up. Back then, local hitchhikers I used to transport shook their heads at the sight of that border. Today, because of Schengen, the border is gone again.

Yet another elegant toll booth in Serbia. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

03:40 p.m.: Bratislava, Slovakia. Why did I even have to buy a vignette for this country, which is the size of a tennis court? It takes only minutes to cross it. While eating like a pig behind the wheel, I reach Hungary. The first 160 km towards Budapest are fast and easy.

04:58 p.m.: The ring highway around Budapest sucks big-time because of the millions of construction sites spread all over it. During rush hour, it is even worse. Standing at one and the same spot for 20 minutes, in order to move forward only a few meters afterwards, is frustrating, especially when you still have 769 kilometers to go. At some point I just follow everyone else on the breakdown lane, in order to make some headway.

06:45 p.m.: Finally leaving the congested freeway ring around Budapest. Heading towards Szeged, which is 172 km away, and the Schengen border.

08:15 p.m.: Crossing the border into Serbia is relatively quick this time. In the 1990-s, I used to refrain from driving through Serbia at night, which generally is a good idea, for several reasons. But I want to get home to Sofia as soon as possible.

10:06 p.m.: After spending ‘quality time’ (yawn) on the A1, I reach Belgrade, where traffic coming from the north is being routed around the entire city this time, probably due to construction on the city freeway which runs through ‘Novi Beograd’. How annoying. This takes forever.

11:56 p.m.: I finally reach Niš, much later than intended. But there is absolutely no traffic. I am the only idiot who takes the road towards Kalotina at this ungodly hour. On the way to the Bulgarian border, I overtake around 10 Bulgarian and Turkish trucks and two private vehicles. The new freeway on this stretch speeds things up a little. But travelers still have to use the old highway, part of the way.

02:00 a.m.: (Bulgarian time): The Bulgarian border guard at the Kalotina crossing asks me where I am going. She is surprised to hear that I live in Sofia, even though she could have guessed because of my number plate.

02:40 a.m.: (Bulgarian time): In Sofia, after 1,667 kilometers of driving, in one go. I sleep like a stone.

Cheese sandwiches consumed: 8
Apple juice consumed: 2 liters
Apples consumed: 3
F-word used: 146 times