• Monday, April 30, 2007

    Serbia, through Hungary to Austria..

    If I thought Sophia was dull it was nothing compared to Belgrade. To be fair Belgrade has a reputation for having a seriously good nightlife but a lone parent with a three year old tends to miss out on such things.

    Armed with a fistful of Bulgarian lira I tried to change them at the exchange office in Belgrade train station only to discover that the only place for Bulgarian currency in Serbia is in the toilet. They wouldn't touch it. I wasn't the only one facing this problem, I spoke to some young Bulgarian backpackers who were facing the same situation.

    A taxi driver appeared and tried to offer the two of us help. He told us that the closest ATM was a good taxi ride away, something the exchange office confirmed, but he just happened to have a bunch of euros and a brother in Bulgaria who he could pass the lira on to. Reluctantly I eventually agreed to change 70euros worth of lira for 55 euros. The young Bulgarians did likewise.

    Afterwards we discovered that there was in fact an ATM in a different building in the station so we could only assume that it was a well organised little scam involving the currency exchange guys. Though it is genuine about the lira being comparable to toilet paper in Serbia, they won't touch it.

    After "breakfast" in one of the station cafes we booked the luggage into the left luggage office and set off into Belgrade for a mooch. It didn't take long to realise that it's really not a city for kids. Not only is it not possible to escape the cigarette smoke, even the streets are thick with it, but there is just nothing for a young child.

    Among the bland concrete buildings there are one or two interesting ones and, surprisingly, there are still some bomb damaged buildings that seem to have been left just as they were when they were hit by NATO missiles. After taking a few pics of one such building i asked a group of soldiers what the damage was caused by. One of them who could speak a little English pointed at me and said, "Your NATO did this." What do you say to that? The first thing I could think of was, "Bit of a mess that, thought you'd have cleaned it up by now." I did say it with a smile and very tongue in cheek but they didn't seem to find it amusing and just looked very serious said goodbye and wished me "good luck."

    It didn't take long to realise that this was another place that we didn't want to stay in for too long. I think walking past yet another sex shop near the train station that had a life sized blow-up doll of what looked to be a child probably did it for me to be honest. So, where next?

    Options open were bus or train to Vienna, train to Zagreb, then Llubjana and across to Venice, or a more expensive train ride straight through to Paris after a change in Zagreb. The daughter and I did Vienna the other year and after a fairly serious conversation for a three year old we concluded that now she'd eaten Turkish delight in Turkey all she wanted was France. As much as I would have liked to mooch about in Croatia or Slovenia it didn't seem fair to be dragging the daughter around yet more places that had little amusement for her.

    In the end and after much consideration we bought a coach ticket for the overnight train to Vienna, going through Hungary. From there we'd try and get to Paris by whatever means we could. The 1640hrs coach was due to get in to Vienna at about 0230hrs the following morning which was a worry as I couldn't imagine we'd be able to do much until at least 0700hrs.

    The coach out took us through the flat lands of northern Serbia towards the Hungarian border. Once again at the border we were presented with yet another beautiful immigration official sadly from the same charm school as the last one. As with the first official this one too seem concerned about a lone man and a child and actually took my passport from me which set the daughter off in tears. I could feel the glare of the rest of the passengers on me and could only imagine what they were thinking. We were the only non Austrian or Serbian passengers on the bus.

    Eventually I got my passport thrust back in my hand and it looked like we could go. But no. Instead we were ordered off the coach and told to take ALL our belongings into a holding room. Then we were each ordered to open all our luggage, one at a time, in front of all the other passengers. The daughter began crying and wanted both the loo and a drink. Request denied.
    One tobacco smuggler was found, a middle aged Austrian woman.

    Having repacked our luggage we had to wait whilst the coach was given the once over, and under and then it was time to move. Though sadly only to a small inn a few miles up the road whilst we waited for our smuggler friend to negotiate with the officials. There followed two hours in a smoke filled inn with Serbs, Austrians and Hungarians watching Man United and AC Milan battle it out. As a Newcastle fan they just couldn't understand my lack of passion for the Man U, though I confess I was secretly gunning for them on this occasion.

    With smuggler now with us again we made a start into Hungary, only to be pulled again by the police for yet another search. Luckily this was more a search of the drivers than us. And then again about an hour from the Austrian border we got a full shake down on the side of the road which involved pulling up floors and inserting small cameras into the ventilation system. I'm sure the two drivers had something to hide and were the real target but maybe they'd been warned this time. Eventually we made it into Austria several hours late.

    Serbia, through Hungary to Austria..


    Anonymous lillian said...

    "Bit of a mess that, thought you'd have cleaned it up by now." I did say it with a smile..
    haha very funny answer :-) The smile didn't work, huh? btw.. you are abit crazy to do that travelling with a 3 year old child.. wasn't she bored alot? How did you kill time on the train?

    7:49 am  
    Blogger Life Out East said...

    She enjoyed the trains and buses and as most of them were overnight she was usually asleep very soon so it worked out well. But when she wasn't sleeping there was lots of reading, I-spy, oxo, drawing and just generally messing around. It worked out a lot better than I ever thought it would.

    4:11 pm  

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