Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Snow That Stopped the City

I have already experienced firsthand the effects of bad weather on the traffic in Sofia – a little rain or snow, and traffic is backed up in all directions. Taxis take an hour to arrive after ordering them (or don’t come at all), and driving anywhere is a nightmare.

Still, nothing had prepared me for what happened Tuesday morning.

We woke up to a light snow, which was supposed to continue throughout the morning, turning into rain in the afternoon. Unfortunately, nature hadn’t read the weather report, and the snow started to come down heavier by the minute, and was settling thickly on the ground. I was therefore surprised when the taxi I ordered arrived after only 10 minutes. By chance, the driver was my company’s regular driver. We turned onto the main street near our apartment and then came to a basic standstill. After 25 minutes, we were only 2 blocks from where we started.

The cars weren’t moving – a green light let us move forward the space of one car length. Strangely enough, there was no traffic in the opposite direction, and we saw that a number of cars were turning around in the middle of the street, to try and find a different way to go. We agreed to turn around also. We drove back a couple of blocks, thinking that we could make a turn up the hill and follow a different route that also leads towards my office. We soon saw that there was no chance to turn onto this street, as the cars were backed up all the way to the main street, and were not moving. My driver suggested that we try a different way around the park. Seeing as I knew this driver, I trusted him to do the best to find a good route to my office. We continued driving and saw that in both directions, traffic wasn’t moving. We were now farther away from my office than when we started, and faced in the opposite direction. Every way we turned, there were cars backed up. Although the city clears the major streets, a lot of the smaller streets are not cleared, and as a result, the roads were very icy, and cars were driving very slowly and trying not to slide all over the place.

My driver finally decided to head towards one of the major boulevards that the snow plows had cleared, and make our way towards the smaller back streets, in hope that they wouldn’t have as much traffic. An hour after I was picked up, we had completed almost a complete circle to where we had started out, and made our way into the back streets. Although there was less traffic, the streets had more snow, and there were cars that kept getting stuck, so we looked for streets with fewer cars, to try and make our way. My driver assured me that his tires were new, and that we needn’t worry. Of course, this didn’t make a difference when we turned up an empty street which was on a small hill, and got stuck. My driver was trying to inch the car forward and backward slowly, but wasn’t making any progress until some young man came up behind us and gave the car a push from behind, and we were able to move again.

A few streets later, we were finally on the main boulevard that leads to my office, and it was fairly empty. I arrived at work almost 2 hours after leaving home – a drive that usually takes between 7-10 minutes in the morning.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one who had problems getting to work – many of my co-workers were late, even the ones who walked. My boss was in his car for 4 hours – trying to take his daughter to nursery school and turning around after 2 hours and driving back another 2 hours – and then walking to work. But the record goes to a woman from Ellis’s company, who usually gets to work in 45 min – but today made it in a mere 5 hours.

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