We went to the train station to start our journey to Bucharest. We had been advised when we booked our tickets that due to major railworks we would be bused to Kapikule in Turkey to join the train to Bucharest. The bus was full and we arrived at Kapikule at 1.30am on the 11th July.

 The bus conductor and driver spoke no or little English so we all got off our bus and stood in line in a waiting room. There was one policeman on duty who had on a sherrif’s badge? and the other border control people arrived at 2am. They stamped our passports and most of us went outside to wait for the train. We spoke to a New Zealand couple who were spending time in Bulgaria and a Englishman who said this was his first attempt at arranging his own travel – he might not do it again!

We were then told that there was a hold up as a computer system glitch in Bulgaria meant that passports could not be checked and the train could not yet depart. Two carriages finally turned up at 4am – one for Sofia with sleeper seats and “our” carriage – a sit up carriage for Bucharest. As the conductor spoke no English but motioned us to that carriage, on we went. We were not really happy as we had paid for a 2berth sleeper but we thought things might improve – they didn’t!

Once it was light in Bulgaria all we saw were hundreds of fields of sunflowers and fields and abandoned orchards.

About 7am after little rest we were herded off the train with our luggage and struggled with it over several rail tracks and then onto another bus. We bumped our way down the road not knowing if we were going to Bucharest on the bus. After about an hour we stopped at Zagora station and had to drag our luggage down a flight of stairs and then up stairs to the the platform to the train for the rest of the journey. Our “wagon lits” with four of us on board was probably lovely in 1930 with a solid wood fit out and handbasin and only two bunks to a compartment but the conductor then advised us that the airconditioning was not working and there was only one window which could be opened about 20cms. It was like being back at the Turkish bath without the cool water. There was also no fan in the compartment. It was stifling the whole time and we didn’t get much sleep.

We seemed to stop a hundred times. The conductor didn’t know much and after he changed into his boxer shorts spent most of his time asleep in his cabin. The Bulgarian railway stations are very dilapidated and in poor condition as were most of the buildings that we saw on the way. Most of the factories that we passed were disused and vandalised and the remaining buildings looked in very poor condition. The roads were bumpy and most country roads that we could see from the train were unsealed.

What amazed us was that there was no food or drink to be bought on the train and no one came on board to sell food or drink. – this didn’t even happen in India. I dashed off the train at one stop hoping that the train wouldn’t take off without me but I needn’t have worried as we were there for over 2hours. They had the gall to call the train the “The Bosphor Express!”

The kiosk which sold very basic items didn’t even have a fridge and I was lucky that they accepted my euros and gave me change in Bulgarian Lev because further down the line the kiosk would not accept euros and others had to go out of the railway station to find a currency booth to exchange some money. We ended up with very doughy rolls with ham, cheese and soggy chips or a kind of meat schnitzel with chips in a roll.

The couchette carriages next to us at least had windows that could be opened on both sides so that made it more bearable and after our last big stop we moved in there leaving our bags in the other carriage.

Our conductor I think felt sorry for us (we did too!) and sold us a couple of cold beers from his supply. After another lengthy delay at a station where we were told that the train from Bucharest was delayed, the Bulgarian passport control came onto the train and checked our passports and after 1/2 hour we went on our way. The Romanian side looked a lot better. It would be interesting to also see Sofia to see if the city is more affluent.

We got to Bucharest about about 2hours late which was amazing with all the changeovers and delays and made our way to our hotel. We had a shower immediately and felt a bit more human. We wandered down the road and had a nice Romanian meal with a nice young Australian couple Joy and Matt who were on the train with us. They kindly swapped rooms with us as we didn’t have an airconditioned room but a double bed and they had twin beds and airconditioning. We crashed and got a good night’s sleep.

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