The overnight train from Sofia to Belgrade has a PR problem. If you google the connection, the results are horrifying: Apparently, the train is both slow and falling apart, the border agents are rude, the toilets nonexistent. I am here to tell you that it is not so bad.
When we reached the train station, our eyes fell on the oldest, rustiest and probably scariest train I had ever seen. Fortunately, this was not the one we had to take – ours was an old sleeper train from Germany, with the word “Liegewagen” still on it. Sure, it smells like eras long past, it is slow and the toilets are in fact pretty gross – but the overall experience is really kind of great. First, the train passes through the sweeping landscape of rural Bulgaria, after a short time we reached the border. Border checks took a very long time, since agents from both Bulgaria and then Serbia entered the car. We were essentially waved through though, no questions other than “do you have something to declare for customs?”. An Irish guy sharing the train with us asked “Like what?” only to be told “Drugs.”
Afterwards, the train goes quiet as everyone squeezes onto their bunk beds and tries to fall asleep. I would occasionally wake up to the sounds or Serbian train personnel, smoking at some stations, the creaking noise from the train and the perpetual shaking – all in all, it wasn’t nearly as bad of an experience as people made it out to be.
We are now in Serbia and will see what this country holds in store for us!