A Travellerspoint blog

Serbia

Day forty-one - the long journey to Ljubljana

Sunday 6 October 2019

overcast 18 °C

Beograd Centar AKA Prokop

The train to Ljubljana left the station at 10.35am. Beograd Centar is a strange building. Apparently, the stately and historic old building was closed and will now become a museum. It seems to relate to a big waterfront development. The new station, known locally as Prokop, has not an ounce of beauty about it. It’s basically a concrete slab with a station underneath and a very underwhelming entrance. Apparently, it's unfinished, which is an under-statement. However, the staff are very helpful and there is a cafe, ATM and currency exchange machine near the ticket office.

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Seats were allocated for this journey - I sat in the wrong one as I assumed that the number facing me as I sat down was the right one, but no, the number is on the back of the seat. The train was pretty busy with both locals and tourists. The young woman sitting opposite me was Slovenian and returning home after visiting relatives in Belgrade.

Lively train journey

The train was pretty lively with groups of family and friends travelling together, returning home after a weekend away. There was something very good-natured about people’s interactions. I was glad I’d brought food. I’d also downloaded a new book and audiobook for the journey as being stuck on a train for over 10 hours can get rather tedious. Like previous train journeys, once we were travelling through hills, the scenery got more interesting. There are some pretty archaic stations but however small, there is always an official in hat and uniform, signalling when the train can leave.

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Don't mess with the border police

Travelling from Serbia to Slovenia means going through two borders which means four different checks. At the Serbian/Croatian border the police had spent a lot of time looking at three guy's ID cards. The police moved off but then returned to tell the three guys to get their bags and leave the train. I have no idea what was going on. And with armed police, no-one was going to argue.

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Finding my way to Galeria Rooms

It was a shame that it got dark just as we were getting near Ljubljana as it looked as if the train follows the river as it approaches the town. It was meant to arrive just before 9pm but was late due to the incident at the border when the guys were asked to get off. I had to get to my accommodation by 10pm as that’s when the receptionist would be leaving. Although the room was reasonably near the station, again, arriving in the dark meant that I wasn’t sure which exit to go out of. Once I worked that out it was plain sailing, especially as Slovenia is in the EU and I could use mobile data and get directions from google.

Galeria rooms, my accommodation, is reasonably priced and near the centre. No frills but a nice big room, a huge bed, a kettle and decent shower. After eating non-stop on the train I didn’t really need to eat again particularly as it was late and I hadn’t really had a chance to work out where I could go to get food. Also, the temperatures in the evening are beginning to drop so going out again was definitely not appealing.

Posted by Cath_Greig 02:50 Archived in Serbia Tagged trains croatia serbia belgrade slovenia ljubljana Comments (0)

Day forty - a day in Belgrade

Saturday 5 October 2019

overcast 19 °C

Exploring the City

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My host Sanja advised me that there was a bus right outside that could take me into town. Looking at the map, it was probably only a 30 minute stroll so thought I’d find my way on foot. It’s also a better way for me to orientate myself in a new town. I was intrigued by the Armenian flags that were flying from lampposts together with Serbian flags. Doing some research I discovered that the Armenian Prime Minister was on a state visit.

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The buildings on Kneza Miloša were very imposing - some were embassies - statues seemed to be a popular adornment.

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To get into the Centre I had to turn left into Terazije Street - passing the famous Hotel Moskva - the most expensive place to stay in town. It certainly looks very grand. And the restaurant/cafe looked very stylish. Just along from there, Terazije Street was cordoned off for an event that seemingly involved cars. No idea what it was about, but when I passed by later, there was a row of vintage Fiat 500s lined up.

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Sugary breakfast

The centre of the City becomes pedestrianised, and is pretty easy to navigate. Terazije is the main shopping street with narrow, interesting streets leading off it. There is the obligatory Republic Square, several theatres, museums and other grand buildings. I started by getting a coffee and some breakfast at Baristocratia coffee society . Through a bit of poor communication on my part, I ended up with a croissant, Nutella and a great slab of cake that I couldn’t possibly eat.

Opposite the cafe, the Katapult Shop is an interesting store full of stalls with lots of handmade goods. I walked around, exploring side streets and independent shops. By lunch time I looked around for somewhere to eat and found that the menus were pretty 'meaty'. Pizza seems to be incredibly popular here but not something I fancied. Managed to google and find a vegetarian restaurant called Mayka which did a really good lentil dhal.

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Belgrade Fortress

I was going to do the free walking tour in the afternoon but had to go back to the apartment to pick up my power bank as my phone's battery was running low and I wanted to be able to take photos. I got the bus back, to save time. Or I should say that I got the tram back. It was extremely crowded but somehow, people manage to ram themselves on. I also went to the station to check out the cost of a train ticket to my next destination, Ljubljana, on the following day. By the time I did this, I just couldn’t get back in time for the start of the tour.

