As with almost everything about this trip, I decided on the spur of the moment to get a car, so I had to find an agency in Belgrade with a car ready to go and a good rate. I need a hatchback for the bike. The cheapest car was a Toyota Auris hybrid, "Like the Prius," the clerk said. The car was the size of a current Prius, a big car to me since I drive a 2001 original Prius. Since it was new, it had iPhone ports, digital display and cruise control, none of which is in my Prius. It clearly has a bigger engine too. On a motorway south of Belgrade, I was obeying the 75mph speed limit when an Audi A6 shot past me. I followed. The Prius easliy hit 120mph. I backed off to set my phone to call my oldest daughter Lauren and waited for the next speeder.
When I traveled overseas every month for business in the late 90s, I would sometimes rent a car, usually a Ford or Opel. But if I was in Germany, I would pay the upgrade, usually only $10, and get an Audi A6 Turbo or, once, a BMW 750--a big sedan with a 5-liter V12 engine. I would go out on the A5 at night when there was no traffic and on a stretch with no speed limit, go 155mph (rental cars were governed at 155) and call my oldest daughter Lauren. The walls and ceiling of her room was covered with pictures of cars. She wanted to know when Dad went 150. So I would call her and tell my speed on speaker then call back later.
Even though Lauren is now 28, when a BMW shot past me, I set the phone to call Lauren and hit send when I reached 125mph.
In three days with the car, I drove to Skopje, Macedonia, then took my ill-fated ride to the Kosovo border. The next day went to the bay in Thessaloniki, Greece. In late afternoon I drove back to Belgrade through Bulgaria. At a half-hour before sundown, I drove through thirteen tunnels on a ten-mile stretch of two-lane highway just over the border from Bulgaria. Bikes are not allowed on this road, so I could not have seen it without a car.
On pure fun grounds, this little Toyota had the fast acceleration only electric motors have, plus the battery on the back makes the car more balanced end to end than most modern front-wheel drive cars. Going fast on narrow streets this car is stable and exciting. I haven't driven a car in Europe for 15 years. This was a great car to zip through city streets, reach occasional 3-digit speeds on motorways and twist through mountain roads.
I got to Belgrade at midnight. The next day I drove to Croatia then up and down some hills near the border. Later I drove across the border to Bosnia. Until dark I rode along the Sava River. Sometimes I would ride into a roundabout and see a sign for a town 10 or 20 miles away. I recognized the name as a massacre site from the 1990s. After riding in this country full of ghosts, I returned to Belgrade. The next day I returned the car and got on a train to Budapest, Hungary.
Since that first week, I have only ridden in trains or on the bike. But it was fun to drive again on the narrow roads of Europe.