If you’re reading this, you’ve probably read my post on spending A Long Weekend in Montenegro and know that somewhere along the line, right around Kotor, I had to go to a Montenegrin court for a morning. You should know that nobody was hurt in this story, that’s pretty important.
Anyone that knows me will, hopefully, know that I’m a pretty law-abiding chap and peaceful to boot. So, finding myself faced with the prospect of having to go to court was a little traumatic.
Anyway, before we get to that, what happened. Easy really – I took my eyes off the road for just a little too long while driving in fairly slow moving traffic through Kotor Old Town. There’s only one road and it is notoriously congested.
So there I was, muggins here, driving the four of us in our shiny rental car, crawling along in a queue of traffic, minding our own business taking in the beautiful surroundings. And really, Kotor is stunning. If you’re already convinced, hopefully this won’t put you off, and if you aren’t, well, you should be. Back to the story, so we’re driving along. Not very fast when I get distracted by something to our left and cast my eyes over the scene for a matter of seconds only to be brought crashing back to reality (choice of words very deliberate) by a squealed ‘PETE!’ from Antonia as the car in front had come to a stop and we had not.
Brakes were slammed on, but even the excellent brakes on our rental car weren’t good enough on this occasion to stop us from slamming into the back of the car in front and firing the airbags. Modern cars being the wonder of safety and engineering they are, the crumple zones worked as they should and all the energy from the collision was dissipated around the edge of the car leaving us with nothing more than some minor bruising, a bit of shock and me with a seriously battered pride.
By some small miracle, the car I’d crashed into was owned by an ex-Israeli army Russian, who was totally blase about the whole thing (nobody hurt in his car either) and tried to put us at easy by saying things like ‘Ah, don’t worry, I’ve done this before and I killed someone. It could be worse!’. Not terribly reassuring, but quite amusing to look back on now. He dealt with the local police, ensuring that no money was exchanged other than in the proper official channels and made sure to tell me that I would have to go to court the following day as all car crashes in Montenegro are viewed as criminal matters.
Fortunately, I was stone cold sober (do not drink and drive in these parts – they have extremely draconian laws to try and deal with the ludicrous drinking and driving culture they have), so there wasn’t really anything more serious to worry about, but in my still-shocked state of mind that wasn’t quite so obvious at the time. Not least when I was handing over the passport to the Montenegrin police and not entirely sure when I was going to get it back.
A couple of hours later, with the car towed, our stuff moved into the hostel (the crash happened conveniently right outside the gates to Kotor Old Town and a short walk from our hostel) I collapsed into bed after some food and prepared for a morning in court the following day.
We drove out to the police station in the morning, where we had to wait some time for a policeman to come and take me away to the post office where various forms were filled, some money was paid for the privilege (I’m still not sure what the forms were for…) and then I was driven from there to the ‘Court’. The ‘Court’ turned out to be a judges office in some non-descript municipal building a short drive away from the police station, where I sat feeling very much like an extremely naughty school boy who had been sent to the headmaster’s office to be told off.
The whole proceeding turned out to be a pretty relaxed affair, basically just involving me accepting that it was my fault, paying the relevant fine and then being told, to my great relief, that nothing would go on my record, that I could have my passport back and that I was free to go. The alternative of spending some time in a Montenegrin jail, seemed rather less appealing.
One final round of bureaucracy in the judge’s office, a comment from the policeman who had been driving me around all morning, which the translator assured me meant ‘I don’t want to let this guy go, he’s too nice’ and I was driving back to the police station, clutching my passport tightly.
All this time, my friends and girlfriend had absolutely no idea what was going on. All they had know was that I’d got into a police car and been driven off by a chain smoking police officer, who could well have been as dodgy as they come. So the relief on their faces when I returned a couple of hours later with passport in hand was second only to mine!
Moral of the story, pay attention to the road, don’t get distracted and if you do find yourself in a similar situation, don’t do anything stupid like run away, or pay money when you fairly obviously shouldn’t. Ideally, you’ll crash into a guy who can deal with the situation for you and make sure it’s all kosher. Failing that though, the courts aren’t as dodgy as they might seem and you’ll come away with a great story! That, after all, is why we travel.