Transect across Bulgaria
Bulgaria Travel Blog› entry 11 of 24 › view all entries
The first thing we learned about Macedonia was that you can't get there from Bulgaria very well. This meant riding the train all day across Bulgaria back to Sofia, taking another train all night up to Serbia, then back down to Skopje, Macedonia... only then we could start the 3 hour drive down to Ohrid. It was going to be more than 24 sleepless hours of traveling. At least the day train was a good transect across Bulgaria - Here are some shots out the window of the train.
We found out that most of Bulgaria is relatively flat with endless agricultural fields and dotted with industrial centers. There would be an hour of corn and sunflower fields serviced by donkey-drawn carts, like going back 100 years in time, then suddenly a town anchored by some massive communist era iron smelter or chemical factory or cement plant - all on a monumental scale, with high rise housing for the workers.
As we approached the Sofia end of the country, flat farmland gave way to rolling hills, and soon we were climbing a steep river gorge into the mountains. As we approached Boyovo, we were traveling along a rushing river flowing between pine covered limestone cliffs and hills. At least the air was cooler, and we stood in the hall of the train watching the countryside go by the window, like a wide-screen TV, with the cool breezes blowing on our faces in the still-hot train car.
Now that we had spent the day crossing Bulgaria by train, we got ready to spend the night on more trains.
I should mention that as always, this was all very difficult for foreigners. It takes lots of waiting in various lines and cryptically numbered windows, questioning grumpy, non-English speaking ticket ladies, and running around the big railway station studying Bulgarian language time schedules (remember, you can't even make out the city names unless you can decode the Cyrillic script), so leave some time to figure it out - we saw a lot of travelers wandering and waving their arms wildly at ticket ladies so I"m guessing that it's a common problem.
My advice here is to locate the little store run by the national railroad - you'll recognize the symbol from the trains. There are a ton of "Information Counters" at the stations, but they're all just thinly disguised travel agencies that usually service only one bus company that has one route - like everywhere in the Balkans. The federal railroad office has some English/Serbian speaking workers who can sell you a ticket right there, for less. We were even able to book the next train from Nis to Skopija and pay all at once, something that we'd been unable to do at the regular counters in the country.
Once we located the right track we were rolling towards Macedonia! ...well, we were headed a hundred miles north and back around some mountains, but ultimately headed for Macedonia.