Budapest to Bar via Belgrade
08.02.2017 - 10.02.2017 13 °C
Our final day in Budapest became a rather long and tedious waiting game. We had hoped to visit the major library after seeing some very impressive photos but first we had to get our luggage to a storage place for the day. Two metro trips and a short walk saw our luggage stowed. Next we headed for the library, which was a solid half hour walk. It turned out the library was nothing like the photos, had no wifi and was in fact a couple of hundred meters from where we had been staying! We have not had a lot of luck with libraries on this trip, disappointing our resident bibliophile.
Somewhat disappointed we returned to the luggage storage (two metro trips and a short walk, again) and sat reading and waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally it was too much, so we collected our bags and headed for Keleti station and the Barross restaurant, which turned out to be something of a baroque delight. Gold leaf columns, carved wooden heads leering at us from beside our table amid a general air of decadence. We opted for the French onion soup, somewhat mediocre, but ok. Cath wasn't hungry for mains, after a rather large lunch at a lovely Italian Kitchen but Ian decided on a steak, which turned out to be sitting on top of a pile of chips and covered in a mountain of.... onions. It seemed the onion fairy had visited. As we left the restaurant, the onions began to do their magic work, with Ian burping frequently. Ah well, we thought, at least it would keep our sleeper on the train free of interlopers. How wrong we were.
By 9:45, we were heartily sick of waiting for our train, so went off exploring. To our dismay, we found the decrepit old carriage attached to the end of a line of smart new carriages was our sleeper. To say it was appalling is a gross understatement. A friendly worker in a high vis vest helped us on with our luggage, while a seedy looking conductor took our tickets, showed us to a disgraceful 6 berth compartment and then steadfastly refused to return them. As we were surveying the mess, our friendly guard made it clear that he required a tip before leaving. Ian gave him the last of the change he had but the guard wanted more. Eventually Ian convinced him that he had no more to give and he left us to it.
Next, another fellow came by to distribute sheets and blankets, complete with holes, dust and odours. Cath dutifully put together a couple of "beds" for us whilst Ian, having picked up a wifi signal, researched the ticket situation. Unfortunately the information Ian got was all about scams and people waking up to find they'd been robbed. It was then that a little Korean chap popped up. He was as dismayed as we were to find that the 4 berth cabin he'd booked (as had we), was in fact a 6 berth and his ticket was also taken.
The night was spent in extreme discomfort. Cath, whose cough had now taken on the dimensions of a full blown cold, was alternately barking and snoring. The Korean chap was tossing and turning on the bunk above, and Ian was lying wide awake, desperate not to fall asleep, lest we all were robbed blind. Into this mix arrived the first border patrol at midnight. Cath's Australian passport caused quite some interest, while Ian's shiny new British passport was given no more than a cursory glance and no stamp! Of course what we hadn't realised was that was only the exit from the Hungarian side. After waiting an hour for the whole train to be checked, we took off again, only to be stopped half an hour later to have the same process by the Serbians. At least this time Ian got his first stamp... Ian managed to stay awake until somewhere around 4:30, when he finally deemed it safe to rest his eyes, just as Cath woke up and commenced to read a book.
So it was that we finally arrived at Belgrade Station, surely the very worst we had encountered on our trip. It is the most dilapidated, filthy, rundown building we have had the displeasure to use. And all topped off with what Cath found to be the filthiest toilets in our entire trip, perhaps Europe; a return to the drop toilet but with the challenge of slippery wet floors, human faeces and used toilet paper in piles everywhere, but a necessity as the toilet on the train had a rusted out bowl! To make matters worse Cath payed a Euro for the privilege!! We were very pleased to get our train and bus tickets and finally be on our way out of Belgrade. An hour later we boarded our train bound for Bar in Montenegro and so began a delightful, scenic tour...
The train from Belgrade to Bar is known as Tito's train and traditionally was a little blue train but alas that is but a marketing tool and the train is relatively modern but not Eurostar style, most likely built in the 80s, no wifi, Dinar only accepted in the restaurant car and again the toilets were unusable. We were quickly settled into a berth with a young woman who was very polite and grateful as Ian assisted her to get her enormous suitcase onto the overhead storage. This train journey is known as one of the most scenic in Europe if not the world and did not disappoint as it meandered its way up mountains, down valleys, through an endless number of tunnels and across amazingly high bridges. The scenery was awe inspiring, huge mountains dropping into valleys hundreds of metres below, with patches of not yet melted snow along the side of gushing torrents. A delay of nearly an hour sitting half way up one of these mountains allowed us to observe farms perched on the side of the mountains, tiny houses, barns and outbuildings which appeared to be hundreds of years old, it must be a difficult life for the people who live here. Which introduces the reliability of Serbian railways, as we had previously experienced on our journey from Budapest to Belgrade delays are the norm and this trip certainly had a few of those, until it seemed we crossed the border into Montenegro. We missed being able to see some of the most spectacular scenery on the trip due to it getting dark and we were almost 2 hours late arriving in Bar, at 11pm. We had arranged with the apartment we had rented to be picked up at the train station and were quite worried that it was so late and they would not be able to meet us, but were gratefully surprised to find our host dutifully waiting in the not so cold to greet us, sign in hand "the Hickey's", Ian must have been exhausted as he did not even mention that our name is Steel; a minor irritation as Cath has not yet changed her name in her passport. We were whisked into the awaiting VW and as we headed to the apartment, he explained that it is not unusual for the trains to be delayed on the Serbian side of the border due to ongoing reconstruction of the track, he circumspectly mentioned the difficulties with NATO that have had an ongoing effect on the infrastructure in Serbia.
The first thing we noted about Bar, was the change in weather, whilst it was not hot by any stretch of the imagination it was warmer. For the first time in a what felt like a long time no need for thermals, beanies or scarves. The second thing to note is that from our little balcony we could see the Adriatic, what a pleasure to be back on the coast. Bar is a small Montenegrin port town and beachside resort, which has clearly suffered a bit of a downturn in the last 20 years or so, a bit like the south of England, you can see the former glory of the buildings but its best days are behind it. Undeterred we spent a great day stretching our legs along the beachfront promenade, investigating the marina and yacht club and the town itself; there are many shops, bars and restaurants and during summer it must be a thriving area. After a good stroll it was time to hit the balcony with a bottle of wine and some nibbles to waste away the afternoon during which time Cath recovered from her illness and Ian managed to develop a hacking cough and fever. After a tough night of man flu it was up early for Cath for a quick dash to the nearest pharmacy to get panadol and/or cold and flu tablets. What a beautiful morning for a brisk walk along the water into town, the sun was shining off the water, locals were out enjoying the fresh sea breeze and everyone had a bit of a smile, suddenly it felt very much like spring had truly arrived, hooray! Cath returned to dose Ian up and perkily got ready for what we hope will be a bus trip with a great view to Dubrovnik in the afternoon.