Never go there on a Monday.
25/01/2009 - 30/01/2009
The train left with barely anybody I asked to make sure that I was on the right train, I was. The only fun thing to do was count the Tesco billboards and even that got a bit boring after a while. Customs was pretty straight forward, I pretty much seemed invisible to them after I showed them my British passport and finally got the first stamp in my passport.
I arrived in Belgrade, the station wasn't really a station more and of a line. It was a cold rainy night and I was getting tired. Fortunately I had directions on how to get to the hostel. The first major problem I encountered was the street names. In all my wisdom I had written and drawn maps in English unfortunately Serbia writes the street names in Cyrillic only, that’s if the decide to put street names on at all. Through the use of my, now rain soaked, map and good guess work I headed in the write direction. When I got roughly got to the place where I thought it should be, I asked one of the locals walking past for directions. They told me I was at the right address, the sudden thought of being in the same situation as Budapest jumped into my head, I was not happy. I looked at the surrounding buildings and across the road, couldn't see it. At that point I raised my head to scream, and the green and white light caught my eye, I was directly beneath it.
The hostel was all but dead except for a staff member and a girl in the kitchen, that’s how it stayed for most of my stay. I didn't know what to or see in Belgrade, most of my knowledge came from the conflict in the 90's and from football. When I woke I headed to the bank to withdraw some money. I withdrew 30,000 Serbian Dinar., the notes were crisp 1,000 Dinar and you could still get a bit of ink of the paper if you rubbed hard enough. I then headed to the Tourist information, it was shut with a nice little note that it would be open in 10 minutes. I headed around to try and get smaller denominations of the notes I had. The slight inconvenience I had was that everything cost less than 100 dinars. So again I had to go another global company, starbucks. It was only place that I could be sure where they would have change. After my Mocha I went back to the tourist information. The girl sat behind the desk in and looked as miserable as sin. I asked if she spoke English and she said she did. Well she launched into a speech which was fast and had a severe Serbian twang to it, the only bit I understood was that all museums, galleries and public attractions were shut. It’s just what I wanted to hear. I had two days in Belgrade and one of the days was a write off as there was nothing to do! I walked around the city centre but it was quite boring. I thought I’d see if the castle was open. When I got near the castle there was people walking round and all them were eating popcorn. The castle had a good view over the Danube, and it also had lots of military gear lying around.
That night it was the young guy who was working. We got talking I was quite amazed to find that for his 8hour shift he was only getting paid 10Euro, I felt quite ashamed when he asked how much I got paid back home. One of his friends came round with some beer, it wasn't long before they asked me about my knowledge and perception of Serbia. That quickly led onto Kosovo, and there feelings were quite straight forward, Kosovo should still be part of Serbia. They showed me pictures and films of the protests that happened the day before Kosovo became independent. At that point I decided to try and change the subject that I had seen a Scottish pub in the highlights page of there brochure. They both laughed, when I asked what they were laughing at they told me that was where they got there LCD TV from. Normally I hate themed bars, but I thought it would be funny to see how Serbians seen the Scottish. I don't think they have ever been to Scotland, it was as Scottish as the French Revolution. The whiskey was American and the beer was Danish, not any sign of sawdust on the floor at all.
I had wanted to see the war museum, I had heard that it had some interesting material. The war museum would have been a lot more interesting if the wrote the material in English. Most of the English signs were saying “copy of....” or “replica...” as most of the artefacts were taken by the Germans during the Second World War. After trying my best to try and decipher what was going on I decided to leave, when I went through the metal detector it went off, however no one seemed to care, Just as I was putting my hand on the door the guard shouted something at me. I turned and told him I only spoke English, the smile came across his face was quite scary. He just said I had another room to see. It was the room I had wanted to see, the room was full of guns and material that was used in the conflict. It was quite harrowing. Firstly the full uniform of an USAF was hung up with some pride, the most shocking, possibly distasteful, was the blood stained machete that was supposedly used by Kosovo Albanians. It was more than enough for me.
Belgrade is quite strange place as there seems to be no one aged between 20-40 years old, the only thing I could put it down to was there smoking habit. From what I seen they wake up and have a coffee and 20 cigarettes and that is how they go for the rest of the day, I don't think I have seen a country smoke so much in my life.
The train left on time I was quit glad to be leaving Belgrade, the people were friendly but the there was little to do. Customs was a little more interesting this time. The customs officer for Serbia came in he looked at my passport and smiled. He asked if I had any cigarettes or alcohol I said no, he told me I should have because I wouldn’t get it cheaper in Bulgaria. He then went on to ask if I had narcotics again I said no. he finally asked if I had any woman stashed away, this time I just shook my head. He laughed and said that really missed out in Serbia then. The tone changed when I reached the Bulgarian customs. They searched the whole compartment and had to show my passport 4 times before I passed through. On arrival to Sofia I was confronted by taxi drivers trying to get me to use their cab, after I got rid of most of them it was the turn of the beggars asking for money. I was given a name of a semi-reliable taxi company. I found one and jumped in I didn't even try to haggle over the price, it cost 5Euro.
I arrived at the hostel and was promptly asked if I was the Scottish guy, as I was later than I had planned. After filling the forms and showing my passport I was shown to my room where I quickly realised that I had to go outside to the bathroom, normally not to much of a problem but Sofia was freezing. After that I had some tea before heading to bed, where I was sharing with 5 Koreans girls and an Aussie bloke. The room that night was freezing and I had to go to bed fully dressed. The next day I wondered round the town centre and tried to find a DHL. My laptop wasn't working and I was going to send back to Scotland, however the price of sending it back home was over £125, so I decided it wasn't really worth it.
After doing some sightseeing I went back to the hostel, the girl that worked there had a look at the laptop and got it working, so I was happy. Strange thing was when the laptop wasn't working I was so protective of it then as soon as it was working again I started throwing and round and not caring that much about it.
I got speaking to an English guy who was staying at the hostel and he suggested going for a drink later at the local pub. I, of course, agreed. When I was getting ready 2 girls came in, one of them was quite distraught. I asked what the matter was and they had just come from Istanbul on the bus ride from hell. They said that they were on it for longer than they expected and hat they were extremely dehydrated. At that point I decided was going to get the train to Istanbul. I offered them water and paracetamol, but they had already done that and were getting better. Later that night I went and met the folk in the pub. To say it seemed a strange mix of crowd would be an understatement. A guy, in his 40's, and old English retired couple who now lived in Spain, as well as me and the Australian bloke. It was ok, it was strange watching the English guys’ perv over the Bulgarian girls, it was quite funny, and after 2 pints I said my farewells and went to bed. This time I asked for a second blanket.
I was leaving today to head to Istanbul, so I had to go get my ticket. Again I found buying my ticket at the office to be the cheapest way, and a lot cheaper than the prices I could find quoted on the net. I didn't really do much that day except from window shop. Later back at the hostel I found out why it was so cold, one of the Korean girls had removed the plug for the heater so she could charge their stuff. The last couple of hours I just spent chilling in the common room and talking, when he taxi came I had to rush out the door with out getting anyone’s details, which I kind of regret. When I arrived at the train station I asked where I got the train, as everything was written Cyrillic. When I got to the stance I had to laugh as the only train there was a single carriage freight train and it certainly didn't seem like the sleeper I was expecting. I asked again where the train was this time I was shown to the right train.