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Published: September 10th 2007
Our Infamous Wagon 464
We won't be riding YOU anymore . . .
The Crazy Train Jumper
Last night was the roughest train ride yet in the couchette, our cabin mates were friendly enough but their habits and monopolization of the breathable air (cigarette smoke, foot smell, and body odor) and space (everyone else in the car was settled in and twenty minutes later our babushkas were still shuffling around arranging their luggage and beds). Our cabin mates were a group of four - the two ladies barely said anything to us but were clearly upset we had the bottom bunks; the two guy were okay except that they both smelled, one like a** and the other like stank feet. Stinky feet kept striking up conversations with us in whatever language he was speaking to the point where we stopped telling him we didn't speak his language and would just nod and smile. The other guy was super quiet and would come in and out of the cabin furtively thoughout the night. All four were sucking down half liter beer cans and chain smoking. All things considered they were pretty much okay as bunk mates and went to bed when it was time to do so and didn't snore.
The tales of Sofia-Belgrade
Jennifer in her Couchette
The simple luxuries of a couchette.
trains that I had read on the internet did not seem to apply to the same extent as what people had previously related, but there are some still extant realities. First off, in all fairness to D292, this was our first experience in Eastern Europe in a couchette car rather than a sleeper. Here is what did happen on the train:
* It was an hour and a half late, which has not been the case on any other train and we are not sure why it was late.
* Rather than stopping at a border crossing for hours for controls and inspections, these were done on the fly with all of the border guards being on the train while it was en route. I believe the Bulgarian guards rode with us all the way to Belgrade in fact. The Serbian guards were a little more aggressive than the previous and on seeing our passports the guard snickered "Americansky" and chuckled to his friend. Then a third set of guards came through asking for passports which made no sense. They had on different uniforms and they were clearly intent on inspecting our passports again Jennifer noted, but our cabin
You can't see the top floor from here.
mates said something to them and they went away. There was no ransacking of the train looking for contraband as bloggers have indicated.
* At about 5:00AM, while Jennifer and I were in the hallway sorting out what time zone we were in and why we weren't in Belgrade yet, the train had come to a temporary stop and Mr. Butt Smell from above Jen was at the end of the car furiously slamming on the door trying to yank it open, when this wasn't working he charged down the hall nearly bowling over us to get to the other end of the car where we heard him yell something which we assumed was Bulgarian for "Geronimo!" as he jumped off the train into the ink black darkness. No one seemed to be too concerned about what happened to him, including the Bulgarian guard who had to have heard him slamming on that door. Milos had no explanation either other than that these trains are zoos.
We got to the train station and were fantastically greeted by Milos who I had not seen probably since mid 2003 when we had worked together at the Hyatt in
Nice, quiet place at the top of six story building, exactly the type of place we needed after all these hotels and trains!
Cincinnati and he had slept over at our apartment at Shillito the night before he flew back home, it was good to see an old friend. Despite his coming off of 2 months vacation and starting a very good new job today, he took us around Belgrade briefly and then stopped at a bakery to pick us up some cornbread, yogurt, and the Serbians' version of borek. We didn't eat the yogurt because the portions, especially of the borek are enormous. This last is about half the size of a dinner plate with thick layers of phyllo dough and stuffed with a little sliver of feta cheese (you can tell what the expensive ingredient is). They don't fry these mastodons here, instead they bathe them in oil and bake them which made for a tough baked outer layer and a oil-gooey center -- good, but not as good as the original boreks. The cornbread was good too with maybe less sugar and refining of the corn starch than our own.
So Milos got us settled into his sixth floor penthouse studio in the old quarter of Belgrade and we got straight down to the essentials -
Square in Belgrade
Too lazy to look up exactly what this square is, but will look it up later, promise! Probably Liberty or Revolutionary Square, something along those lines.
eating, showering, laundry, making the bed, and soon, hopefully, sleeping. The plan is for Jennifer and I to go walk around Belgrade later and visit the city and what looks like a very very impressive citadel. After that we will definitely go celebrate with Milos for his new job, and he says a friend of his owns a boat and we will possibly go out on the Danube for an evening cruise - yay! So Jennifer and I are still debating how many days we will spend here but frankly after seeing the city I think three whole days is a good idea.
Our Favorite City
With Vienna still a sight unseen we have determined that Belgrade wins the prize as our favorite city. After about 5 hours of painful napping (especially for me), we headed out at 3:30PM for the city center, walking at about a third of our usual speed. The city doesn't have the extraordinary views of Budapest or the buildings of Bucharest but its liveliness and its layout create what no bricks or mortar can reproduce. Belgrade has a charm all its own in its architecture, but especially in what are friendly and the
Belgrade Pedestrian District
The best sidewalk cafes, shopping, and daylife we have seen on the entire trip . . . on a Monday!
most attractive people we have seen so far.
Milos picked us up at 6:30PM to go for a cruise on the Danube on a yacht that a friend of his owns. This was no small endeavor when we saw the 40 foot diesel yacht and Marco, Maria, and Milos essentially set up a little cruise for us. The city is amazing from the river and we went about 2 kilometers down the river and back. There are a lot of changes going on in Belgrade and it was good to meet Marco and Maria who shared with us about their hometown.
After the cruise we went to dinner with Milos and Maria to try traditional Serbian food in a Bohemian quarter. Essentially these Balkan foods all tie together with a bit more influence from the Austrians but all based on Turkish preparation. We had a feast laid out before us and we definitely have not eaten that much in quite some time. The food was good, but the greasiness of the meat and cheese are starting to tax our poor digestive systems, especially for me (Manny) as I am still recovering from whatever bad thing I ate in
Marco's Sosa (which is an archaic term for a young woman in Serbian).
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