Let the Train take the Strain, Part 1


It was my hero Michael Palin, in his classic BBC series Around the World in Eighty Days, who said that railway stations do not intimidate and dehumanize people in the way that airports do. Well, we have been making so many train trips into Sofia over the last two weeks. The time-consuming visits to the notarius and the Microwave Woman are now over, but our dealings with the Russian visa office and the Nissan dealer are continuing.
No sign of Hercule Poirot
That means catching the train from Dragoman just after seven and arriving in Sofia's central railway station after eight. The main station has been transformed from the gloomy, pigeon-and-pickpocket hole that it was when we first started travelling in BG. With two years of teaching in Bucharest and a house in Bulgaria, Irena and I got to know this dark and dingy transport centre rather well. Nowadays it is a very different place, no doubt thanks to a generous dollop of EU money. It is much brighter and cleaner, almost user-friendly, although the system (if it can be called a system) for numbering the different train tracks is still confusing, the downfall of many an unwary traveller.
Bulgarian trains, like many things in this country, often look awful on the outside, but the inside story is another matter.

What does a ticket look like? Now you know.

Even the new, modern trains are disfigured by awful graffiti, while the older trains look as though they need a good clean coat of paint. 

Well, that is the bad news. The good news is that the inside of our compartment was reasonably clean and the red velvet-like upholstery was lovely. Not quite the Orient Express, but comfortable and private.


Best of all is the price. Twelve leva for the two of us or six each. That is three leva for a journey of about 50km! Well, that is about 2USD or maybe one and a half euros and that has to be amazingly good value in 2018. (The rate is 1.90 leva to the euro.)
The metro trains in Sofia are not plastered with graffiti, unlike their out-of-town cousins. Once gain, EU money has been the motivating factor in extending and modernizing the Sofia Metro. It is now about double the size it was ten years ago, with lots of new trains and new stations. I suppose that the system resembles a twisted paperclip of a maybe figure 8 gone wrong.



Chinese visitors to Sofia will notice staright away that there is no glass barrier separating you from the metro train and I suppose that might be good news if you are Anna Karenina and you want to do yourself in. 

The bad news here is the price, as it has gone up from 1 leva to 1.60, but bear in mind that, unlike the metro system in Shenzhen, it is a standard fare, no matter how long or how short your journey is. If you are not in a hurry and you are counting your stotinki, then you walk that short distance in Sofia.





In case you have been wondering what has been happening in Downton Abbey, Bates is now in prison and Matthew did marry Lady Mary after all. 

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