Trip Start Oct 20, 2010
Trip End May 03, 2011

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Where I stayed
Garden Hostel

Flag of Serbia  ,
Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Well, if I thought my train ride from Thessaloniki to Sofia was interesting, then I had another thing coming on my trip from Sofia to Nis.  Boarded the train at Sofia station (which is the most confusing place ever, having track AND platform numbers) and sat down in a random cabin in the second class carriage.  I had a feeling the journey was going to be difficult, when I stepped on the train and there was snow and ice in the corners of the corridors.

My cabin was suitably freezing, as the heating seemed not to be working, and even though I was wrapped up the cold temperatures (for 4 odd hours it probably didn't peak -5.  Not so bad when you're walking around but when you're sat in a cabin for 4 hours it's horrible.)

Was quite nervous when I got to the border because of my experiences entering Bulgaria, but actually the border crossing was the least problematic bit of the trip.  Took a while, but all I had to do was hand my passport to a couple of people, have it stamped and be asked where I came from before the people moved on to the next cabin.

Not long after this, however, before we left the border area, things began to get interested, as a young Serbian man came and sat in the carriage.  Something about him seemed shady and he immediately started talking to me at an unbelievable pace when he identified I was English.  He was friendly, but also at times could be quite sinister in his friendliness, and within minutes he had asked me if I would add him on Facebook, if he could listen to my iPod, if I had a camera/laptop (I said no, in case that made him curious about further investigating my possessions.)

He also asked me if I wanted to come stay with him and his mother in his town (which was apparently 100km from where I was actually going) and when I said I had paid for my accommodation he indicated he would reimburse me, so I had to say I was meeting friends!  My favourite quote of his was "I am a Nazi because I respect Adolf Hitler!"

The whole thing was very scary and the train couldn't arrive in Nis fast enough.  He insisted he get a taxi with me to the hospital (which my hostel was near) so I was ok, and to be fair, when we both got out of the taxi there he said goodbye and disappeared.  I don't think he was every out to rob me, but I have heard so many stories of locals befriending travellers on trains just to rob them later.  He was probably just being friendly after all, but he had an odd way of doing it!

Anyway, I went straight to my hostel (after a bit of epic confusion, there being two hostels with 'Garden' in the name right next to the hospital!) and basically crashed out for the night, as my hostel was some way from anything worth seeing.  The hostel I stayed at was excellent, and the guy was probably the friendliest hostel owner I have met.  He was also the team doctor for an Olympics winning Yugoslav handball team!

The next morning I intended to go to see the fortress in the centre of town and also the skull tower, a formidable structure partly constructed using the skulls of vanquished Serbian rebels, built by the Turks in the 19th century.  Unfortunately, it appears I came down with a case of epic lurgy over night, possible culprits being the freezing train ride and dad, who suffered a similar ailment just after arriving back in the UK.

Anyway, in the end all I got to see was the fortress, which is a shame, because the skull tower sounded horrifically awesome.  Got some great pictures in the fortress which I will upload when I am on the same floor of a building as my card reader!  Other than this, I mostly just ate Serbian fast food.  Serbian burgers are AWESOME.  They're roughly twice the size of kebab shop burgers in the UK and just as tasty, but super cheap!  I paid something like €1.70 for one with a bottle of coke!  Note to self, however, other people's sausages are not like British sausages!

The train ride to Belgrade was mercifully warm and event free, and the scenery between Nis and Belgrade is beautiful.  Serbia really has a stunning landscape and the 4 hour ride went by pretty quickly in the end, even if all I did was stare out of the window and consult my guidebook!
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Yer Dad on

Given that I contracted the lurgy AFTER I got back to the UK suggests (he said, defensively) that I was as much a victim as you, rather than the perpetrator, as I didn't have it to pass on while I was with you in Athens.

The train certainly wasn't the cause, as cold conditions won't cause the lurgy, only worsen it, as it's probably a virus of some kind. In fact, cold conditions are likely to even help kill it off - it's warm conditions that will help it to survive and spread.

Those small details aside, I hope you get over it quickly now, as it ain't nice.

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