Monday, May 25, 2015

Fury Road: Sofia Style

This is a blog issue which I expect may cause some death and anger, as I will be writing about all the insane drivers in Bulgaria.  If I somehow die or get into a major accident after this blog issue is written, I blame 'insert you most hated rich guy here driving a Mercedes, Audi, or Porshe' or a driver from the Sofia oblast driving a 1995 Volkswagen Polo.

When driving in the Balkans, here are some tips I have followed that have helped me out and kept my sanity:

1.  At anytime, you could be killed by a 15-20 year old Volkswagen Polo or Opel:  

That's right people.  The average age of a car in Bulgaria is around 10 years old, which means Sport Skoda, aka my car, is still young and vibrant.  Some of the worst drivers own 15-20 year old cars, and spend a lot of time recreating Formula 1 scenes on the streets of Sofia.  On the way to watch Mad Max, George and I noticed a 15+ year old Volkswagen Polo weave past two Mercedes, almost break an axle, and then almost knock out a tram while going about 80 km/h in the center of Sofia, or about 50 miles per hour. 

A few years back, I saw a old VW Polo driven by a 20ish year old man smash into some lady turning left, as he was trying to pass 6 cars going about 100 km/h in a 50 km/h zone.  Luckily, the lady with two kids were uninjured, but the VW drove off as if nothing happened.  This Easter, this VW Polo driver made all the news channels for his creative driving skills.

Pretty much, if you see one of these cars with a male driver behind the wheel chain smoking coming at you at a high rate of speed, you never know what might happen.  Just hope you get by unscathed, but accidents deaths number between 550-700 per year, with thousands injured.

Lesson Learned:  Old cars are high speed death traps ready to kill you at any moment.  

2.  You can drive whatever speed you want to drive:  

Pretty much, you can drive however you want, whenever you want, and there is a 99% chance nothing will happen to you, unless by some miracle there is a policeman who actually decides to do something besides check car documents and smoke cigarettes.

So, if you want to drive 30 kph in a 90 kph zone and create a 30 car traffic jam behind you?  No problem here.  Drive 180 kph in a 90 kph zone?  No problem.  Pass on the right?  No problem.  Zig Zag through traffic to be one car ahead and cause two accidents?  No problem.  Drive 250-300 kph on the highway?  No problem, as the driver in the link in one of the many to drive so fast on the highways here and not get a ticket.  Ever.  This motorcycle driver proves you can go over 200 km/h

Knock out and kill someone on the highway?  Might be a problem, depending on your income.  If your accident makes the news, and then you're definitely in trouble.

Lesson learned:  Drive at whatever speed you want, and tell the others to suck it.  

3.  Stop Signs Are Optional in Local Neighborhoods:

Stop signs?  Optional depending on the intersection, any some intersections on the smaller streets do not have them.  People have an idea who should get the right of way in these instances, but sometimes both parties feel they have the right of way, especially more expenisive cars.  In Iztok, there have been numerous fender benders as no one really bothers to stop at intersections without stop signs.

Long ago in August 2009, there was this accident in from of the Azerbaijani Embassy involving a 'businessman' and some poor person not realizing he needed to stop.  Why?  Because there is no stop sign there, even after this accident.  Here is what you need to know about this accident.

1.  If you check out the Googles Map site for this intersection, there is only about 100 meters maximum on Metodi Popov between Charles Darwin and Metodi Popov.  That is about 343 feet, or 0.06 of a mile for those imperial measurement users.
2.  The Mercedes flipped a Toyota SUV crossing Metodi Popov from Charles Darwin.
3.  Think about the rate of speed the Mercedes driver was traveling at on this minor side street to flip a Toyota SUV like this.
4.  The Mercedes driver totaled this car, but had a new car in ______________.  (my answer below)

Lesson learned:  Stop at all intersections without a stop sign in Bulgaria, as stop signs are optional in Bulgaria.  

Mercedes knocked this car into entrance of the Azerbaijani Embassy.  This probably put the price of natural gas up a few hundred leva.  

The large rounds stones could not protect the embassy from a businessman driving a Mercedes.   My bet is the Mercedes driver had a new car by Monday, and the delay was that this happened on a Friday afternoon.

4.  If you drive an expensive luxury car, you can park pretty much anywhere: 

If you have an expensive car, you can not only drive fast and furious, but you can be a total jerk and park wherever you would like.  In the picture below, this Porshe SUV from Plovdiv is parked directly in front of a mall entrance.  Why?  Because they have lots of money and simply don't'care what you think.  If this was a 20 year old VW Polo, it would have been towed, but luxury vehicles get to do whatever they want without penalty.

Lesson learned:  A few rich people really suck.  

At the entrance to the Sofia Ring Mall.  This person is very special.  
In the next picture, this business lady parked her very large Mercedes SUV in a spot that was not a spot, and threatened action on the people daring to call the police because this is where she parked her car.   
Mercedes parked illegally

Woman who can't be bothered to park legally and shamed rightfully on social media.

5.  Merging is a skill that makes you a big wimp:  
In the United States and Canada, merging is a process that everyone learns to do and respects.  In Bulgaria and the Balkan Peninsula, merging pretty much means you suck at driving or you're a gigantic wimp if you let someone merge in front of you.  Despite what would make logical sense when merging off a ramp, drivers will either not let you in on purpose, and make you force your way in with lots of honking.  Other times, they speed up to get into the space meant for merging.  In construction zones, rather than taking turns, people will create 8 lanes which will merge into one, and one driver will try to plow through 30 cars just to be first, and create accidents.

Lesson learned:  Merging means you suck, which means you must furiously plow ahead to prove you can drive.

6.  Ordinarily nice people turn into raving maniacs when driving:

For some reason I still cannot figure out, some of the nicest people turn into stark raving maniacs when driving.  There seems to be a belief that one must be a Mad Max driver in order to survive in the streets here.  There tends to be a lot of road rage, such as this incident in Mladost.  Rather than waiting patiently and have the traffic jam go smoother, drivers cause massive traffic jams where a 5 minute wait turns into a 20-30 minute rage fest.

One time when I was on quest for a fun filled evening of Swan Lake, I saw two driver duke it out in the center during the middle of a snowstorm.  They both got a few punches in, probably left a black eye or good bruise on the cheek, then hopped back into their cars and drove off.  No police report done.

The two videos below give you road virgins an idea how one drives here in Sofia.  You can fast forward through the boring parts.

Lesson Learned:  Pretty much anything is legal here in Sofia, even though there are rules.

Driving in Sofia

Passing on a 2 lane road in the Mountains

7.  At least Bulgaria is not the Middle East, Africa, or China:

That being said, there are a lot worse places to drive, even though people here think Bulgaria is probably not the best place to drive.  For those in the USA, you get why I have to behave myself when I drive in Buffalo in the summer.  Hope you enjoyed this issue.  Remember in case I die, you can blame the Plovdiv Porshe SUV driver whose picture I put in the blog, or an 20 year old VW Polo driver who took out my car.