Day 13 – Zagreb to Belgrade
Arriving in Belgrade is like a page out of a novel! The train situation there is absolutely scandalous:
- “Main Station” now exists only as the shell of a classic station building. Not a single train runs there: all the train lines have been torn up and the whole area is one huge development site under construction because it is prime waterfront land. Someone is making a bomb, and the tourists and the environment suffer! A single ticket window is still open...
- “Central Station”, known locally as Prokob, is planned to become the new main station. It's way out of town and difficult to find. But I should not be surprised if the powers that be have decided to do away with trains altogether! EDITED TO ADD: A guy has made an interesting video of it, and there are others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5znzozo_dg&feature=youtu.be
- The third station is Topcider, an even more difficult-to-find station out of town from which the famous scenic trip to Bar in Montenegro can be taken.
Now unbeknownst to me, my train from Zagreb arrived in Belgrade at Prokob station, after dark! Outside was nothing: just an ordinary empty road with nothing on it and no traffic. I climbed some steps on the other side to find myself in a high-rise housing estate, and there I met my next Guardian Angel (GA), Maria the English teacher (!), who told me how to walk to the main road, how to buy a ticket at the kiosk, and to take the bus 31 to a crossroads in town called London. But of course I didn’t have any local currency (dinars) and the lady at the kiosk would not accept payment in euros. A young student couple accepted to change 5 euros into dinars for me and I was able to buy the ticket. At London, a man seeing this old man with his large backpack spontaneously asked me, “Can I help you?”. He walked me all the way to Bongo Hostel, which I had booked in advance. Another GA, his name was Mirko, and he lives in Peru! Bongo Hostel is great.
Maria met me in town a couple of days later and told me how the natives regretted the modernisation of the centre. What used to be a charming area has become a glittering, loud, overcrowded tourist trap, but apart from that the city seems to be running to seed. There are no more commuter trains, and people have to go to work in more expensive, less ecological buses.
A Gay Pride manifestation paralysed the city (that is to say the police did) that Sunday and there were no trams to Topcider Station, where I needed to buy a reservation for my next trip down to Bar in Montenegro, much vaunted in the Forum. The manifestation was contested by the church, which turned out in numbers too. I was told that the police were present to prevent violence between the factions, but it seems they themselves taunted the Orthodox priest in charge, pulling his beard. Basically, I saw very little action. I had waited for hours for a tram, but on my return to Bongo Hostel Guardian Angel No.5, Filip, simply ordered it by phone for me and I picked it up at the lone ticket window in “Main Station” the next day.
Day 17 – Belgrade to Bar
I booked a taxi to Topcider Station, but the taxi driver had never heard of it! He first took me to Prokob, which with my “experience” I recognised as the wrong one, and had fortunately left plenty of time for such a contingency. At Topcider (just a little out of town station, nothing special) we were put into a bus and driven for an hour to the Montenegro border, where we took a train at Vrbnica. For someone like myself who lives in the mountains the trip was not that specially spectacular, and in mid-September the final and most interesting part of the journey was after dark.
In a word, there ain’t many trains running in Serbia these days!