Bulgaria September 2014
This is an extract from a multi-country report to read the full report use the following link:
This trip took a fair bit of putting together and was based around doing two days of the PTG Bulgaria Track Bash tour, when it was in Greece with OSE MLW’s. However when the dates for the PTG Bulgaria Track Bash tour were changed and the tour was ultimately turned into a Greek Track Bash tour the planning was turned upside down and we basically went back to starting from scratch.
In the end a decent plan was hatched to start in Bulgaria, mainly due to it being the cheapest place to fly to, then head into Serbia, dash into Montenegro and back, and then into Macedonia before returning to Bulgaria to do the PTG Greek Tour. After the tour I’d head on from Bulgaria to finish in Romania. Originally we’d planned to head into Kosovo as well but as the trip now warranted more time in Greece something had to give.
Having had literally no clue about the geography of Eastern Europe before starting this plan it was certainly an eye-opener but the hard work paid off and time spent at home planning the trip allowed for the rewards to be reaped when out doing the trip.
EZY8973 0530 Gatwick – Sofia £36.71
BA885 0830 Bucharest – Heathrow £60.92
Booked through Booking.com
Hotel Sylvia (Sofia) – 149 Sofronij Vrachanski Str., 1233 Sofia, Bulgaria (£28 for a twin room or £38 for a triple room for one night) – is a 5 minute walk from Sofia station front, over towards the main tram stop, then right off the main road. It has decent sized rooms, is basic, but was more than adequate for what we needed.
Hotel Aqua (Varna) – 12 Devnya St., 9000 Varna City, Bulgaria (£25 for a twin and £20 for a single room for one night) – overlooks the station and is only a couple of minute walk from the side exit at Varna, being visible from the platforms. Check-in was simple and I even booked a room for the following night before we went to the room; through Booking.com while at the counter as it was cheaper than the hotel’s own rates. The room was spacious, clean, had toiletries provided, along with AC and free WiFi.
Booked through EU Rail
Inter Rail one country pass Bulgaria (6 Days) – £93
Bought at Sofia Railway Station from Rila International ticket office
Balkan Flexi Pass (10 Days) – Lev 302
Booked through Wasteels at Belgrade via e-mail (reservations only); these were given to us in person at Belgrade station by the owner himself
12432 1805 Belgrade – Bar (2 berth sleeper)
12433 1700 Bar – Velika Plana (2 berth sleeper)
337 0931 Velika Plana – Skopje (seat reservation)
Saturday 6th September 2014 (Who went and booked the stupid o’clock flight?)
Having had a thoroughly good day out with 31271 & 31466 at the Mid Hants Gala I went back to Ladywell with Aidy afterwards for a relaxing evening; which included a decent meal and a derance before heading back out into the big wide world on the last unit from Ladywell to Waterloo East. Our crap flight to Sofia was at 0530 the following morning and rather than do a bus to Victoria later we opted for training it the whole way to Gatwick instead. There were some sights at Clapham while we festered but we were at Gatwick by 0130 and through security a little after 0230; sat festering in the waiting area, kind of wishing we hadn’t been where we were and at the time we were and with only another three overnights to follow……..
Sunday 7th September 2014 (Eastern Europe; welcome to the hard way to crank)
I was told by Aidy that our plane had taken off 25 minutes late due to the buses having to make two runs from the terminal. I could understand how it would delay us as it was a long enough run when we’d done it. While I wasn’t asleep for take-off I was only vaguely aware we’d left the stand and never really opened my eyes the whole way to Sofia! Not the best flight plan I’d ever come up with but it was a bargain compared to anything else on offer at the time; so stupid o’clock from Gatwick it was.
Upon landing in Sofia the jacket was immediately put away as it was 23 degrees. We’d been warned about taxi touts wanting to charge tourists around 25 Euros to get into town from the airport, and also that it should cost around 8 Euros to do the journey. Immediately outside the arrivals, in front of us and to the right, was Ok Taxi’s airport desk. We asked how much for a taxi to Sofia station and were quoted “around 7 Euros” and then escorted to the taxi at the head of the queue outside the airport’s entrance. With no meter and after a 20 minute journey we were asked for BGN15 (15 Bulgarian Lev), having been dropped at the bus station; right next door to the railway station.
Sofia station was a building site, with its already concrete façade looking even more untidy as we approached and once in the confined of the station booking hall it was like taking a step back into the 70’s. There were plenty of places to buy snacks but it wasn’t immediately evident where to buy tickets.
