A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about trains

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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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)

Day thirty-six - the journey home begins

Tuesday 1 October 2019

sunny 29 °C

Funicular fun

With a day to kill before getting the overnight train, I began with a leisurely start to the day, making sure everything was packed. Ironically, being in a smaller room made it more likely that I’d overlook something in the clutter. My plan was to get my bag down to the station to leave it in the left luggage lockers so that I was bag free for the rest of the day. Before getting the Tunel funicular, I stopped for a coffee and was besieged by a friendly cat who seemed to think my bag was great fun.


Taking the funicular down and then the tramway to the station made it a smooth journey but when I got there, all of the lockers were full, upsetting my plan. When I’d looked at left luggage options earlier in the week, I’d found a site called BagBNB. I needed another coffee so found a cafe with WiFi and booked my luggage into a hotel close to the station. BagBNB site is a start up and I have to say, their business idea saved me from a hideous day of dragging my bag around. Also the people in the hotel where I left the luggage where very helpful.


Baklava and ice-cream

Once free of luggage I decided to do a bit of public transport hopping, starting by going to the tramway to Kabatas as there is another funicular that goes up to Taksim Square. I rewarded myself with lunch plus a baklava with ice-cream at Sutis at the top of Istikial Caddesi. I practically rolled down the street after such indulgence. Although it’s great that the street is pedestrianised, it’s also incredibly busy and full of the larger chains including familiar names such as Mango and H&M, so less interesting. Diverting off into the side streets you are rewarded with small interesting shops and cafes as well as getting a slice of Istanbul life as people sit on doorsteps or shout to each other from balconies.


Beyoglu to Sultanahmet

Hopping on the train from Tophane to Sultanahmet means that you enter a very different type of district. The houses here have a distinct style and many of them are wooden with overhanging upper floors. It’s less frenetic in this part of the town once you get away from the main tourist spots by the bazaars and mosques.


It’s tempting to keep on the move when you are on a trip like this but it’s also good to find a quiet, shady spot to read and rest. Gulhane Park is large with lots of seating and shade.


As there are no refreshments on the overnight train or at the station, I bought snacks and water to keep me going whilst en route. Basically, it’s a 12 hour journey with several stops for border control. The man in seat 61 https://www.seat61.com is a mine of information about train travel and the availability or more likely, unavailability of food is high on the list of essential information. The train leaves Halkali station at 21.50 but it takes one hour from Sirkeci to Halkali via the Marmaray line. To be on the safe side, I thought it best to give plenty of time despite Halkali sounding rather lacking in facilities. I collected my luggage from the BagB&B hotel and headed out.

The Marmaray line to Halkali

The lift down to the Marmaray line has a long queue because it can only take about ten people, less if there is a wheelchair or luggage. It’s meant for disabled access, people with buggies or heavy luggage but the queue was actually full of overweight guys who obviously couldn’t be bothered to use stairs. It seemed strange that they’d queue rather than walk.

The Marmaray line was busy but there were less and less people as the train went further away from the city. It took less than an hour but I was still glad that I gave myself loads of time. I hadn't quite recovered from the taxi incident. Once at the station there was absolutely nothing to indicate which platform the train would be going from but when I asked someone in the waiting room, I was told we had to wait until called.

Overnight train to Sofia

Eventually, about 40 minutes before the train was due to leave, someone came to collect us and we dutifully made our way down to the platform. Luckily there are lifts at the station for those of us with heavy luggage. A bit like the Tbilisi to Yerevan train, there are stewards who show you to your compartment. It turned out that I had the space to myself which was great. This was a far superior train to the previous overnight one - comfortable beds, a sink and even a fridge with water, juice and biscuits. Although I knew I wouldn’t have the perfect sleep, it was definitely a pretty pleasant space to be in. There was also quite a camaraderie built up with fellow travellers as we chatted in the corridors before the train started.


Quite a mix of people but from what I could tell from the people in my carriage, again, I seemed to be the only person from the UK.

Posted by Cath_Greig 09:29 Archived in Turkey Tagged trains parks istanbul Comments (0)

Day eighteen - last day in Tbilisi

Friday 13 September 2019

sunny 24 °C

With a day to kill before the night train to Yerevan, I had a leisurely breakfast. Chatted to an English couple who apparently live 6 months of the year in Cyprus. Slight tinge of jealousy! They had taken the train from Kutaisi to Tbilisi the previous day and apparently it was pretty horrendous. So glad we made the decision to do the journey by taxi. I took my time packing up - with about ten hours to fill there was no point rushing about. I decided to take a taxi to the station as I couldn’t face lugging my case around. I have to admit it was not a good buy. Although sturdy, it is a heavy case even before anything is put in it. In countries with few lifts it is a bit of a nightmare. The driver at the hotel took me at a cost of 10 lari.

