We arrived late at night in Sofia, Bulgaria. Exhausted from our long journey we took a taxi to the hotel, Central Park Hotel. (Cost: 60 Euros per night. Major credit cards accepted.) The taxi only cost 8 Euros, as the airport was only 15mins away from city centre. But you will find in Sofia that many shops do not take coins in Euros -they only take bills. So we ended up paying the taxi driver 10 euros, which was way more than what we should have paid.
When we arrived we were welcomed by a friendly gentleman at the front desk who spoke English -such a relief. We told him that we were only planning on being in Sofia for 1 day and will be taking an overnight train from Sofia to Belgrade. He paused and stared at us. His pause was long and the silence left a dreadful feeling in me. In his exact words he said, “The overnight train from Sofia to Belgrade is not recommended”. The dreadful feeling sank a bit lower in my empty stomach. During our trip planning stage, we struggled a little to find a way out of Sofia. We read on forums that an overnight train was possible, and the next best method was to take a private bus. However, there was no specific details provided on how to book a bus and the departure times available. Still shocked, I asked him why and whether if it was unsafe or if there were boarder crossing issues between Bulgaria and Serbia. He said that it is not unsafe, but the ride is not pleasant and it would not be recommended for us. We asked for details of how to book the train ticket and if there were alternatives, and all he managed to tell us was to go to the train station early in the morning around 7am to try to book a ticket.
A little shaken up, we decided that it would be best to take his suggestion. We got to our rooms, took a hot shower and the feeling of being really excited that we are in Bulgaria finally kicked in. With all that excitement, we couldn’t possibly sleep. We grabbed our cameras and decided to go canvas the city. The streets were lit for the holiday festivities. Cozy restaurants were filled with locals unwinding on a Friday night. After an hour or so of wandering, we were finally tired. We headed back to the hotel and called it a night.
Waking up bright and early the next day at 7am, we were welcomed by a pleasant surprise. The city looked like it was under a spell: the same kind of spell that I would imagine was cast over the whole kingdom in Sleeping Beauty.
We headed out quickly, because we wanted to get information about the overnight train. We hopped on the tram, which only cost 1 Bulgarian Lev.
We were a little confused as to what stop we were suppose to get off at. I approached a middle aged lady for directions and with all the English she could muster, she told me that she was also going to the train station and to follow her. Later on, we found out that she spoke French. Ru, who is well versed in the French took over. We asked her how the night train was like from Sofia to Belgrade, and if it was safe. She said she has never taken it before, so she is not sure. She said that generally Bulgaria is a pretty safe country to be. She mentioned that children in Bulgaria learn English as well as another language in school. She chose to learn French, but German and Spanish was also options.
Stepping into the Sofia Central Station was like stepping back in time. Manual train schedules were hung on the wall, benches lined the waiting area, and everyone was bundled up because there was not heat. A morbid looking evergreen tree with tinsels stood tall in the center.
We walked in and made our way to the train ticket counter. Located on the right far corner -it was a little difficult to find. There was one lady at the ticket counter who spoke English, and French. She told us that in order for us to reserve a Private Berth, we need to arrive precisely 1 hour before the train departs. It cost 55 Bulgarian Lev per person for a Private Berth. The train departs at 8:30pm every day. Only Bulgarian Lev is accepted.
Relieved that we could book a ticket, we left the train station. It was still early around 10am in the morning. We decided to wander around town and slowly make our way to our tour meeting point.