The main, and only booking office, is downstairs beneath the concourse. You can buy every type of ticket you want there apart from what we wanted. Having figured that out in pigeon English we were sent back upstairs and eventually found out from the tourist information office that International tickets are sold at Rila’s office, which is actually BDZ’s International Ticket agent. Their office is in a corner of the station tucked out of the way but if you enter the station by the main entrance and turn left and follow the wall right to the end you’ll come across it as you’re about to exit the station buildings.
The lady inside was very helpful and spoke good English so getting what we needed became a whole lot easier. I needed a 10 Day Balkan Flexi Pass which was served up to me in no time. I had to pay the BGN302 in cash so had to withdraw the money from one of the two cash machines below the main station arrival/departure screens. Having got the tickets the reservations we needed for 292 2030 Sofia – Belgrade were soon printed; which was music to our ears. We’d attempted to get all our required reservations in the UK through DB in the UK; who managed to be able to do Skopje to Sofia, via Nis, reservations but couldn’t manipulate the system to be able to book us Sofia to Belgrade berths, hence us being where we were at that point in time; just hoping that there was room on the train. As it turned out, the very nice lady serving us booked us two lower berths in a 6 berth compartment, and picked an empty one for us. The grand total of 6 Euro’s was payable for each international reservation and Aidy booked an internal couchette from Varna to Sofia for just 4 Euros; the latter being booked downstairs in the BDZ booking hall at the highest numbered window on the right hand side as you look at them all.
In possession of everything we now needed to get around Bulgaria we were then officially on the bash and proceeded onto the platform to flag 44082 on 2615 1300 Sofia – Varna, in favour of what we considered to be a better move in doing 8613 1325 Sofia – Burgas to Iskar for 8610 Burgas – Sofia back in.
Blue and yellow 46211 produced for 8613 with a short-ish load of about 5 and promptly delivered us to Iskar for what turned out to be a three hour fester for 44185 back with 1624 1325 Plovdiv – Sofia. We hadn’t initially realised but once we’d figured out what was going on with the lateness to trains arriving into Sofia from Burgas/Varna via Plovdiv it soon started to make sense. The prior knowledge from ERG postings and reading of the posted timetables at Iskar, along with some amendments, all in the local lingo, it appeared that everything arriving from Burgas/Varna would be up to 3 hours late due to the daily closures of the line between Dimitrovgrad & Plovdiv resulting in trains being diverted. This would also explain why we’d seen a train on the arrivals board when we’d got to Sofia, just the 150 minutes late. Bizarrely when we got back into Sofia off 1624, which was spot on time, we found 8610 to be 150 late on the arrivals screen!
Iskar has very little to offer anyone festering for three hours. We saw Sulzer 55192 head off down some branch just beyond the station limits light engine and then return light engine about an hour later and the only other hauled train we saw was a freight that terminated in Iskar sidings hauled by BDZ Cargo 44123 with 43511 dead inside. We’d actually initially thought that 43511 had failed and 44123 had gone to rescue it and assumed that this was the reason for the delay; until the next train in was an EMU heading to Sofia from Plovdiv that should have been behind 8610.
As always Haribo saved the day and stemmed off the hunger until we got back to Sofia, where snacks were on tap; and very cheap! Our next planned move at the time of day we were now at was to see what would work 5611 1700 Sofia – Kulata; which quite a few folks had reported as being a 61, centre cabbed shunting device, recently, and bugger me if it was. 61002 was already sat on the train waiting to go when we walked up to the front so our move was decided and we did 61002 to Gorna Banja, where the line climbs out of the station at about 1:45; which we assumed might tax the BDZ Cargo 06 that we should have to Kulata the following week. We discussed these fact over a coffee from the station buffet while waiting for the next EMU back into Sofia; which turned up 7 minutes early and with the numbers 31407/31408 on two of its cars.
In Sofia we grabbed a few snacks before checking the arrivals board, from which we figured out that we could do a quick move to Sofia Sever thanks to 2612 1105 Varna – Sofia, via Levski, being 35 late. 44197 was at the head of 382 1845 Sofia – Moscow, our train out, and while waiting we were soon regretting not waiting at Gorna Banja for the next train into Sofia when 61004 came rolling in with load 5! On the BZD website it doesn’t give what type of train 5622 1610 Blageovgrad – Sofia is so we’d wrongly assumed it would be an EMU; only a small schoolboy error on our behalf there. While getting over that error we were treated to a freight passing through the back of the station headed by BR Blue 87004 and tailed by BDZ Cargo green/yellow liveried 87029. We’d already seen green/yellow liveried 87026 pass through dead inside a freight earlier in the afternoon so that was three sightings for the day.
