• Sunday, April 29, 2007

    Bulgaria to Serbia...

    A day in Sophia was more than enough for the daughter. Having viewed all the graffiti that seems to plague just about every part of the city and covers everything from historical monuments to kids' playgrounds to public buildings and roads, and visited the main attractions in the city we booked an overnight train to Belgrade in Serbia.

    Graffiti on artwork in kids' playground
    Giant Easter eggs in Sophia

    One shocking thing in Sophia was the sex shops. It wasn't the fact that were quite a number of them but their location. We'd stopped to browse the window of a toy shop and the daughter was telling me about some cartoon character or other in the shop window when my eyes wandered through the open door of the shop next to the toy shop. It was one of those situations where you have to do a double take. In full view from where we were standing was the biggest array of sex aids I've ever seen, and right next to the entrance of a perfectly innocent toy shop. Luckily I managed to steer the daughter past this without any embarrassing questions.

    Alexander Nevski Church

    St Nikolai Russian Church

    We managed to get shafted at one point. We'd been to the train station in the afternoon to book a ticket. The taxi there was about 3.5lira. Once we'd booked the tickets we grabbed a taxi back to get our luggage. The meter started at 6lira and was racking up the numbers faster than I could count them. I looked around for an explanation. Was I reading the meter wrong? Nope, we were being scammed.

    I mentioned it to the driver, a huge unshaven guy who looked something like a super-sized version of Bob Hoskins chewing on a wasp, and he immediately got aggressive and said we could get out. We did. After about a quarter of the journey we'd racked up a fare of five times what it cost in the opposite direction. We both knew he'd scammed us but what could I do? There were no police about, for all the good they would have done us, and there was no way I was going to start jiving on the streets with this monster, he'd have torn me apart. So, I just had to accept the fact we'd been fleeced and move on. Oh yes, it was a very bitter taste.

    The train was basic to say the least and our compartment was like an oven. Just as I'd put the daughter on her bed the guard came in with two enormous, thick, heavy blankets of the kind you'd expect to see Russian soldiers in Siberia using. I thanked him but couldn't see why we'd need them. Two hours later I was praying that the guard would bring more blankets, it was bloody freezing.

    I was first made aware of the fact we were crossing into Serbia when I was awoken by a border official ripping the door open and shouting at me. I'd locked the door and put the "safety latch" on, and then added an extra measure which meant he could open the door but couldn't actually get inside. Quickly I jumped from my bed, tried to wake myself up and opened the door. He started barking at me, "Sprechen sie Deutsches, sprechen sie Deutsches?" I shrugged and said I was English and he wandered in to the room, blew smoke from his cigarette all over my sleeping daughter and buggered off.

    A few minutes later and another goon appeared and demanded to see our passports. Bulgaria now being part of Europe they don't bother stamping other EU passports so he just checked them over and left.

    Now it was the turn of the Serbians. The Serbian immigration officer was a drop dead gorgeous woman with a stone cold expression who looked like she hadn't smiled in twenty years. Still, she really was the best looking immigration officer I've ever seen. She looked over the passports and then began examining my daughter's and then comparing her three month old face in the picture with her now nearly four year old sleeping self. She wasn't happy. I quickly pulled out my daughter's Thai passport which has a much more recent picture on it as proof of her identity. This helped establish her identity but then made her question why I was entering Serbia with a young girl, without her mother, heading for the UK when the mother was in Thailand. She made me feel like I was guilty of something just by the way she stared at me. She wrote down my details from the passport, threw the passports at me and told me that she would be "making a check" of me. Then two more officials came in, both smoking and both feeling the need to lean over my daughter and blow smoke at her. Finally it was over, we'd arrived in Serbia.

    About an hour before we pulled into Belgrade station there was a commotion out in the corridor and then banging on our door. It was an Asian guy from the room next door, the only other non-local on the train, and the train guard. During the night someone had broken into his room, removed his bags, then removed all his money and valuables and left the bags in an empty compartment. They wanted to know if I'd had anything stolen. Nope.

    The Asian guy was getting really pissed at the guard and started to lay the blame in his direction which I didn't think was a very wise thing to be doing. The guard laughed and wandered off singing to himself while the Asian guy started shouting that he was going to get the police involved. Though what he expected them to do is another matter.

    Welcome to Belgrade.

    Bulgaria to Serbia...


    Blogger Bart said...

    What about the pictures of the gorgeous immigration officer?
    Maybe taking photos of her would have cool the situation ;)

    11:37 am  
    Anonymous Matt said...

    Holy moly. Sounds action packed. Sex shops and beautiful immo officers. Crikey.

    2:47 pm  
    Blogger Life Out East said...

    Yes, I think any movement towards the camera would not have gone down well. Shame though.

    3:56 am  
    Anonymous Frances said...

    These great structures must have had a good surveyor who prepared a party wall agreement to avoid any kind of conflicts with the other structures near that area.

    10:22 am  

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