So I wanted to leave the beach and travel, and after arriving this morning in Belgrade I was doubting myself, the beach life seemed so good. Everything looked like a perfect schedule, leaving Varna on the bus at 1:30pm arriving in Sofia at 7:30pm and then taking the overnight train from Sofia to Belgrade leaving at 10:15pm and arriving at 5:15am. That left me enough time in Sofia to cross another dangerous street and have a meal. Curtis you would be proud, I went to a non-english menu place and let the lady help me out and pointed and hit a homerun, a nice potato/cheese and ham dish. The 6hr bus ride was ok, a bit dodgy on some of the 2 lane rows with the passing action, and for a trip that was suppose to be on the main roads of Bulgaria, one section was a dirt road, and a few of the small towns the road was so small the bus was brushing the trees on the side, but we made it nice and safely to Sofia. The train, now that is another story, I have been warned to take busses in Sofia, but the bus didnt run till the morning and I had zero desire to stay the night in another big, dirty capital city, so the train it was.
Let me tell you one job I am not going to apply for when I get back home in USA is the guy who has to stand in front of the train, so the other section is moved in and then at the last moment ducks down to attach the 2 cars, watching that happen I was like oh damn, I am going to see a guy get dismembered this night but he made it safely and attached the trains. I was lucky enough to have in my compartment 2 Spanish girls who were having a worse travel day, so we can trade war stories and the fact they were decent english speakers and been traveling for a month, it was the best company to have. The border crossing, oh boy getting into Bulgaria was tough, and getting out of Bulgaria was almost as tough. I had my passport checked 3 times, first was for some reason just a visual check, I showed the cover of the USA passport and it was all good.. after the train moved the next check must have been leaving Bulgaria, as my passport was taken by a guy with a stack of about 100 others, basically everyone on the train. At this point I realized it was going to be a while. Almost an hour later I now have proof I have been into and out of Bulgaria. Next the train moves 15 minutes, and another passport check, now this is getting into Serbia, another hour passes. I think now finally after around 3hrs we are on the move and allowed into Serbia. For the first time on any trip across a border that the police came in and checked the train for i guess contraband, opening up secret spaces and looking in with flashlights. On now the night time is here and time to try to get soem sleep, 5 people in a 6 seat compartment but managed to get a decent amount. Our roomates from Macedonia get up to leave around 4am and I am wondering just how far we have traveled. When the train stopes and its Nis, where the Macedonians have to get off and transfer and its 4am, I realize holy smokes we are running late, very late.
Go back to sleep and wake up around 8am and still realize we have a few hours to go, all the time the train seemed to be moving fast, but now with daylight I can look and see that cars on the highway across the grass fields are blowing by the train and I realize we are moving slow. I guess I should have known from first looking at the train and the engine looked like the little engine that could..
Now the girls are realizing they are going to miss their connection to the Budapest train and are worried, I pull out my eurail map and schedule and try to figure out how in the next 4 days before their passes expire they are going to get to BUdapest, Prague and then back to Madrid.. I thought some of my travel days are bad, but what they have coming up is going to be ROUGH. Arrival in Belgrade and it is typical culture shock. Despite thinking I left Cyrillic alphabet behind, nope all the signs are in cyrillic and I am hopeing to never see cyrillic again in my life. I know its a terrible thing to say, but I think at this point of my trip the smallest things that used to make me laugh now just frustrate me. I cant find a Bankomat(ATM) at the train station and set off for an adventure with my spanish girls trying to find money and a bit to eat. While there is an exchange for cash office at the station that is the worst way to trade money and you will get a horrible rate. After walking in heat sweating and trying to get directions for a damn Bankomat, finally I go into the 4 star Mocska Hotel and ask for directions and they have a machine, YEAH.. now some food and drink and feeling a bit better, the poor girls had not eaten since 3pm the last day. Seriba trains are about as far from German trains as possible, no food car, no air conditioning, half decent seats, but man those German trains are looking very nice now.
Oh yeah the adventure isnt over, without a map and naturally no street signs, or signs in Cyrillic, finding the Hostel is as always an adventure, with the little directions I have, after 1hr I finally luck up and find the place. Nice place and the shower I took was very very refreshing. I am now settled down and as always the culture shock of arrival in a city, and this city where there is NOTHING in my Europe guide book, not a chapter was probably as tough as it comes. In Kaunas Lithuania I at least had a map, but no street signs.. So now I decide to go out and see what Belgrade has to offer. I must say why I decided to go here is tough, There was a great Article in the NY Times travel section in October of 2005 that I was like, ok if in europe gotta go here. It talked about great hidden bars and underground places, a way array of live music.. Maybe I will find that tonight or over the next few days that I am here, but walking around today I have not been impressed at all. True this city was just bombed 7 years ago by the good ole USA and NATO. If any country where I will be claiming I am from Canada, this might be the place, the feelings for the USA are not exactly that great.. Most countries I tell people I am from NYC, and its an exciting thing I dont think I am going to try it here..
Of the former 6 countries that make up the old Yugoslavia this is the heart and soul of it. Thier internet addresses still end in YU, I have seen many Yugo cars on the streets. There is still a dislike almost bordering on hatred towards people from Croatia and Bosnia, while its not war torn anymore there are some building in town that were bombed out and have not been torn down or rebuilt. The history of this city is all about occupation, war, burining down, rebuilding of the city. The typical tourist rip off was in effect, as I got on my first tram ride, and was told the price was 30 Dinar, I gave him a 50, and the driver took his hands off the controls started to make change, using his feet or the brakes to steer, I was like damn what about a coin box.. then he decides to not give me change saying the cost is 50.. I argue and say no its 30.. he gives me change of 15, so I paid 35... whatever, but if want to increase your tourism and have me go home and tell everyone about how great Belgrade is, that is not a good way to start..
Ok I have been tying long enough, as I said my post last week from the beach would have been boring cause my routine was the same, but now that I am back traveling and in big cities should have some stories.. Later