Sofia Travel Blog› entry 8 of 24 › view all entries
The Serbian NR train to Bulgaria was more what Zvonka remembered of Yu trains of her youth... ancient and graffiti-covered, it rolled out of Belgrade late that night. If there are 10 nice trains, we always seem to get the oldest, crappiest one in the fleet. We settled into chocolate colored seats that had been soaking up the sweat of travelers in this sweltering compartment since maybe the late seventies. Our own perspiration quickly infiltrated the seats and released the funk of the ages which penetrated our clothing and skin and followed us for days. The compartment did stay empty most of the trip, with the exception of a girl who told us that she'd ridden the train three hours into Belgrade to go to the beach and escape the heat (the "beach" is a little stretch of sand on the Sava River.
Sofia must have been the hub for all rail traffic through the area with massive rail yards decorated with trains and equipment spanning the last 60 years. The central rail station was a preview of the general architecture of the city which consists of massive concrete Socialist architecture and monuments overlain with a more recent veneer of advertising and signage. Navigation is difficult with a combination of Cyrillic script and Bulgarian language... We found ourselves more decoding than reading signs... A train schedule is just a mass of characters until the city names are sounded out letter by letter and matched phonetically with the sound of the city name.
Sofia also has a radial layout rather than being a grid like a western city, so following a street out takes you on a slow vector away from your target if you're not careful. It took a day to really get our bearings and have much luck finding things we were looking for, which actually allowed for more exploring since it was more an exercise in wandering than a tour of the city.
We had booked a hostel which turned out to be pretty nice. It was probably the most hostel-like hostel we stayed in, with a big common area and dormitory style rooms
both packed with travelers from around the world. After dropping off our giant backpacks, we set out on what would become a routine, looking for a park to nap in after the overnight train ride.
Heading farther out we foundÂ Saint NediaÂ church. A big funeral was in progress, obviously of someone pretty well know since all the local TV stations were there to cover it. It was an interesting crowd, plenty of people bringing flowers and viewing the body, but very few seemingly in mourning. People seemed to be coming more as a tribute.
We finally found our park in shadow of probably one of the most dismal monuments we'd ever seen.Â The hulking, 7-story tall edifice was slowly crumbling, with much of the original black marble fallen away, exposing a skeleton of internal support beams.
Back at the hostel we ate the free pasta and beer dinner, made some emergency checks of the internet to reroute our next leg of the trip, and I think that's where we decided to go south for the rest of the trip instead of north into Romania. "Located in a tiny fishing village on the shore of the Black Sea, easily reached, but centuries from the rest of the world" the advertisement for Kraymorie read. We're there!
The next day we discovered even more unexplored areas of the city. The lady's market is like a swap meet, selling every kind of clothing and tube socks, and fruit, and toys, and radio tubes, and.... pretty much everything, out of tiny stalls that extend forever down a winding street near the heart of the city. The Muslim section has mosques and minarets.
Once again, late at night, we headed to the train station for our 9 hour journey to the Black Sea. When morning comes, we'd be about as far east as Europe goes, in village built at the site of a now abandoned Soviet resort on the Black Sea.