A Night Train from Belgrade to Sofia
The sun was finally starting to set and armed with plenty of granola bars, bottled water, and our backpacks, we started walking to Belgrade’s central train station.
Despite it being almost 8 pm, the humidity was thicker than ever and by the time we reached the station I was drenched in sweat. There was only one train sitting at one of the few platforms and I assumed it was ours, even though I didn’t want to believe it.
It looked ancient. All of the carriages were random colors and many were covered with graffiti. The train also looked as though it had been sitting there all day, baking in the scorching sun.
My fear was reaffirmed when climbed inside to see for myself. It was indeed, a sauna.
Our departure time was set for 9 p.m, so after booking our sleeper (1750 dinar (about 15 euro) for a 2 bed cabin) I amused myself by writing and sketching in my journal, people watching, and peeing in a squat toilet one too many times.
As to be expected, 9:00 came and went and we were still waiting. Finally around 9:30, an attendant of some sort stood by the train. He looked important, so we went up to him and showed him our tickets.
He looked confused for a moment. “No, no. This for Skopje. Sofia…” he stopped speaking and began waving his hands towards the back end of the train. We walked towards the back and another attendant (who wasn’t completely intoxicated) explained that half the train was going to Skopje and half to Sofia. We were in the right place after all!
We climbed aboard and were shown our sleeper cabin, which despite feeling like the inside of a rhino’s ass, was surprisingly very nice. The bed was the most comfortable train bed I’ve ever slept on. Thankfully, the window opened but without the train moving it did nothing to help the heat.
It seemed like hours passed before we finally started to move. At last the train gathered enough speed so that a cool breeze could be felt through the open window.
I passed out almost immediately.
I awoke suddenly in pitch darkness.
“Sarah!” Luke’s voice sounded panicked. “I think we’ve been de-railed. The train isn’t on the tracks anymore. It feels like we’re sideways!”
Suddenly, a dog started barking and in front of our cabin two men started speaking in Serbian.
Then I remembered. Half of the train was going to Skopje. We must have been the other half that was left behind.
I cautiously stuck my head out of the window. The black sky sparkled with stars and our lone train carriage seemed to be sitting in the middle of a field. But we hadn’t been de-railed, we were waiting to be picked up.
I fell back to sleep.
I heard a sharp knock on the door and was immediately awoken for the second time. “Bor-der, bor-der” in a thick Serbian accent was being spoken from outside our cabin.
The knock came again.
I quickly opened the door to assure him that we were awake, and started fumbling around in my backpack for my passport.
It was early morning now. As the train slowed, the wind howled and flailing tree branches lashed up against our open window. The cool breeze from earlier now felt frigid but I didn’t want to close the window.
The border crossing went smooth enough and in thirty minutes, we were chugging along again, only four hours away from our expected 9 a.m arrival in Sofia.
Falling back to sleep was impossible and I spent the rest of the journey laying in my top bunk, listening to the wind and heavy sound of the train as it moved through farmland and small, seemingly forgotten towns.
It wasn’t until 10 a.m (the train would arrive late, as usual) that I noticed the signs of an approaching city.
Apartment buildings started popping up and I began to see more and more stray dogs.
More buildings, signs, and roads appeared. I stepped outside of our cabin and into the hallway to find the other passengers of our tiny one-carriage train staring off into the distance. The only train attendant came by and pointed to the blurry buildings on the horizon.
“Sofia” he grinned.
We made it and were about to start our next adventure. I didn’t know it then, but Sofia would teach me about first impressions and about not judging a place based on its exterior, specifically the exterior of its train station.
What do you think? Have you ever traveled by night train? Is it something you would like to do?