A Travellerspoint blog

Istanbul to Budva

48 hours on the Road!!

sunny 26 °C

Having loved every minute of my time in Turkey, and spending a bit more time there than I had anticipated, I had just 10 days until I had to be on Cres Island in the north of Croatia. This may not seem like such an issue, its not exactly a huge distance to cover for someone from a country as big as Australia- but train and bus travel through this area is a little bit of a challenge, and a little unreliable. I had taken this into account and decided to make stops in Sofia, Bulgaria, as well as Nis, Serbia on my way to Montenegro, before moving onto Croatia.

With only 10 days this became a little harder and so I decided to take the mammoth journey straight from Istanbul to Budva, Montenegro. There arent many photos for this entry- the inside of bus's and train cabins dont make for the best pictures! ;)

The first leg, an overnight Train to Sofia- didnt run so smoothly. My research had indicated that there was a train which ran all the way from Istanbul to Belgrade, with stops at Sofia and Nis on the way. When I bought my ticket in Turkey however, I was told that i could only buy a ticket as far as Sofia, and would have to change and buy the next ticket there. Fair enough- I could do that!
When I left from Istanbul there were construction works on the train line, and so everyone was loaded onto a bus at 10pm to the Turkish-Bulgarian boarder. Here we changed onto our sleeper train at 4am. We actually arrived at the border at 1.30am and waited around in a completely empty train station- with no further info on what was going on until 4! There were no border officials, no staff members, nothing! it was only at exactly 3.55 when the train arrived, that a police officer entered the passport control room and started processing our exit from Turkey. We had been waiting there for so long, it couldve been done hours ago!

I had been told in Istanbul that unless you had a group with you, it was not a good idea to sleep on the train to Sofia- so I slept all I could on the short bus trip and was still a little sleepy at the train station. I was then put in a cabin with an Australian girl, and her Argentinian boyfriend, and an English girl. We all got along pretty well and so we locked ourselves in and had a pretty decent sleep apart from when the passport control officers came hammering on our doors. The first time it seemed it was just to check that one of us had a passport, as they just scanned through mine and then walked away. The second time they took all of our passports, and then gave us all heart attacks as they train lurched forward before we had recieved them back! Thankfully there was nothing dodggy going on and the train did not start moving. We all sat on edge at 5.30am waiting until we got them back!

Something we quickly noticed was that there are no signs at most Balkan train stations, and so, at around 9.30am we had stopped at a station for quite some time, with no announcements (not even in Bulgarian) as to what was happening. We eventually figured out we were at our final destination of Sofia. I couldnt help but feel that I was in some abandonded communist area whilst at Sofia Station- Chenobyl definitely popped into mind- was rather intriguing! Dont expect anything modern or fancy at this stop!


An american guy who knew some German (Bulgarians seem to know a decent amount of German too) had figured out where we were, and offered to take me and another guy to the ticket office so we could buy our ongoing tickets. The next flaw in our plans became apparent when the 11am train to Nis we were counting on didn't exist, and we were to wait in Sofia until 8pm.
We chucked our bags in storage and all headed out to see what we could of the city with the time we had. The Russian Churchs as well as numerous memorials from the Balkan wars were beautiful and we had arrived just after some sort of holiday, so there were flowers and wreaths laid out at some of them. We refreshed ourselves serveral times- sampling the beers which cost just 50c. It was also my first exposure to the 2 litre beer bottles which cost like $2! So much Beeeeer!


We also ate some Kevapci's which are a very tasty spiced sausage- they are found through most of the Balkan countries under slightly different names each time. We also snacked on some other Bulgarian street foods between beers throughout the day. I had planned ahead- a little, so I was able to change into a new shirt and underwear whilst in Sofia, and used a wet wipe to clean my disgustingly dirty feet! Closest thing to a shower I was going to get!

As we headed back into the train station to leave the country, we each had a couple of Lev left over, and decided to grab some juice for the train ride. This is when I noticed that for just 2.90 lev you could buy a 200ml bottle of vodka. I had withdrawn 50 lev at the start of the day- which ended up being $21 aussie dollars, so this was ridiculously cheap, and I couldnt resist!

