by Daniel Roodt
What was meant to be a 12 hour trip through the former Eastern European country of Yugoslavia on Josep Broz Tito’s (former leader of Yugoslavia) railway, turned into an 18-hour journey, full of mishaps and frustrations.
Our overnight train trip from Bar in Montenegro to Belgrade in Serbia in a cabin the size of a double bed with conductors who couldn’t speak a word of English was probably one of the most enthralling, yet exasperating, adventures I’ve ever been on.
It all began in Kotor, Montenegro, where we had spent the previous night. It is a popular tourist city on the coast, with a quaint old town. From Kotor, we were meant to take a bus to Bar to catch the train, about 60km down the coast.
We opted for the bus because it was cheaper and would be more of an experience than taking private transport. This turned out to be a huge mistake.
After lugging our suitcases up to the bus station and purchasing our tickets, we proceeded to wait over two hours for the bus to arrive. The later the bus became, the more worried we were because we had a train to catch.
The bus finally arrived after two hours. We attempted to try to get onto the bus, but despite having the correct tickets, the driver turned around in a huff, closed the bus doors and sped away with one passenger.
We now had to figure out a way of getting to Bar in time to catch our train. We decided on the private transport, which arrived on time and left us regretting our earlier decision.
After a thrilling drive down the Montenegrin coast, we finally arrived in Bar, where we’d take the train to Belgrade from. Bar is to put it lightly, not a place you really want to spend much time in. It is dingy and dirty and clearly does not see many tourists.
The train station in Bar is not much different. It has a small terminal with some chairs, a snack shop with incredibly cheap products and a small ticket counter. The woman at the ticket counter couldn’t speak any English, which meant we ended up with cabins on different carriages, and not next to each other.
The train matches the station and the surrounding town. The first-class cabin which we stayed in, is the size of a double bed and it sleeps, three people. The toilets were dirty and had a very strange flushing mechanism, which made you wonder whether your ablutions just end up on the railway below.
The cabin has a small platform for your luggage, a tiny basin that doubles up as a table, and not much else. The middle section folds down to create a third bed. There is no lounge or common area on the train, so this is your only space. There is also no restaurant or food seller on board, so whatever food you buy before departure is what you have for the rest of the journey.
After a day of mishaps and stress, we eventually set off for Belgrade, hoping to be there in time for breakfast the next morning. Little did we know, our problems were far from over.
In the meantime, however, we were able to admire the picturesque Montenegrin countryside before the sunset.
The railway itself is built through spectacular mountain passes and takes you across numerous bridges above beautiful rivers and tunnels through the middle of mountains.
Here you can see one of the many bridges we crossed that goes straight into the tunnel. Unfortunately, as the train departed in the early evening, we were unable to admire the views for much time, as it soon became dark.
As we settled into our cabins, we were feeling more optimistic and after a few games of cards, we settled into our comfortable, but cramped beds for the night. Drifting off to sleep with the train chugging along, with the Montenegrin landscape rushing past you, is one of the most calming ways to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, just after we had fallen asleep, we were awoken with a loud knock on the door.
We were all confused as to who our late night visitor was. After opening the door, it turned out that it was the conductor informing us of the impending passport check.
We handed over passports to the Montenegrin officials, who after a quick check and stamp, were on their way, and left us to go back to sleep uninterrupted, or so we thought.
About 15 minutes later, we were met with another knock on the door. It was again the conductor, announcing the next passport check, this time it was by the Serbian officials.
Unlike their Montenegrin counterparts, the Serbian officials were not as efficient. They had to take the passports away and we had to wait close to half an hour for them to bring our passports back.
After the long wait, we were able to settle in once more and fall asleep in peace.
The next morning, we woke up, got dressed, got our luggage ready and prepared for our impending arrival in Belgrade.
Unbeknownst to us, during the night, the train had broken down for three hours, so we were nowhere near Belgrade. We eventually caught wind of this, and put our luggage back. We were somewhat annoyed, but still in good spirits. It was all part of the adventure.
About an hour later, the train broke down for another three hours. Our plan of getting to Belgrade in time for breakfast was now well and truly thwarted.
We accepted our fate and made use of the extra time to catch up on the sleep we missed the previous night.
We finally arrived in Belgrade at about 15:00, except, instead of arriving at a grand train station, we were dropped off on a small platform on the outskirts of Belgrade.
We tried to ask the conductor where we were because this wasn’t the main station we were expecting to arrive at, where we would be able to find a taxi. The only response we got was “Beograd” meaning Belgrade in Serbian.
The only way to get into the city was on a tram that stopped outside the platform. Thankfully, a friendly local, who had also been on the train helped us and told where we needed to get off.
Unfortunately, the tram we had to change over to, never arrived, so we ended up lugging our suitcases through Belgrade searching for our accommodation.
We eventually found our accommodation, albeit about eight hours later than planned. It was certainly a memorable and frustrating 48 hours, but as they say, “All's well that ends well.”