Novi Beograd

Mar 20, 2010 in Balkans 2010

Novi Beograd

Early the next morning we headed down to the station to catch the train to Belgrade. I slept most of the way, waking only to see endless flat green fields occasionally. Last time I’d crossed a border into Serbia, the guard had been remarkably jovial considering it had been 2am. This time, it was the middle of a beautiful spring day but the man who stamped our passports was definitely not happy. He looked at my battered document with some disgust, but stamped us in eventually.

We got to Belgrade in the early afternoon and checked into a hostel. At first it seemed incredibly welcoming and cool. Over the next few days, though, we’d find that the Swedish owner was borderline insane, quite disturbingly racist and generally a bit unpleasant to be around. Still, they made me a coffee and that made me happy, and it was good to be back in Serbia. I always find it slightly weird coming back to a place like this – I like knowing the lie of the land already but it also makes me feel like I’m in a terrifyingly intense déjà vu experience.

We headed over to the Belgrade Arena to pick up our tickets. Last time, I’d only crossed the Sava briefly, to go to a club on a boat, so I hadn’t seen Novi Beograd at all. Under clear blue skies I really liked its broad avenues between shiny new tower blocks. It was quite quiet, and we stopped for coffees and snacks at cafes along the way to the stadium. We got hold of our tickets with no problems, and it was nice to actually have one this time. Negotiating my way past layers of security in Lisbon when my ticket never arrived had been challenging enough; I was glad I wouldn’t have to do the same in Serbia.

St. Pancras

Feb 17, 2009 in Belgium 2009

St. Pancras

The Eurostar used to come into Waterloo Station. The terminal there cost a vast amount of money to build, and was then only used for 13 years. The new terminal is at St. Pancras, which cost an even more vast amount of money, but probably has a good chance of lasting for more than a decade and a half. Arriving at the station at night is definitely impressive.

Train to Skopje

Jul 17, 2008 in Balkans 2008

Train to Skopje

Early the next morning I walked down from Velania to Priština’s train station. I’d checked it out the day before, and found that one train a day left from here to Skopje, at 6.24am. The station was tiny and grotty, and I did not have any particular faith in the timetable. But I got there at 6.15am, after a nice walk in the dawn light through the deserted city. And the train left exactly on time. I was the only person on board.

The train wound its way through southern Kosovo, through impressive forested valleys and alongside rivers. Only an hour and a half later, we were at the Macedonian border. I got no Kosovo exit stamp, but luckily I got a Macedonian entry stamp. I also made the acquaintance of an elderly Albanian man, who appeared at the door to my compartment carrying immigration forms and passports for himself, his wife and his daughter. For a moment I thought this might be because he was illiterate; in fact it was because all the forms were in Macedonian and English only, despite the large Albanian minority who live in the country. I filled in all the forms, and we all made it across the border.

It was a bright sunny morning. About half an hour after we left the border, we chugged into Skopje station. I wouldn’t have minded staying here but I didn’t have that many days left before I needed to be in Thessaloniki. So I just bought myself a great espresso from the station cafe, a snack from a shop, and a bus ticket to Ohrid.

Train to Belgrade

Jul 05, 2008 in Balkans 2008

Train to Belgrade

The train was about an hour late arriving in Budapest. I’d been getting paranoid that I’d missed it. On board, it was busy, and when I bought my ticket there had been no mention of seat reservations, let alone sleeper compartments. I found my way to a six seat cabin, in which I met two Serbs going to Subotica, two English girls going to Novi Sad, and a Hungarian who got off somewhere near the border. I chatted to the English girls for a while, then slept very badly. When we got woken up for the borders I felt so tired I hardly knew what was going on, but the Serb official who stamped me in was as jovial as any border guard I’ve ever met.

At dawn we reached Novi Sad. The English girls got off, and I had the compartment to myself. Dawn was breaking as we crossed the Danube, rumbling over a bridge that replaced one destroyed by NATO bombs in 1999. I slept until we got to Belgrade at eight.

Dublin

Mar 31, 2008 in Northern Ireland 2008

Dublin

By the time we docked in Dublin it was cold and raining. There was snow on the hills along the Irish coast. I got a bus to the centre of town, where I had a couple of hours to kill before the Belfast train. I walked along by the Liffey, took a few photos and felt like I’d seen pretty much all there is to see in Dublin on my previous two trips here. I walked up to Connolly station and got on the train heading north.

Ireland overland

Mar 31, 2008 in Northern Ireland 2008

Ireland overland

The annual National Astronomy Meeting was being held in Belfast. Having never been to Northern Ireland, I thought I would go, and feeling environmentally conscientious I decided to travel overland. My train/boat ticket from London to Belfast and back was the same price as a flight, and I’d see all the nations in the British Isles on the way. My journey started with a train from Euston to Holyhead. It was raining when I left London, but sunny in Wales, as I got on the ferry for the three hour journey across the Irish Sea to Dublin.

