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Wednesday 16 January 2019

Driving in snow

I have something of a love–hate relationship with driving in Bulgaria. Love it because no one gives a fig for the rules, you can (outside of Sofia) park pretty much wherever you like, and you can reverse back up the motorway if you miss your exit (not that I've ever done this but, based on what we've seen, it’s nice to know the option’s there if I want it).

Hate it because, well, no one gives a fig for the rules, people park wherever they like, and the chances of someone reversing up the motorway at me are fairly high.

Exhibit A: My car, parked outside our house, and blocked in by not one but two vehicles.
Why park over the road when you can park sideways in someone else's spot?

Driving in snow, though? That’s a pure hate–hate relationship. I mean, I can do it. I just hate doing it. I’ve been driving for 20 years and have never been a nervous driver. But snow on the roads – real snow, that is, not the average 2cm dusting of snow that causes chaos in England – really gives me the willies. Even though I’ve done it for several winters. And even though I now have a sensible old tank of a 4X4 with proper winter tyres. (Trying to drive dear Uma the Puma in deep snow was like trying to climb Everest in flip flops. Theoretically possible but, at best, it's extremely difficult and people look at you funny; at worst, you slide off.)

As far as I can tell, there are three stages of snow on the roads here, and none of them are much fun:
  • Stage 1: That lovely, freshly laid, crunchy stuff. This can be slippery but it’s much better than driving on…
  • Stage 2: Old, brown, deep snow that’s flaking into layers. This stuff’s the worst, like driving on shifting sand.
  • Stage 3: Big-ass ice troughs. On a mild day, all that deep, brown snow starts to melt in patches. Then it re-freezes overnight, leaving slim patches of bare tarmac nestled between train tracks of ice. Sure, you can just drive along the tarmac bits in the middle of the road. Until a big lorry comes along. Then you have to slip up out of the narrow tarmac and mount the neighbouring ice-curb.

Luckily, most of the main roads nearby get ploughed and gritted and aren’t so bad. But the side roads in Etropole can be terrible. And even in our village, which only has two frigging roads, the gritting is hit and miss. (We’re convinced that the mayor has an ‘arrangement’ with the gritters whereby she pays a discounted rate for them to just drive through the village, lights flashing, looking visible. Dropping grit? That costs extra. Which explains why we regularly see the gritters, but rarely see much, you know, grit.)

Bulgarians seem totally unfazed by driving in snow, even the young-uns who can’t have passed their test more than five minutes ago. It must be in their DNA. That would also explain how Bulgarian women can walk around in snow in high heels, and the old babas confidently shuffle along the icy village road in their rubber gardening shoes. Meanwhile, I’m there in my thick-tread walking boots, doddering along with a slow, undignified air of trepidation, ready to fall and break a hip at any minute. It’s not my fault. I’m from the English seaside; snow just isn’t in my DNA.