When it comes to trying to navigate the rail network in Bulgaria there has so far never been a dull moment. It’s like you don’t know what to expect next and it’s never going to go to plan. It is a challenge, almost like they are trying to screw you up purposely. You probably won’t arrive on time, you will probably get lost at some stage and you certainly won’t know wtf is going on half the time. Anyways I do like a challenge, it keeps things interesting 🙂
I am actually finishing this off now as it was saved as a draft that I started writing when I was being hidden away in my own private sleeping compartment on a train from Burgas to Sofia. I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing. It was dark and for a second I did not have a clue where I was until I heard the sound of the train tracks and it dawned on me. It was my travel buddy calling “where are you?” she asked. I looked out the window and replied Bulgaria.. Somewhere. So we will miss the bus to Serbia then? She replied. Yea I guess we will, let’s see if there is a train and be late and lost instead. Trains here are much more fun!
So I arrived in Sofia 2 hours later than scheduled after being hidden away like I said in my own bedroom. Now the reason for this was because the night before in Burgas I had to run for the train. It turned out that I was trying to buy a ticket in the coach station and not the train station (They are besides each other). I got to the train station and the woman selling the tickets spoke no English. The train was leaving, the last train that night. The conductor was blowing his whistle so I ran down the platform to him shouting wait. “Do you speak English?” I asked. Yes he said, which turned out to be a blatant lie! I asked for a ticket and signalled that I wanted to sleep. He held up 3 fingers so I presumed he meant 30 Lev which I got out of my wallet. No, no he said, pulling me on to the train and leading me down a corridor. Now he held up more fingers. I didn’t know what he wanted so I opened my wallet that had about 100 Lev in it and he took out 70 (about €35), put the money in his back pocket and ushered me in to a room. Hence he wanted to hide me. Not all bad though, I get a private room on a train for the night for €35 and he probably takes the family out for the day 5*. Win win.
Anyhow I get to Sofia and we find a train to Serbia. Rushing (again) to find the platform and the train, a rail employee asks where we are going and guides us on to the train. Leads us to our seats then Insists on lifting our bags up on to the luggage rack. Then he proceeded to stand there smiling. I think he wants a tip I said. He says yes tip. So we give him a few Lev. He stands there, in his uniform asking for more money. We give him more but it is starting to become more than he probably earns in a day so we cut him off and he leaves us in peace. 2 other backpackers then get on with him and he does the same with them. They actually parted with 20 Lev (About €10) like we did. This guy must live in a fekin penthouse!
And then there is the next time I arrived in Sofia train station. Wrecked tired from the previous day and night where we had taken a ferry from Corfu to mainland Greece, a bus to Thessaloniki then hung around in Thessaloniki all day for a 1am bus to Sofia. We got on the train for the last leg of a long journey back to Veliko Tarnovo ready for a rest. The train did not leave, after about half an hour parked at Sofia station I got off to see what the delay was. It turned out that we had a train, quite a big train actually but we had no engine and they could not find one close by so we had to wait, and wait, and wait until eventually an engine came an hour or so later. Meaning we would miss our connection. But I am getting used to this and nothing surprises me anymore!
Skip back to my first experience. My Bulgarian friend had to order my ticket by translating over my phone that I was relaying back and forward between him and the lady in the ticket counter as I had a language barrier. He told me where I have to change and the number of the connecting train. Easy enough right? Wrong, not when you don’t even understand the alphabet! Anyhow all proud of myself I had got off at the right station for my connection and found the train with my number on it. Climbed aboard and was happy out, 20 minutes to my destination. That would turn out to have been 20 minutes if I had got on the correct train. It was the right number but it was going in the wrong fekin direction! Luckily this time the inspector spoke English. Although he made me buy a ticket for my mistaken journey he was helpful and sat me down near the front. Informing me that we pass through lots of villages and he will tell me where to get off and change. About an hour later and nearly back at the Romanian border where I had entered Bulgaria he told me to get off and change at this town in the middle of nowhere. Here I did lots more waiting before my connection.
Next week I am going to Sofia for a flight. I think I will take the bus 🙂