Orient not-very-express to Belgrade

Trip Start Aug 20, 2007
Trip End Sep 25, 2007

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Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Sunday, September 23, 2007

Contrary to what it says on this travelblog, the name of the country is officially "serbia" now as they have formally split from Montenegro. If only the same could happen for Kosovo now...

I arrived to board my train almost an hour early in Istanbul, checking out the beautiful old 19th century train station where the Orient Express used to terminate and wanting to make sure I got the window seat in the sleeping compartment. I needn't have worried since the train was so empty there were many empty compartments, and once I explained in my bad Czech to the Serbian guy who was in the wrong place and thought he was going to share my compartment that actually, they don't put random men and women in the same sleeping compartment on trains (we were having trouble because the word for wife is the same as word for woman, and I was trying to assert that I was a woman and it was not normal to share a compartment with a man, and I think he thought I was trying to say that I was his wife, a scenario he seemed quite happy with.)  Eventually it was all OK and I settled in to my private little room, which would be my home for the next 24 hours. People dont' take trains that much in Turkey, as the train system is very slow and very curcuitous. The legend is that the Germans built it and they were on a low budget, but still being paid by the kilometer, so it has many twists and turns but few expensive things like tunnels that get you through the mountains more quickly. When they tried to introduced a high speed train in Turkey somebody did it wrong and many people died. The new government says they are making trains a priority, at least to connect the major cities.In any case, I soon discovered that my train to Belgrade was of a similar sort. Slooooooow and circuitous, although at least there were a couple of tunnels.

I had much time to contemplate the train to Belgrade, as it took 24 hours hours! The most eventful portion was at the Turkish border at 3 AM when they quick marched us all off the train, across the tracks, into the passport control office- and then made us sit there for almost two hours! I think there were some dodgy Romanians trying to get stuff through they shouldn't have. Everyone was freezing and complaining about standing there, especially as a guy kept going past with Turkish tea for the employees, but not for us! Where was that Turkish hospitality? I kept saying, yes please! as he walked past, but it didn't help. Finally after two hours we were allowed to go back to our bunks and go to sleep. Then the Bulgarian border patrols started. There must have been something going on because the check and double checks went on for hours, adding several hours on to our final journey. I'd hoped they might make up some of the time on route, but that might have required them breaking 20mph, at which point I guess the train would have spontaneously combusted.

I've included a video, along with photos of the serbian countryside, so you can get some idea of how pretty the country is, no indication that there was a war going on there less than ten years ago. I also enjoyed the slow journey through northern Turkey, Bulgaria and most of serbia, as you get more of a sense of leaving old cultures behind and entering new ones as the landscape slowly changes. Another advantage of train travel over planes. If I had just flown back from Turkey, I wouldn't have been able to experience how Serbia has many elements of east and west, as it's right in the middle and has been influenced by both.
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