The station in Belgrade was the worst I’ve ever seen and everything was in cyrillic so I couldn’t read anything. I spotted a group of young backpackers beside a train and joined them, hoping someone spoke English and that might be the right one. It was – with a tiny sign saying Sofia on the first carriage. I struggled to climb on board past refugees with no tickets, found my compartment and couchette (berth). However, it wasn’t what I had booked – a four berth, women only – and instead was 6 berths that I was to share with 5 smelly young men.
The conductor was a classic example of what I had been warned about. He angrily told me there was no such thing as women only compartments anywhere in Europe. Since I had been on one just a few nights ago I knew it wasn’t true but there’s no point in arguing.
Then I discovered the next compartment was set up for 4 and was only occupied by a single woman from India who, wisely, was not very comfortable about being on her own. So I gathered up my bedding and joined her.
The conductor was furious – told me that was 1st class and I needed to pay him 5 euros. Of course it wasn’t and I said no. We argued a bit, he threatened me that I wouldn’t get off the train without paying him and stood behind me as I firmly looked out the window with my back to him. I knew he was there because of the strong smell of alcohol. I also knew the young people around me wouldn’t let him harm me. He eventually gave up.
The train had been closed up, it was unbelievably hot, we opened every possible window, stuffing things into them to stop them automatically closing.
The bunks were very uncomfortable and mine wasn’t level so whenever the train brakes were applied I nearly rolled off etc, etc.
Needless to say I didn’t sleep much but I survived. We were only a half hour late getting into Sofia – not bad for this part of the world.
I am now staying in a beautiful apartment of a friend of a friend. It’s still very, very hot which is wearing, but I did get a good night’s sleep which is always welcome.
It has become apparent that this research trip is about meeting people and making connections more than seeing sights and searching for accommodation. I’ve learnt to go with what is, rather than pushing for what isn’t.
I’ll be out today exploring Sofia with a lovely lady I met yesterday.