I am a clumsy driver. You know all those stereotypes about women drivers and blondes? They should have my face firmly attached to them.
In my defence, just around half a year ago I didn’t even know which pedals are beneath the driver’s seat and I certainly had no clue what they actually did. I decided to start driving quite late in my life, since many Croatians start their driving lessons when they are 18 and I am 26. Don’t get mad, I’m not saying that I’m old, but it’s funny what a difference eight years makes. During my theory driving lessons, I felt like those youngsters (ok, now I’m talking like a granny) were fearless. They dreamed about ending classes as soon as possible so they could drive into the sunset, probably speeding along at a carefree 100 km/h.
Well, hell no! I was over-thinking it even before I sat in the car. My first practical driving classes were mostly about trying to hide how stressed I was – and not so successfully. The most common word that my instructor has used was ‘’relax’’. Got to admit it – he had nerves of steel. This all sounds too negative, but over time, I actually began to adore driving and started having fun instead of panicking.
As you know, Dubrovnik can be pretty hectic and maybe it’s not so smart to take driving lessons during the summer. Depends on how you see it – I really had a fair share of challenges while I was driving, but at least I have some idea on how to act when the traffic was mad. Drivers in Dubrovnik can be nervous, just like anywhere in the world, they usually rush and sometimes swear when they see driving school cars in front of them because they know they will have to slow down. However, they know that there is a learner in front of them and act accordingly.
Which brings me to my problem – after I passed my driving exam (to be honest, I managed to do it the second time around), I couldn’t wait to start driving. I found a sweet little car and it all seemed perfect because I realized that I actually have to drive it. Alone. Without double pedals and a big car school sign. Hello stress, my old friend! I was thinking about putting some sort of ‘’do it yourself’’ sign that will indicate that I’m a learner, since in Croatia we don’t have that kind of stuff, but eventually gave it up.
Everyone were so caring and full of advice – drive slowly (like I could drive fast), watch out for taxi drivers (apparently they are the worst), if you stalls just breathe deeply (ok, I won’t faint), try to ignore other people (I don’t think that is how traffic works), etc, etc.
So I collected all my courage, sat in my car and twisted the key. Took one deep breath and – heard knocking on my window. I turned around and saw my neighbour laughing and adjusting my rear view mirror. Well, it’s a start!
I’ve been pushing myself to drive almost every day and had a lot of adventures. I will not tell them all because there is a great chance that none of my friends will sit in the passenger seat after they read this.
For example, just the other day I stopped at traffic lights. When the green light blinked on I tried to go, but instead my car went ‘boom’ and stayed where it was. And again. And again. Until the red light shone! I went as red as a lobster, panicking, dripping in sweat, when I saw a guy getting out of the car behind me. Honestly – I expected him to be rude since I blocked the traffic, but he calmly approached me, checked where the problem and explained me how to fix it. Don’t know if he laughed at me later, but at least he didn’t do it to my face and I highly appreciated it. Especially when I understand how funny it must have been when I wound down my window and yelled desperately: ‘’I just got my driving license!’’.
Also, nobody said what complete and utter hell parking would be. Finding a parking spot in Dubrovnik is like winning the lottery, apparently. And finding a parking spot where I know how to park is like winning 10 lotteries in a row whilst riding a unicorn.
Another anecdote – I managed to squeeze in the last parking spot at one parking and was overjoyed not to mention pretty chuffed with myself. But of course, what’s my driving without a few problems – later in I couldn’t get out of that parking spot. I tried my best and got stuck even harder, again huffing and puffing. Can you guess what happened? I saw a guy coming jumping out of his car and approaching my window. ‘’I just got my driving license!’’ – I yelled (apparently I do that a lot, maybe I need to tattoo it on my forehead). He smiled and explained me how to free myself from the prison of the parking spot.
I could tell a couple more, but I better stop now. What I have learned is that there are really a lot of good people out there. People that will stop their car just to ask you whether you need help, instead of honking and making you even more nervous. People that will laugh with you, instead of laughing at you. That makes my Dubrovnik driving experience much more manageable. Oh and by the way “I just got my driving license.”
Ivana Smilovic or "Smile" is a senior journalist at The Dubrovnik Times, passionate book lover and a self-confessed coffee addict. As a local, she loves to bring news and stories from Dubrovnik...