t was an early start this morning as we packed in readiness for the Bar to Belgrade Train.
The journey from Belgrade to Podgorica and Bar in Montenegro over the celebrated Belgrade to Bar railway is one of Europe’s most spectacular train rides. It’s a marvel of engineering, with 254 tunnels and 435 bridges on the 296-mile journey from the Serbian capital to the Adriatic.
The train passes through some of the most beautiful countryside of Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia. Construction of the line started in the 1950s but was only completed in 1976, and was opened by President Tito himself. President Tito had a famous luxury blue train which he would showcase the beauty of Yugoslavia to visiting monarchs and heads of state. The blue train is open in tourist season but at €200 pretty expensive. The local train however, follows the same train line. The girl at the counter provided us with a ticket for only €19.80 for both of us one way. A bargain not to be sneezed at.
The train station at Bar looks really plain and obviously hasn’t had a facelift since the communist days of the former Yugoslavia.
The train was pretty rough looking with the carriages all graffitied but that added to the character of the train.
We boarded the train and quickly found our seats next to the window. Even after the scheduled time for departure, people were still arriving at the station so obviously the train always runs late.
After leaving Sutomore the train passed through the tunnel under the coastal mountains before emerging near Lake Skadar. Going across the lake we had wonderful views of Montenegros largest freshwater lake. On the edge giant rushes grew and beyond them swamp land. The swamp was filled with spindly trees surrounded by frozen ice. As the swamp gave way to land we got to see one of the bad things about Montenegro, rubbish. On the banks of rivers and around the towns there seemed to be no organised disposal of waste. Just like when we were riding yesterday it seemed any cliff that they could back a trailer up to was the perfect spot to dump.
As we left Podgerica the train began to climb up into the barren hills as it followed the crystal clear river far below. The views were awesome with rock walls enclosing fields below, barren hills with rock formations like claw marks slashed across them, and snow capped mountains in the distance. Soon we were almost on top of the mountains and it was hard to spot the houses and the river far below. I also gave up counting tunnels about now at about fifty.
Around Lutovo we encountered our first patches of snow on the ground and icicles hanging from the ceiling of the tunnels.
As we reached Seliste we stuck really heavy snow which continued all the way to Serbia.
The train stopped briefly at Trebaljo which looked like real alpine country and down on the flat we could see people skating.
At Vejelo Polje the trains stopped so that the Serbian border guards could board the train for a passport check. After a stamp we were now into our 30th country (although Michele counts Wales and Scotland as separate countries so she’s on 32)
It seemed like the whole of Serbia was covered in snow, as each snow covered hill gave way to the next snow covered hill. It was just magical to see the branches of pine trees sagging from the weight of snow, cars, haystacks, houses, everything well and truly covered in thick white snow. It was a true winter wonderland.
Along with the snow all the rivers and lakes had either frozen over or had ice built up along either side. It was quite amazing for us. Along the way we were joined by different people as the train stopped at different stations. A young Serbian guy who’d been sharing our cabin broke out a small bottle of Rakija (homemade apple brandy) and offered it around. We tried to refuse, but he was pretty insistent. So we thought, what the hell and took a sip. Bad, bad decision. Whoa the flames went straight down our throats to our stomachs. He spoke no English and proudly stated that it was pedeset (50 proof). He said we had to drink to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost so what do you do? Just take the bottle of liquid fire and drink. Pwhoa. Then it was drink to salute the sunset. By this stage my head was starting to spin.
The two Serbian ladies who were also in our cabin returned and with a mixture of Serbian, English and hand actions we had a great conversation. The younger ladies mother in law said it was known as Serbian medicine and actually had a small bottle in her purse. The mother in law swore it was great for lowering blood pressure. It was one of those experiences where you don’t need to speak the same language to have a good time.
As we arrived in Belgrade the ladies gave us their phone number to call just in case we had any problems. It was really nice to be in Serbia and be greeted with such warm hospitality.
It was a short walk to our Hotel Garden 40 and the satnav lasted just long enough to get to our street. After translating Cyrillic for our Russian post in the last few weeks reading the cyrillic street signs was a doddle. Outside Hotel 40 in the snow covered garden, a big Christmas tree, brightly decorated and surrounded by hanging stars was really welcoming.
The hotel was modern and after a warm welcome we settled into our room as the snow began falling outside. Tomorrow we’ll explore Belgrade.