Instead, I walked to the fortress and gardens in the Stari Grad area as there are good views over where the Sava and Danube river meet. There is no admission charge and being a Saturday it was really busy. Great to see so many people enjoying themselves, particularly young people with their friends. There is a lot to see in the fortress as well as the views - definitely worth a visit. Like so many cities, Belgrade has a history of being occupied or under siege. Most recently, ethnic conflict and the fight for independence during the Yugoslav wars - 1991 to 2001 - resulted in the break up of Yugoslavia into separate states, including Serbia.

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I made my way back, picking up some food en route as there isn’t really any place to eat close to where I’m staying. I also got stuff for the train journey which was going to be another mega one. I made use of my day ticket as it was getting dark. Again, the tram was completely rammed. There were some guys with brass instruments waiting at the bus stop. As I'd walked around I'd seen several bands playing near Republic Square. I'd also seen a demonstration near the Parliament building so wondered if any of this was connected.

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After eating I relaxed with my book and had a nice quiet night in. Definitely nothing to watch on TV!

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Posted by Cath_Greig 12:57 Archived in Serbia Tagged buildings statues bus river serbia fortress Comments (0)

Day thirty-nine - three train journey to Belgrade

Friday 4 October 2019

semi-overcast 17 °C

Belgrade bound

My first train was at 9.30 and as the station was just 15 minutes away, I didn’t need to be out of the apartment too early. The pavement of Kozloudui Street was very smooth compared to other streets near the apartment making it much easier to drag my case along. There are lifts at the station so no problems about navigating stairs. The challenge would be finding the right platform.

There are cafes in the station so I grabbed a coffee - it wasn’t the best but OK. There are several little shops and cafes outside that serve both the bus and train stations. Apparently platform numbers don’t come up until the train arrives so I had to wait to find out the platform. Trains arrive and are available to board a good while before departure time - probably because there's only one train a day. It’s not like the Bristol to Paddington train that runs every 30 minutes.

Fag breaks and border control

I was steered towards the platform and I knew it was the right train from pictures on the man in seat 61 website. It’s only two carriages long and covered in graffiti. Very distinctive. The train left on time but seemed to go at a snail’s pace. Knowing I had two changes ahead, it didn’t fill me with confidence. Each time the train stops it seems that it’s a good excuse for the smokers to get out and have a fag, including the conductor/ticket collector. At the Bulgarian/Serbian border before the first stop of Dimitrovgad, the border control guys came on board but once they’d finished, we sat waiting for ages. I looked at the time thinking that I would never make the connection when I realised that we were moving into a different time zone, going back an hour. What a relief. Plenty of time to crawl along and have loads of ciggies.

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Of course, once you are over the border, the same process happens with Serbian border control. At Dimitrovgrad, we were shepherded onto the next train bound for Niš. There are no signs so you have to put your trust in the guards and rail staff.

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On the journey to Nis the train picked up the pace and as we headed towards the mountains the scenery became more interesting passing through a particularly stunning gorge- Sicevo Gorge. Up until this point we had been travelling across the plains - not my favourite scenery.

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Niš to Belgrade

We arrived at Niš on time and had a 30 minute wait. As advised by the man is Seat 61, there were no refreshments served at the station. A hot drink would have been nice but I had plenty of food and water to keep me going. I got chatting to a fellow traveller. He was from Norway - his heritage was Iraqi Kurd. He told me how he is always seen as a foreigner wherever he travels, even to Iraq. A salutary story.

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The last leg of the journey involved a better class of train that was also speedier. Jiwan, my new companion, bemoaned the fact that he hadn’t realised how long the journey was and wished he’d taken the bus which takes about 5 hours - less than half the time. I hadn’t looked into buses but it was definitely something to consider for any future travel plans. Certainly, a lot of bloggers recommend Flixbus as a good way of getting around.

Finding the apartment

Finally, we arrived at Belgrade Centar station. I have to say, it isn’t the most inspiring station. We managed to find our way out and Jiwan helped me find the apartment that was meant to be close by. I was mindful that he still had to find somewhere to stay so felt guilty that he was going out of his way to help me. Arriving in the dark is never good but I knew it was in one of the soviet blocks rising up behind a big concrete wall - but it wasn’t clear how to get there. Luckily, I spotted steps and Jiwan helped me get the case up before he set off to find his way into town. I hoped he would find somewhere to stay.

I found the block 30 and two really helpful young women helped me get to the right floor using an ancient soviet lift. I was greeted by Sanja the host's, father who showed me how everything worked. It’s a lovely little apartment with some thoughtful touches and great views of the city from the eleventh and a half floor!

Planning ahead

One thing I had to do before the end of the evening was decide on the last leg of my journey home. I originally intended to take the night train from Ljubljana to Munich but accommodation there - probably due to Oktoberfest - was astronomically expensive. Everything seemed to be €200+ per night. Digging around, it seemed to make more sense to go to Trieste instead and then get the train to Venice to do the overnight train to Paris. I booked a hotel in Trieste and all my trains from Trieste onwards including the Eurostar and train to Bristol. Just had to hope everything would run like clockwork.

Posted by Cath_Greig 06:30 Archived in Serbia Tagged trains travel serbia sofia bulgaria Comments (0)

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