Wednesday, 2 May 2012
After the stresses of getting from Athens to Sofia I was looking forward to getting back to the relative simplicity of the trains and my nicely scheduled and pre-booked itinerary. After a couple of days in Sofia I was due to take the midday train to Belgrade that connected with the night sleeper to Budapest, my next and last stop. I had the ticket from Sofia to Budapest already and the sleeping car reservation from Belgrade to Budapest, but what the nice man at Eurorail had not been able to do in advance was get me a seat reservation for the first leg. "Not a problem" he said "just go to the station when you get to Sofia and they will be able to do that for you". This afternoon, I dutifully trek out to the station and after the usual round of being passed from pillar to post because i am in the wrong queue I finally find myself a the international rail desk. "I need a seat reservation to Belgrade" I say, "11.55 on Friday". "Ah yes" she says, "That train no longer runs"... "But I have a ticket" I say, she shrugs.... So there is no train for me. At this point I am really beginning to wish I had flown from Athens to Budapest.... This has got to be the most convoluted way of getting anywhere that I have ever experienced.... Fortunately the bus station is right next door and so I stomp over (it's 30 degrees and I am really, really hot and really, really annoyed, I am allowed to stomp...) and look at the bus schedules. Fortunate there is a bus to Belgrade on Friday at 9am and its only £18 and they have space.... Thank God for Eurolines. According to the lady on the bus counter it takes five hours. Looking later at he map I was sceptical as its looks much further than Thessaloniki which took 5.. I did some googling and found it was actually more like 7-9 hours.... Joy. Still that should be ok as my train from Belgrade doesn't leave until 10pm... So as long as we don't get stuck anywhere I should make it..... Interestingly, I looked at the website where I got the idea for this journey from, the man at seat61, to see what he had to say for himself, telling me to catch trains that no longer exist... And see that he has changed the route to and from Athens in the last few days and now suggests routing through Bucharest.... Clearly i am not the only person to have discovered that the Belgrade route is no longer viable by train.... I must admit his new route takes longer and Bucharest is quite along way out of the way... And to be honest if I had seen the route he now proposed I don't think I would have done it.... So even with all this hassle in the last few days I count myself very fortunate that he had not updated his advice before i booked as I wouldn't have wanted to miss this trip for the world... It's amazing!