Friday & Saturday 17 & 18 Jan 2020 It was always going to be a long day on the rails – 13 hours and 3 trains. But we didn’t quite appreciate how slow we would be going!
The first train stopped for an hour at the last station in Bulgaria to allow for passport checking. It then trundled across the border to the first station in Serbia where we were kept on board for half an hour for the Serbian border force to take its turn. We were then released to board the next train which was waiting at the next platform but then sat around for another 30 minutes whilst we waited for the departure time.
At least the second train kept moving – just! It took 3 hours to cover the 100 km to Nis stopping (thankfully briefly) at every station in the way even if some of them were no more than a delapidated shed in the middle of nowhere. The upside was that there was a long stretch climbing up through a stunning rocky gorge with high cliffs on both sides and a river down below. It was rather gorgeous (no pun intended!).
The final train from Nis to Belgrade moved a bit quicker thank goodness but had further to go and it also stopped at every station so it took 5 hours. We arrived at just after 9 o’clock and then made our way to the hotel where we collapsed exhausted despite having been sat down all day. It’s funny how tiring travelling is.
Waking refreshed and ready for the fray, we enjoyed a very pleasant breakfast at the hotel and headed off on a walking tour of the city that Stephen had plotted the night before. When we reached Belgrade in 2015 Christine remained in the hotel nursing her broken arm for the whole 4 days that we were here and Stephen only spent half a day sightseeing in between nursing the invalid and getting the bikes cleaned and boxed for the flight home.
Although not as appealing as Bucharest, we found more to see than in Sofia. There were two main highlights. Firstly there was the church of St Sava, construction of which started in 1935 but was halted because of the lack of finance during WW2 and much of the Communist era. The interior is not yet complete and not accessible. However, the crypt is open and we were absolutely stunned by the sight. It is so unlike any other crypt we have seen. With a lot of cream and gold, it is light and airy despite the relatively low ceiling and just full of colour and beautiful murals.
We were also impressed by the fortress which dominates the confluence of the Danube and one of its tributaries. It is simply huge! Sadly we have no photos as Christine discovered this evening that her camera had gone missing!