(The inside foyer of Sofia station is much nicer than the platforms- but still feels like the 80s or something)

The train to Nis was an interesting one. At first take, it seemed as though there were no remianing seats- everyone was very keen to keep compartments to themselves, which was frustrating in itself, but add to that that people spoke very little english and it was a nightmare! Eventually we sat in a compartment with a surly looking couple who said nothing the entire trip and stared at the floor, later, 2 men came in briefly but they didnt sit down.
Then enters Miloush- the Serbian IT guy, who had been visiting his Bulgarian girlfriend, but hated Bulgarians; and who had been drunk for 3 days, with 4 litres of beer to keep him that way for the journey! He enquired wether there was a free seat in our compartment, and accused the Bulgarian guys of being smugglers (they did have an absurd amount of T-Shirts, but surely T-Shirt smuggling isn't going to make you the moolah?)
Much of the trip passed without event, until Miloush and the Bulgarian men got a little upset with each other. I woke from a lovely sleep to the men yelling blaringly at each other, and the Bulagrians hastily moving their things around, including all of our things which was a worry. They took their things to the outside corridor, and Miloush told us they were about to throw everything off, and jump off the train! These guys were pretty old, so I didnt really believe him, and before I could think about it, as we were double checking that all of our belongings were in the compartment- I was showered with beer from the fresh 2 Litre bottle Miloush was opening. It had been shaken up in all the fuss and we were all now wearing it! Fun!
Next thing we know, the train has stopped and the guards are in the field outside with flashlights- looking for the now AWOL smugglers it would seem! Good old Miloush was on the money!
When we eventually arrived in Nis, Serbia at 2.30am, Miloush asked us for our email addresses which we politely declined. The floor was ridiculously sticky from the beer, and my $5 Turkish thongs broke after sticking and being pulled too violently- I had to amble off the train with no shoes! I was able to fix them just well enough to get e through the mornng though.

The train my travel buddy was counting on to Sarajevo, and my train to (anywhere in) Montenegro, once again did not exist. So we decided to head to the bus station to enquire there about an early morning bus. I had copied down directions to a hostel just in case I decided to stay in Nis, which happened to be close to the bus station, so we walked the 15 minutes there. On arrival we then battled to communicate with the staff who spoke very little English, and found that my bus was not to arrive until 10am, where as my new friend was able to get one at 6am. We kept each other company until then and after seeing him off, I set about finding some coffee and seeing a little bit of Nis. I had a great time miming my way through storing my luggage, with such broken sleep the past few days and having no one understand me you'd think Id have been frustrated by now, but I was actually really enjoying myself at the time- maybe I was delirious?!
I found my way easily to the town square just by following my nose, and luckily there were large boards with maps of the city's attractions. I found directions to the skull tower here, and set off on a 3km walk to see the big draw card of the town of Nis (it doesnt reallyyyyyy have a lot going for it- put it that way).


The tower is now surrounded by a little house to protect it from the elements and no doubt from people too. Years ago when Serbia was fighting to free itself from the Turks, a Turkish Sultan beheaded hundreds of rebel fighters, skinned their heads and sent them back to the Serbian King. Delightful! The king of Serbia then had these skulls (some still with flesh and bits of hair) mounted into cement as a reminder of their bravery. Some skulls have obviously disappeared over the years, but enough remain for it to be a very morbid shrine to those men.
On my return to the bus station, I had withdrawn far too much Serbian Dinar for my brief stay, so I bought some more sunscreen, replaced my broken thongs, and also purchased some new sunglasses- as my very favourite pair (you know, the ones I bought in Paris) went walk about somewhere between Istanbul and Sofia :( I also stocked up on Serbian candy and Baked goods for the 10 hour bus ride to Podgorica.
I claimed the back seat for the bus trip- and lay over 4 seats quite comfortably with my travel pillow and a sarong for a blanket. I woke up every now and then to enjoy the scenery, finish reading my book, and eat copious amounts of candy. The bus trip was really beautiful, and although I would have rather timed things better so I could have done it more comfortably overnight, I am glad I got to see the mountain-side through my window. Its one trip I would really recommend doing during the day, I couldnt help but imagine the brown bears and wolves chilling just out of site in the trees.

When I finally arrived in Podgorica at 8pm, I was able to book an ongoing bus to Budva for 8.20, and arrived at my hostel just before 10pm. Once again the scenery was amazing- when we reached the top of the mountains by the coast, the city of Budva was spread out in lights below. Wish I could have taken a picture that would do it justice!

Annoyingly, I had not booked a hostel in Budva, because when I did actually have wifi I hadnt known when I would actually reach Budva, or if I could even get there! I asked at the tourist centre at the bus station- and they they were literally useless! So I just asked a taxi driver to take me to any hostel, he did, and he didnt rip me off, nor did he take me anywhere dodgy. Win! It was a little family run place, and they offered me tea when I arrived- and I felt thoroughly rude for declining. I practically ran into my room to shower and put fresh clothes on- 48 hours without showering is not recommended!

So there you have it- my epic journey on the computer screen! It was such an adventure and although it seems like nothing went right, I met some interesting characters, saw some nice things, found out I can mime my way through Serbian conversations, and above all i survived! I would do it all again in a heart beat- though I definitely want to stay and enjoy more cheap eastern european beer next time!

Posted by TaraHarry 12:42 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged #bulgaria #serbia #montenegro #nis #sofia #transit #train #ridiculous #adventure

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