There is a left luggage place at the station costing 10 lari. I just wanted to dump my bag so that I could spend the rest of the day unencumbered. Going on the metro without a big case was a relief. The turnstiles are tricky to negotiate, the escalators seem endless and the trains are incredibly busy. On the plus side though, they only cost 0.50 lari however far you go.

I got the metro back into the centre and stopped off at Marjanishvili station to return to the Pharaoh cafe for a good cup of Turkish coffee. I decided to do a lot of walking to tire myself out as much as possible before the train journey. Now that I had a better idea of how different areas related to each other, I could avoid the dreadful roads that are impossible to cross. I hadn’t forgotten our experience when we had tried to get to the flea market when we first arrived. We had made the mistake of walking to the river whereas we should have walked down David Aghmashenebeli Avenue to the next bridge. This is the street with lots of cafes and the craft beer bar. There are also a few interesting craft shops. I got to the flea market also known as dry bridge market and had a bit of a wander round. There were some bags I liked but they were far too small for me.


I rested at the nearby park close to the hotel that I’d just left. The parks in Tbilisi are well used. Lots of seating and plenty of shade. I decided to have lunch at Mama Terra again - the veggie cafe near the funicular. I had Pad Thai - quite nice but not as good as the ones that my sister makes from a Linda McCartney recipe. My next port of call was the old city as I wanted to visit the Armenian Cathedral and also wander around some of the backstreets. There are a lot of beautiful but crumbling buildings down the side roads but there is also a lot of restoration going on, too.



I didn’t realise at the time but we had walked past the entrance to the Armenian cathedral on the walking tour. It’s on Samghebro Street that leads to the sulphur baths. I started to walk up a nearby steep street and realised that I was heading to the fortress and some great views of the city. I decided to drop down and sit in Rike Park for a while. The queue for the cable car was really long.



My walk back took me past all the places in the old town that had now become so familiar. I popped into the Galleria to use their facilities - it’s good to locate where the free and clean toilets are located in any city! I had a final stroll up Rustaveli to have something to eat at the Iveria cafe close to the Radisson Blu. Had a tasty courgette soup and a rather unusual banana cake. The advice for travelling on the train was to take food and particularly water as there is nothing available on the train. I had already bought simit at a Turkish bakery so got fruit, crisps and a large bottle of water from a nearby supermarket. As it was now dark I decided that I might as well go to the station and hang around there, even though there were still a couple of hours to go.


There is a waiting area in the station booking hall. It’s OK but the constant noise of the buzzer is a bit intrusive. At about 9.15 I retrieved my bag. I had hoped that the train would go from Plarform one, next to the left luggage but no - it was platform 3. Although there was an escalator back up to the booking hall, I could only see a long flight of steps to the platform. It also wasn’t clear which platform was which as there was no signage. I couldn’t face lugging my case down then up again. Luckily a fellow passenger confirmed which was 3 and helped me with my bag

The train arrives about 30 minutes before departure as it’s quite a performance getting everyone on the train. Some people were already on the train from Batumi. I think there were 16 carriages - mine was carriage 15. I chatted to a guy who is studying in the US and a man from Djibouti, both of whom were heading to Armenia for the first time. A random train driver looked at our tickets and told us which area of the platform to wait on. It was good advice - it would have been quite a trek if we’d stood at the wrong end. At first I felt a bit stressed about finding the right carriage but they were all numbered and a steward shows you to your seat/bed. The couple in the next compartment were very friendly Geordies and I shared the compartment with a woman from Denmark who was also very friendly. I’d decided to go on the equivalent of first class with only two to a compartment with clean sheets, pillow cases and towel provided as well as a little care package of toothpaste and comb etc. The toilets were ok -I’ve seen worse but unfortunately there was no running water. Luckily I had wet wipes - destroying my eco credentials - and water for teeth brushing. At the other end though of the carriage was hot water for drinks. Although I had tea bags, I didn’t have a cup. Note to self, in future bring a collapsible cup for travelling.

Before setting off, our passports were taken away which was a bit concerning but they were returned with a stamp showing our exit from Georgia. There was a scary looking guy walking up and down the train - he looked a bit like Lurch from the Addams Family. We thought he might be security as he glanced into all of the compartments. There is red tape over everything. I naively thought it was to hold things together but we realised it was to stop people hiding contraband in the vents as the tape would show any signs of tampering.


The train is slow with noisy tracks and I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep not helped by my fellow traveller who snored for Denmark! I think I managed to sleep on and off during the night but at the Armenian border we were woken up as we then had to show passports to Armenian border control. Luckily we didn’t have to get off the train. I think I must have gone comatose after this as suddenly we were being told to wake up - we were nearly in Yerevan!

Posted by Cath_Greig 09:20 Archived in Georgia Tagged trains travel railway tbilisi Comments (0)

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