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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)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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