We’ve been trying to coin a phrase to describe our implausibly hectic form of travel. Bullet tourism, blink tourism, flash, zap, snapshot, shotgun, flickerbook, speed, velo, none of them really clicked. But we’ve stumbled across Tourisme Grande Vitesse, or TGV, which we hope will stick.
We have enough time in most places to at least have the local translation of “a pie and a pint”, and in all but a handful more than enough time to have an album worthy monumental picture taken. The train is intrinsic to this form of travel. The cruise mode of “go to bed a bit sloshed in Prague, wake up and have breakfast in Vienna, late-lunch in Budapest etc”, is something only trains can do.
The mantra that evolved on the India trip was “the train is your sanctuary”. You get off the train in “bloke goes to Tesco” mode, nail the shopping list of an itinerary as quick as you can before the whole experience pisses you off too much, then get back into a nice big seat, or better still a bed, on a train leaving ASAP, with plenty of “beer and sarnies” to keep you going till you are expelled into another city, with new words, food, booze etc. and probably a monument you think you ought to at least see, once, quickly.
The critical task to accomplish in Stockholm, with or without some sightseeing spin offs, is to acquire several of these to keep us fed on the journey to Berlin.
And at last we’ve found somewhere which is not only a fantastic bakery and can supply us with Scandinavian pastries and breads, and critically several Smörgåstårta, but also opens at stupid O’Clock in the morning!. Wienerkonditoriet is a treasure of Stockholm, and is on the case at the conveniently sprightly hour of 7am. Anyone not up for a rapid circuit of the city can spend a couple of hours having a leisurely breakfast there before strolling back to the station for the train south. The famous Saluhall main food market, which is a tourist sight in it’s own right, doesn’t open it’s doors till 9:30am, which is round about when I’ll be ordering everyone back to the station.
The arrival time of the Ister Express from Budapest has been a concern from me since we first decided to include Romania on the tour. I had been told by rail enthusiast that it’s a notoriously unreliable train. Well I beg to differ based on recent reports. It’s well behaved and a thoroughly likeable train all round, including showers, bordrestaurant and a bar (we’ll be equipped to survive without on board supplies all the same). As a consequence, we should easily have time to make it the 300m to Matache market outside the station for our mititie and beer. If the Ister is over 2 hours late, there is a bus service 3 hours later on, which would still get into Sofia the same time as our lethargic train service does anyway.
While the Ister is a well behaved train, we are of the collective opinion that the Bucharest to Sofia day train is perhaps not quite so punctual, and we are unlikely to get to our stop-over spot in Sofia much before midnight. Our local train out to the Bulgarian-Macedonian border in the morning leaves just before 10am, meaning we’d need to aim for about 9:30 at the main station on the opposite side of town. This would mean that we’d have to go straight to bed on arrival, and still have to rush about the market in the morning, with bags, to have any chance of keeping to the schedule. So I’ve decided to invoke Rule 1. of the GC*RC regulations, that being “if the network, and the timetable, don’t fit, then cheat”. We would always have had to get a bus for most of Sofia-Skopje, but we’re now roading it the whole way in either a convoy of taxi’s or people carriers, or if possible a nice big bus. As a result, those of us up for it can deploy in the Sofia night life scene with our own native guide, and do the market (my favourite part of the city on my previous visit) at our leisure and without bags.
Skopje and Belgrade
Next after the Ister on the list of suspect yet critical train rides, is the sleeper from Skopje to Belgrade, i.e the other extreme Balkan railway experience. Again, thanks to my valued contact at the International Tariff office in Belgrade, my info is that this train is actually also well behaved on the punctuality front, and as such we will be able to get to and from Zeleni Velac market near Belgrade station should we require the pantry restocking for the 9 hour trip to Sarajevo. And in any case we’ll make the connection up to Sarajevo without problems.
I’ve sacked our previous hostel option in the Bosnian capital, and gone for “Hostel City Centre”. I’ve been assured that they will have breakfast for us at 6:00 sharp, and will make sure we are all in cabs back to the station for the 07:05 start to the day. (The trams are running at that time, and if you are doing this route on your own then it’s a perfectly usable option, but I just cant handle the stress of shepherding a dozen of us through that at that time in the morning). I have also determined that Mrkva serve up the best cavapci in town.
The group have been instructed to bring their bathing costumes. We’re going to be able to actually do some sunbathing and have a dip in the Adriatic during our 6 hours in Split. The reason that the photo I found earlier of Split station looks like it’s virtually on a beach is because Split station virtually is. The popular Bacvice beach is situated so close to the station that you are one decent beach volley ball shot from the train. I have also discovered that we will also be able to catch the bus from Ploce along the coast, rather than using the inland A1 dual carriageway, and still get into Split before I had estimated.