Travelling By Train Across The Balkans
It is now over 18 months since I published my book featuring train travel in every Balkan country. With train journeys anywhere off my agenda since February, it is with even greater fondness that I look back on past trips.
Some of my most memorable Balkan journeys (all featured in my book) are:
The only train in the country when I visited in 2017 ran from Pristina to the border with North Macedonia (sadly not over it as we had been led to believe).
Ancient rolling stock and a huge diesel loco fitted the Balkan bill perfectly, while rock hard seats and an unusable toilet completed the pleasingly familiar surroundings.
As we made our way at a serene pace and stopped at a myriad of tiny stations in our two carriage train, we were joined by a group of Trainkos rail retirees who entertained us as they regaled train related stories, told jokes and drank coffee from a huge flask.
There was much laughter and the joy in their faces was wonderful to see.
I believe there are currently no trains running in Albania – there certainly weren’t on my last visit. However in 2007 we boarded two trains from the now dismantled Tirana Central.
The first was to the coastal city of Durres and the second to the Northern city of Skhodra as we made our way to Montenegro.
The carriages were decrepit, the windows cracked and the locos real smoke belchers. The average speed was around 35 km/h. Just brilliant!
Istanbul to Thessaloniki
The Balkan trips started in earnest in 2006 as we rekindled the wonder of late ‘80s inter-rail journeys. The first ride was an overnight train between Turkey & Greece.
Sadly this no longer features on schedules, but 14 years ago we set off from Sirkeci Station armed with cans of dark beer, cheese Doritos (overnight journey staples before and since), and bags of excitement.
Nis (Serbia) to Sofia
This 2006 journey is notoriously memorable as the coldest & most delayed journey ever undertaken!
The electrics packed up, meaning no heat or light in nighttime sub-zero temperatures. Incredibly the train driver and guard decided to stop the train for over two hours to try and fix it.
They failed miserably of course as we suffered. Eventually we crawled into Sofia five hours late. I’ll never forget!
There is loads more detail in my book around the history of the Balkans, these trips and many others, as me and my buddy Hamish explored the fabulous region. You can get hold of a paperback or ebook copy from Amazon.