After covering more than 1000 miles on Europe’s motorway network, a busy city centre rush hour could almost be classified as welcome respite.
A trip around Trieste yesterday morning proved to be the most manic drive yet on this trip, as I diced with a multitude of scooters and local motorists.
The Qashqai held its own again; it’s got good visibility and an airy cabin thanks to that commanding driving position and that rare thing – a panoramic roof that floods the interior with daylight, excellent for long road trips. The engine is torquey enough, too, and the controls light enough to exploit gaps in the traffic.
It’s also an easy car to manoeuvre, and our 1.6d dCi Acenta Premium model has the added help of parking sensors and a rear-view camera to help squeeze into tight spaces in Italian underground car parks; especially those where the proprietors have left the lights turned out, as we experienced in Trieste.
The last few days of motorway running have allowed for a thorough test of some of the other gadgets of our well-equipped test car. The lane departure warning system was a bit irritating and was soon turned off (which you could argue is driver error…), but other than that this Sunderland-built car scores highly on the tech front.
The traffic sign recognition system is a godsend when flicking between so many countries with differing road rules and speeds. The sat-nav is also starring; it has covered everywhere we've wanted to go, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, in minute detail, and allows multiple waypoints to be easily tapped in.
Slovenia was the next destination in the sat-nav, and a deserted border post led the way to a subtly different landscape, with more sparsely populated villages and a more spacious feel. That's apparently down to having lots of land that’s not been flogged for all it’s worth.
The trip to Slovenia was short, though, as neighbouring Croatia was on our hit list. At the border, the guard attending to us shouted for his colleague Mario to come over to “[something in Croatian] Qashqai”. He was also enthralled with the fact I came from Norwich, which is a first.
Croatia is the home of the EU-funded (and usually empty) mega motorway, and we followed one into Rijeka before heading down the Adriatic coastline after a stop at the picturesque horseshoe bay at Bakar.
The drive down the east Adriatic coast (on a brand spanking new road, of course) could claim to be Europe’s own version of the Pacific Coast Highway, so sweeping were the bends and stunning was the scenery.
My sadness at leaving it as we headed inland towards Bosnia was tempered because a foggy mountain had to be climbed, and a tight and twisty road was the only way up. I wasn’t quite in tyre-squealing mode, but the Qashqai again revealed the safe and steady traits in its handling.
More EU roads followed, complete with lots of roundabouts, one of which a Mazda 323 estate driver took exception to and negotiated in the wrong direction, making it a 90deg turn for him instead of a 270deg one.
Our last port of call in Croatia was to be the Plitvice Lakes national park, but the fog scuppered our plans to snap the car in some stunning scenery, so the dash into Bosnia – and outside the EU – was made instead.
The border sits in the middle of nowhere in moorland, and we were the only car there so had no trouble getting in. Once the other side of the border, there was another big shift in the landscape. The first impression is of a naturally pretty country, albeit one that's grittier with its architecture, and less prosperous than the EU member nations we’d passed through.
There’s also evidence everywhere you look that less than 20 years ago the country witnessed Europe’s bloodiest conflict since WW2. The number of abandoned and partially destroyed buildings is staggering; they’re everywhere, from urban churches to houses in city suburbs and groups of dwellings in rural outposts. Many other buildings wear scars of a different kind.
The roads in Bosnia are nearly all single file and in a reasonable state, although the odd pothole can appear, as do patched-up repair jobs that are rutted with lorry marks. Nothing the Qashqai hasn’t been able to cope with, that’s for sure.
There’s also a much greater visual police presence here than elsewhere in Europe, and there is an implausibly large amount of very modern fuel stations for a country that doesn’t appear to have a great deal of car ownership.
The plan for today is to explore Bosnia’s rural charms and then head back into the EU and up through Hungary, before an overnight halt in Budapest. It’s my last leg on the tour as I hand over to deputy editor Matt Burt for the trip into Istanbul – and then home again.