Mistaken Identity

Dalmatian islands seen from the coast road between Senj and Zadar © Ricky Yates

Dalmatian islands seen from the coast road between Senj and Zadar © Ricky Yates

On Monday 6th July, we drove right across Austria via Linz in the north to Klagenfurt in the south. As we did so, the rain got heavier and heavier so that, as we headed towards the steep mountain pass that would take us into Slovenia, it was positively tipping it down. The weather was no better on the Slovenian side of the border. However, as we joined the motorway to head south towards Ljubljana, (having purchased an expensive vignette to travel relatively few km of motorway), the rain slowly started to ease. And having bypassed Ljubljana and travelled on to Postojna where we left the motorway for the somewhat windy road that leads to the Croatian border, the sun came out as though to welcome us to our holiday destination.

At the Slovenian – Croatian border we had our passports checked for the first time on our journey. I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of the situation and how the political geography of Europe has changed in the last twenty years. We had crossed from the Czech Republic to Austria and from Austria to Slovenia where, in both cases, border controls are now non-existent because all three countries are EU members and also part of the Schengen agreement. Yet now we were having our passports checked at a border that used not to exist until the beginning of the 1990s with the break-up of Yugoslavia.

It was also as we had our passports checked on the Croatian side of the border, that questions about our somewhat complex identity first raised their head as we tried to explain why a Brit and a German were travelling in a car with Czech number plates! This was the prelude to two cases of mistaken identity that occurred the following day.

We spent Monday night in the small Croatian coastal town of Senj. On Tuesday morning, after the secession of an early morning thunderstorm, we set out along the winding coastal road towards Zadar with wonderful views across to nearby islands. As we drove, we passed three motorcycles parked at the side of the road. Their riders & pillion passengers who were having a mid-morning break, waved to us in a very friendly fashion. We waved back and soon realised that the reason they were waving was because they were Czech and thought they were waving to fellow Czechs. Suddenly their friendly smiles turned to very quizzical looks when they noticed that my steering wheel was on the ‘wrong’ side!

Later in the day as we approached Zadar, we used a short section of motorway. As we turned off the motorway to drive into Zadar, we had to present our ticket and pay a small toll. Sybille wound down the car window and gave our ticket to the young man in the toll booth. ‘Pet’ he said, which is the word for ‘five’ in Czech. (There should be a hacek over the ‘e’ to lengthen the sound but most computer browsers won’t cope with it if I put one in and will instead render it as a ‘?’)! He seeing the Czech number plates was trying to be helpful and tell us in Czech, that we needed to pay five kuna, bearing in mind that both Czech and Croatian are Slavic languages with similar vocabularies. He couldn’t understand our blank looks until he saw where my steering wheel was located. ‘Five kuna’ he then said, and we paid!

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