Saturday, June 03, 2017

On June 3, 1987, from Sofia to Belgrade (and Budapest) by rail.


On this day in 1987, I took no photos. June 3 was a travel day, and it turned out to involve a great deal more mileage than I expected at the beginning.

Pictured above is a page from the July 1992 edition of the Thomas Cook European Timetable. It's the oldest copy of those timetables still in my possession, but the schedule probably was little changed from 1987.

For those who planned on traveling by train, the Thomas Cook was a worthwhile investment. I spent hours poring over the schedules, and much later, wrote a short appreciation.

The blessed return of a personal Bible.

If my recall is to be trusted, by midday on June 2 I'd decided that while there was much of potential interest in Bulgaria, it would have to wait for next time (which unfortunately still has not arrived).

I wanted to give Belgrade (Yugoslavia) another chance, and move in the general direction of Hungary.

The ticket counter at Sofia's central station issued me a second class ticket without seat reservations, good for the 417-kilometer, seven-hour trip. The price was about $12.

Let's hope I packed sandwiches.


One memory stands out. We stopped at a station somewhere in Bulgaria, and on the adjoining track was a local train going in the opposite direction. It had a 3rd class car, seldom seen outside the East Bloc, filled with crude wooden benches without a stitch of upholstery.

It might have been 1937.

The train arrived in Belgrade before 4:00 p.m., and I was determined to improve on the muddled bearings of my previous brief visit. This time I knew where the youth hostel was located, quickly found the right tram to take me there, and arrived at the address only to find the building in the process of being demolished, a decision ostensibly made since the publication date of my guidebook.

Once again, absolutely no elderly women were waiting at the station with offers of cheap rooms. Unable to avoid hotel prices beyond my budget, and stubborn to the last, it was back to the ticket window, this time for an overnight train from Belgrade to Budapest (another 375 kilometers sleeping in a seat), then prior to departure, across the street to one of the neighborhood greasy spoons for an evening meal of roast chicken and wilted veggies.

On Thursday morning, I was in Budapest. The following three weeks were spent in Hungary, and while the country may have been a socialist nightmare for its inhabitants, it proved to be budget traveler's dream playground.

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