Nyugati

Feb 24, 2008 in Budapest 2008

Nyugati

I walked back down Andrássy út, taking a right to head towards Nyugati station. I didn’t have much time left in Budapest, and I wanted to try and get hold of the soundtrack to Kontroll. But I was out of luck – none of the shops in the huge shopping centre by Nyugati station had it. I would have to come back.

My flight was not until the morning, but it was leaving at 6.30am, so rather than pay for another night in the hostel and get up at 3am, I decided to go and sleep at the airport and get up at 4.30am. I got a late train out to Ferihegy, but when it got to the station I almost didn’t notice. We stopped for only a few seconds, and by the time I’d spotted the sign and got to the door, the train was already accelerating rapidly. I had to make a split-second decision – jump or not? I jumped, landed with a jolt but intact, and didn’t even have to do the combat roll I’d been planning mid-air.

It was an uncomfortable night at the airport. Sleeping on a hard bench would have been tiring even if I didn’t have a broken rib, and even if one of the cleaners driving around throughout the night hadn’t crashed into my bench with his floor-washing machine. Feeling injured and exhausted, I headed back to London.

Halmstad

Jan 19, 2008 in Sweden and Denmark 2008

Halmstad

Our journey up the coast gave us some fantastic views of the sun setting over Denmark across the water. We arrived in Halmstad after dark, with our main aim being to check out the night life. But before we could do that, we needed somewhere to stay. My guide book said there was a place 4km out of town, towards the E6 motorway, so we headed out in that direction. We walked, and walked, and walked, and I began to regret wearing shoes that I’d only bought a couple of days previously, as my feet began to hurt. We walked on, and I started cursing Eldrik for travelling with a ridiculous wheely suitcase thing instead of an obviously more practical backpack. The constant rumbling got a bit tiring after a few kilometres, and eventually he started wheeling on the grass.

After about an hour, we began to think that we weren’t in the right place. The hostel was supposedly on Växjögatan, and Eldrik grabbed a passer-by to practise his Swedish on. I could just about follow the gist of the conversation, and it went something like “Excuse me. Do you know if Växjögatan is near here?” “Växjögatan? I’ve never heard of it” “Um.. ok. Do you know of any hostels near here?” “Nope”

So we had definitely gone wrong. We were near a huge shopping centre, and there was a fast food place open, so we boosted morale by eating dirty burgers, then got a bus back into town to reconsider our options. Plan B was to check prices at hotels in town, but they were way beyond our means. We then moved onto Plan C, which was to skip Halmstad and head on to Gothenburg. We headed for the station, only to find that the next train wasn’t for almost two hours. So we quickly put together Plan D: we found a map of the town at the train station, and it appeared that my guide book had sent us out of town on the wrong road. We would head down what we thought now was the right road, and if we hadn’t found the hostel within 45 minutes, we’d get out of this place and head on. So off we went out of town again, and this time after about half an hour we found what we were looking for, the Hostel Laxen.

Once we’d recovered from our explorations, we got a bus back into town, and went out. After a few hours in the town centre I decided to head home, exhausted by last night’s lack of sleep, a long day of travelling, and then extreme amounts of walking in Halmstad. There were no night buses out in our direction, so I walked another three miles back out to the Laxen. In the morning, we walked back in, again, and headed north. We’d walked thirteen miles during our brief stay in Halmstad.

Helsingør

Jan 19, 2008 in Sweden and Denmark 2008

Helsingør

When we got to the station, we found that the next train to Halmstad wasn’t for another hour and a half. We decided that as it was only a couple of miles away, we might as well pop over to Denmark while we were here, and so we jumped on a ferry heading across the sound. We stood on the deck in the howling gales, and watched Kronborg Castle approaching. Once we’d docked, we had about twenty minutes to spare for a quick walk around town, before we had to get on the ferry back over to Sweden.

Sinaia

Sep 17, 2007 in Eastern Europe 2007

Sinaia

Braşov had an addictively laid-back vibe, and I spent another couple of days there doing nothing much at all but enjoying the fresh mountain air and sunshine. Eventually it was time to move on – I wanted to see a bit of Bucharest before flying back home – so I got a train to Sinaia, another mountain town on the line to Bucharest. I wanted to go up its famous cable car, which takes you up to an altitude of some 2200m, high in the Bucegi Mountains, but I’d picked the wrong day – it’s closed on Mondays. I had to content myself with a short walk into the hills and a look at Peleş Castle, which was massively more impressive than Bran Castle. Then I walked back to the station and got the train to Bucharest. The sun was setting and I had a great journey under blazing red skies. I got to Bucharest late in the evening, jumped on the metro and headed for a hostel.