You know you are in the Balkans when ....
Trip Start Sep 03, 2011
54Trip End Jun 04, 2012
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... at the borders the passport control officers check your passports. They are scary and intimidating. We smiled and were very polite and nodded to being Australian and made no sudden movements.
..., the only public toilets available to use at the train station are squat ones!!!! I was desparate in Belgrade and all there was was squat toilets, I had jeans on and my knees were bad ohhh, the things we do in times of need, needless to say I emerged relieved and happy that I hadn't fallen in and my clothes were still clean!!!!!
Sofia to Ljubljana was EPIC! We left Wednesday night. Trying to buy the tickets in Sofia was only the beginning, to-ing and fro-ing from the ticket office waiting for tickets to be available, trying to decide whether to sit in seats with the dodgies or riding more securely and comfortably in a compartment with couchettes and disputing the ticket lady over the validity of the Eurail pass in Serbia was tiring and we hadn't even left Sofia!
I am not sure if is just the name or that my sister in law Shannon mentioned Ljubljana in her travels that drew us to it. We were heading to a place just 10 km's out of the Ljubljana, set by a lake and woods, a very ideal place to stop, relax and revive as we make our way back to Madrid. To get through by train we needed to go through Serbia on a night train to Belgrade and then a further 8 hour trip to Ljubljana through Croatia and Slovenia. The alternative had been to catch a 37 hour trip ferry to Venice feom Patras in Greece and then train to Ljubljana but the ferry wasn't leaving until Thursday night, so this way got us here quicker. Also, we read things had gotten pretty bad in Greece with a public suicide in the Syntagma Square which triggered protests and riots just after we left so we had left just in time.
Boarding the train in Sofia we had an enthusiastic station staff member trying to help us, I let him take my bag only to be hit up for a tip, so he got my 1 liv and €1 and "thank-you, but that's all I have". Our train conductor then took our tickets as we boarded and we found a compartment with couchettes to lay our weary heads. When we finally took off we were then subjected to a night of"tickets please, passports please, we keep the passports and the tickets ..." and being very unaccustomed to this we were quite taken back but thanks to a professional chain smoking volleyball player fellow passenger who had become a smoking buddy with the conductor and spoke decent English we were put at ease and reassured that this was a normal practice
After a reasonable night's rest we arrived into Belgrade at 7am in the morning 3 hours late, we missed the 5am train but we were able to make the 10.28am train. We were pleasantly surprised by Belgrade and found it a pleasant city in the middle of rejuvenation. We checked in our baggage while we roamed the streets of Belgrade for 2 and a half hours found their old castle, fortress and ruins.
We made it back to the train station and got on our 10.28 train and began our sojourn to Slovenia again with the ongoing presentation of tickets and passports each time we left a country and then entered a new one, to officials. Upside: we got our passports stamped. Once we arrived into Europe in Madrid in February they stamped our passports but going through France, Italy, Greece we didn't get stamped, so as officious as the passport control officers were, the upside was: we got stamps! All up I think we did the passport thing about 6 times in our 8 hour trip. Croatia from the train looked green and fertile and spread out, lots of pheasants in the fields, Andrew counted about 30. We probably didn't pay as much attention as we should have and I only just realised we hadn't taken any photos of the countryside, I only got the photo at the Zagreb train station. When we got to over the Slovenian border the conductor informed us that we were in a first class compartment and that the children would have to move to the 2nd class compartment next door (Andrew and I bought 1st class Eurail tickets) we only had 1 1/2 hours left so it was all good. The sun was just going down as we reached the scenic part of the train trip. With mountains, a river, alpine woodlands and small towns it was very picturesque.
We arrived into Ljubljana just before 8pm local time and had our accomodation owners find us just after 9pm
It has been 5 countries in one week and we are relieved to be in such a beautiful spot for Easter.
We hope you all keep safe and Happy for the Easter break!