Back at Sofia we were in need of some decent food but didn’t really find any as most of the places by the bus station were closed so we ended up over the other side of the tram tracks and at a shop on the main road there, which sold everything from crisps and pop to pizza and beers; so a few slices of pizza and a couple of beers for the train it was and all for minimal price.
Back on the station imagine how withered we were to find shunting device 61004 preparing to be buffered up to the stock to work the three coach train that was 292 2030 Sofia – Belgrade. The Staropramen beers went down a treat that evening and even more so when Aidy figured out that 61004 had been topped by BDZ Cargo 44068, which must have been prior to departure from Sofia, and that both had pantographs up and were working!
Unfortunately Aidy decided to step off the train at Dragoman to find out what our bonus 44 was on the front; much to the Serbian customs and border protection staff’s amusement; who thankfully didn’t quiz him too much as he re-boarded. Between Dragoman in Bulgaria and Dimitrovgrad in Serbia the train was taken to pieces by the Serbian customs. While all that was taking place everyone was processed at Katolina Zapad, which is where the Serb’s have their border post set up. I managed to get the first European stamp I’d ever had in my passport while the non-Europeans had to get their visas in order; thankfully a lot of that processing was done after we’d left and their passports handed back after we’d arrived into Dimitrovgrad.
At Katolina Zapad I thought the coach we were in was actually going to burn out and set alight; I’d never seen as much smoke coming from bogies, without a flame being visible! The crew on 44123 parked in the adjacent loop, as we arrived, seemed to have the same concerns as me and were immediately out of their cab to investigate once we’d stopped right by them. Thankfully the smoke soon dissipated as the wheels cooled during our standing time and the issue appeared to just have been rubbing brakes; it was a bloody good job we hadn’t been bowling along at the time though as the outcome could well have been different. Had we been in the situation that our coach had to be knocked out though there was plenty of room in the Serbian sleeper coach next door, which had just the one occupant! If I’m correct it seems that BDZ can only sell berths in their couchette coach and SZ can only sell berths in their coach. I actually checked and it turns out DB had booked us into the BDZ coach from Nis to Sofia so it didn’t make sense really that they couldn’t manage to book us into the same from Sofia? Either way all was well when we departed Katolina Zapad, albeit about 30 late.
At Dimitrovgrad I walked down the inside of the train to the front to check out the loco change. The train wasn’t wedged at all. As I’ve already said the ZS sleeper was a waste of time being on the train and even the open compartment coach at the front had plenty of room. In the front vestibule there was a lot of commotion surrounding the panels of the coach in that particular vestibule end; one customs guys was undoing the roof panels and taking photos inside to check if there was anything hidden that was being smuggled into Serbia from Bulgaria. The same guy wouldn’t let me onto the platform at Dimitrovgrad either, I was guessing as he hadn’t finished checking the train over thoroughly as he then went outside and proceeded to take the coach battery boxes to pieces. As a result I watch the loco change take place through the glass at the front vestibule.
444068/61004 both went off to the headshunt but returned separately into the adjacent loop to then stand about 5 feet apart from each other. 661157, as it turned out to be, then shunted out of the adjacent platform and dropped onto the train. Once the customs guys had finished their checks the people wanting to board the train at Dimitrovgrad were then allowed to board. Unfortunately 661157 wasn’t given a great deal out of Dimitrovgrad, either that or it was dire? Either way we didn’t stay up to bellow as only just over 4 hours doss was available to us after we departed Dimitrovgrad, still 30 late, so we settled into our personal sleeper cabin and got dossed out; it didn’t take long let me tell you and when the alarm went off at 0205 I wondered where the hell I was!
