I’ve been stuck for something to name this post about our next phase of the expedition, dancing down the Danube from Vienna to Sofia. I have discovered during my surfing on the subject that this entire section forms the “Pan-European Transport Network Corridor IV”, and while that’s perhaps not the catchiest or amusing of titles, it’s a certain SEO vote winner.
Our first train of day 7 leaves Vienna’s Südbahnhof at 07:50, and takes us to Bratislava along the south bank of the Donau. We arrive at Petržalka station on the south side of what is now the Dunaj just an hour later. After crossing the city, and the river, to Bratislava Hlavná Stanica, we catch the 9:54 train The Avala (which is a mountain overlooking Belgrade) to Budapest, on it’s way from Prague to Belgrade.
After an hour and half of southern Slovakian countryside we enter Hungary, and rejoin what is now the Duna, at the town of Szob. We follow the river into Budapest, arriving at 12:35. We have over 6 hours in the Hungarian capital before we catch the Ister Express EuroNight train to Bucharest at 19:05. The train leaves the river, heading South East, hitting the Romanian Border at Lököshaza about 10pm, just after night fall. During the night we head east into the Eastern Carpathian Mountains.
By 6am it will be daylight again and we will be passing through the medieval town of Sighişoara. The line then leaves the Târnava river valley and heads south to Brașov. From there we head up the Bucegi Mountains and over the Southern Carpathians to the 1,000 metre high ski resort of Predeal at the source of the Prahova river, and then follow this beautiful valley down to Bucuresti. The line though Prahova, one of the railway gems of the Balkans, but also a critical part of Corridor IV from Dresden to Constanța, has recently been upgraded as a key EU infrastructure project.
With luck (and in this part of the world you need all you can get) , we will hit Gara Nord station in the Romanian capital at 11:00, or at least before our next train out which is at 13:00.
At this point we had originally planned to go south east to Istanbul, but that’s now not an option until late 2013 (which I suspect means nearer 2015). I had been told about this, but I was a bit of a turkey for not actually looking at the map of Turkey. The bus that you must now catch to get to the Bosphorus starts from a place called Kapikule, which I had assumed was Turkish for Watford. It may as well be Turkish for Thurso.
But as the last post pointed out, 48 hours of panic later and we have a plan that, on reflection and given the time constraints, beats the pants of the previous route. Instead we head south west to Sofia for the night on a 1 O’clock train. Two and half hours out of Bucharest we will cross the great river for the last time on the trip as it changes name again from the Dunărea to the Dunav, across what was once called the Friendship Bridge between Romanian Giurgiu and Bulgarian Ruse.
The route then takes us through the beautiful Iskar gorge. Alas it will be dark by the time we enter it. All being well we arrive at the Bulgarian capital about half past 10 that evening. (I have deliberately left the details of what happens when the train stops from these route posts, I’ll cover all that stuff separately).
In the morning we catch a couple of local trains towards the Macedonian border. The two countries have had plans afoot for some time to link up across the border at Gjueshevo to the opposing rail head in Macedonia at Kochani. The politics of the region have led the Greeks, rather preposterously given the circumstances that their own railways now find themselves in, to block EU funding of the project. So we will have to catch a bus over into Hellenic Skopje, and in doing so we leave the Danube river basin which we have travelled through since an hour or so from leaving Prague nearly 3 days ago. We will return to the Danube briefly again tomorrow as we visit Belgrade, but our route never crosses the river again, we are on the west of the Danube for the rest of the trip. As a result, there will be a distinctly Latin twist to matters of faith, architecture and cuisine for the entire second half of the journey back to London.
A few trivial details about the Danube
It is twice as long and over 3 times the discharge of the Rhine, and is second only to the Volga in all of Europe. The river basin covers 18 counties. It flows through 4 of Europe’s capitals; Vienna , Bratislava, Belgrade and Budapest, and four other countries; Germany, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia. We’ll be visiting all of them of course. The river basin also extends into Bosnia, Czechia, Switzerland, Slovenia, Italy and Macedonia, which we visit, and Montenegro, Poland, Albania, Moldova and Ukraine which we don’t go to. The highest point of the river basin is Piz Bernina, which we will travel over (or rather by it on the pass, Piz Bernina is the mountain of course) , and will both naturally and probably figuratively, be the summit of the tour. The Danube is never actually called by that name in any of the countries it flows through, our word being French. It’s name, in any language, derives from the Persian word “danu” meaning river.