Backpacking · Bulgaria · Europe · Gap Year · Long term travel · Urban Exploring

Sofia by Train

Train station, Sofia, BG

I departed from Brașov at 6:40 last night, leaving my hostel at around 6pm. I took an interregional train into Bucharest, arriving at around 9:30pm, with a departing train to Sofia arriving at around 11:30pm. The train ride from Bucharest into Sofia was about twelve hours long.
The train had just come from Moscow, it was small with first class sandwiched between second class. The train cars were bizarre with doors that wouldn’t stay shut and slammed open every time the train took a slight shift to the left, they were very 1970s Russian in appearance.
Originally my traveling companion (for Sofia) and I got onto the wrong train car and were immediately yelled at in Russian and subsequently directed to the front of the train.  The train car we were in consisted of us, two Romanian guys, a South American couple (Argentina), and a girl from India. We spent a lot of time discussing language and history, which was really interesting.
I learned a bit about Romanian history, for example, I commented that I was surprised at the number of older people in Romania who spoke fluent English. I was informed that during the Socialist rulership of Romania English became the second language effectively replacing Russian. They also told us a bit about the relationships between Bulgaria and Romania, and “Moldovian” as a language. “Moldovian” is actually a dialect of Romanian; a dialect is a regional difference in the same language, otherwise known as ‘local language’.
I asked them about Romania’s relationship with Germany because throughout my travels around Romania I kept noticing the prevalence of things like: German products, German art etc.
Even in the ONLY museum in Brașov the permanent and visiting collections consisted of only Romanian and German artists. I was told that there is a longstanding relationship between Germany and Romania, going back to the  political intermarriage of German and Romanian families.

Taking a night train was fairly interesting, especially because of the duration of the train. It made sleeping a little bit more feasible, even if the seats were much too small to be comfortable. We reached the border between Romania and Bulgaria at around 2:30am and were enveloped in a thick fog.  The Romanian official took our passports and the engine of our train disappeared. So we waited in the fog, joking about this being a horror film premise. Six people from different countries who meet on a midnight train out of Romania and pass the time by telling jokes and laughing- definitely sounds like a low budget horror film.
We switched engines again once we crossed the Bulgarian border, waking most of us, in the first train car, up from a deep sleep as the entire train jerked in response.
The fog didn’t lift until around 10am as we were traveling through flat agricultural land. The train ride did allow a good view of the vast difference in Bulgarian scenery ranging from recently harvested crops to homes jutting out of hills near fast flowing streams.
Although, I was woken up at one point by a female train official shouting, “нет” (nyeht) at me, which I recognized as being Russian for “No.” She was really upset that I was sleeping stretched out between seats with my feet on the seat across from me. So I fumbled in a slight mental fog for my train pass (which she also requested) so she could finish validating it for the last leg of my trip.

We arrived at just after 11:20am and navigated from the train station to the hostel with a screen shot of a map of Sofia, in which all the streets had been “translated” from Bulgarian. It was a lot easier than it sounds, actually.
Turns out a lot of the street signs here in Sofia have a “translation” under the dominant Bulgarian title, and Sofia is a fairly small city.
Some of the sidewalks are badly damaged and consist mostly of busted concrete.
Walking through the train station it became very obvious that we had arrived in a former communist country, as we were immediately greeted by a ridiculously large sculpture of a woman facing away from the train station, towards the center of Sofia.
There are so many communist structures and sculptures here in Sofia, and i’m really excited about that.

At this point i’ll be in Sofia until the 11th of November, and i’ll go from there.
I do have to head back to Bucharest at some point, because my flight back into Prague is at 8am on November 16th.
But i’m thinking about heading to Veliko Tarnovo (former Capital city) after Sofia, I hear that there’s a hostel there that offers ‘day tours’ to the former Communist headquarters of Bulgaria.
I’m all about that, it’ll make a great feature post!

Cheers!

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