|455704||Waterloo||Clapham Junction||0009 Waterloo – Guildford||455704/724|
|377435||Clapham Junction||Gatwick Airport||0100 Victoria – Three Bridges||377435/445 via Redhill|
|G-EZFB||Gatwick North Terminal||Sofia||0550 Gatwick – Sofia||EZY8973||Easy Jet|
|46211||Sofia||Iskar||1325 Sofia – Burgas||8613||BDZ 46|
|44185||Iskar||Sofia||1325 Plovdiv – Sofia||1624||BDZ 44|
|61002||Sofia||Gorna Banja||1700 Sofia – Kulata||5611||BDZ 61 (shunter)|
|31007||Gorna Banja||Sofia||1705 Pernik – Sofia||50218||EMU|
|44197||Sofia||Sofia Sever||1845 Sofia – Moscow||382||BDZ 44|
|44127||Sofia Sever||Sofia||1105 Varna – Sofia||2612||BDZ 44|
|44068||Sofia||Dimitrovgrad||2030 Sofia – Belgrade||292||BDZ Cargo 44068 / BDZ 61002 in tandem to Dimitrovgrad for ZS 661157 forward|
Gen for Sunday 7th September 2014
(Other than in the moves above)
44082 2615 1300 Sofia – Varna
44169 1625 1530 Sofia – Plovdiv
61004 5622 1610 Blagoevgrad – Sofia, 292 2030 Sofia – Belgrade (in tandem with BDZ Cargo 44068 to Dimitrovgrad)
Note: trains coming into Sofia from Burgas/Varna via Plovdiv were a minimum of 150 late due to current engineering works in the Plovdiv area.
At this point of the trip time was spent in Serbia, Macedonia & Montenegro before returning to Bulgaria for the PTG Greek Tour.
Saturday 13th September 2014 (Sofia revisited)
The 24 hour buffet at Nis now isn’t; it was closed, yet still advertising the fact it was open 24 hours! So with nothing else better to do our fester commenced on the platform at Nis, departure time came and went and there was no sign of the train, or announcement to confirm just how late 293 2150 Belgrade – Sofia actually was.
There wasn’t a great deal going on and in the station area was ZS 441510 waiting to depart with 2900 0315 Nis – Belgrade. We only saw two other trains, the retimed 335 1845 Belgrade – Thessalonica with ZS 444019 and a special train that had been doing the rounds of Eastern Europe, originating in Istanbul, titled “Young Explorers Train” headed by ZS 441749. This same train had been in Greece on September 3rd and was worked Thessalonica – Pyhtio by OSE MLW’s A453/A459. At that point we didn’t realise that it would be in Greece again when we were in Alexandroupoulis on the PTG tour and likely provided us with one of the locos for the tour that morning; after being worked by A454/A456 from Thessalonica to Pythio on this occasion!
293 2150 Belgrade – Sofia ultimately turned up 90 late with ZS 441321, which was replaced by ZS low nose 661112 for the run to Dimitrovgrad. Aidy & I already had couchette reservations, done through DB in the UK, and we were shown straight to our compartment by the attendant; after handing over our tickets. We actually had two upper berths but it seems the compartment’s occupants had decided to leave us an upper and a lower free. Having had to wake the whole compartment to let us in everyone soon settled down and sleep wasn’t far away. Meanwhile Mark, Daffy and Co. managed to bag an empty couchette between the three of them for the run to Sofia; paying the attendant €6 cash for the privilege.
As we were late sleep seemed to be better than it would have been had we been on time and the Serbian passport checks at Dimitrovgrad were very un-intrusive, everyone just flashing them from their berth and the door was closed again until the Bulgarian checks at Kalotina Zapad; by which time it was almost 8 o’clock and time to start thinking about what the day would hold for us. First things first though, we found “coat hanger” 61012 at the head of our train, having replaced 661112 at Dimitrovgrad, which deposited us into Sofia over an hour late and with enough time for breakfast and to gather some intelligence from the arrival/departure screens at Sofia before doing the 1035 Sofia – Varna to Podujane for what turned out to be a lengthy fester!
With various bits of engineering works affecting trains there were lots of different notes stuck up at stations alerting passengers to re-timings and cancellations. These notes, coupled with the original lists for train departures and the poor information given by the electronic displays made for a bit of a mind-fuck when actually trying to figure out when the next train would be from Podujane back to Sofia, let alone which train it would actually be and after some time trying to figure this out I had a chat with the woman manning the booking office window.
Pre-empting the inevitable language barrier I went armed with a list of train departures towards Sofia, from the timetable, this ultimately allowed her to write down the number 40 at the side of the 1119 departure, which was 8640 0520 Jambol – Sofia. We eventually agreed that the train was 40 late and to get this information she had to use her mobile to phone someone foe the gen, all the while still selling tickets as she did so! Sure enough though 44144 turned up 38 minutes late with 8640 and whisked back into Sofia. That was the first 90 minute fester of the day!
While festering at Podujane we’d watched Dan’s EasyJet plane fly directly over the station as it came in to land and after dropping our bags off at the Hotel Sylvia we met Dan & Kev Taylor by 44127, which was heading 2615 1300 Sofia – Varna via Levski. Having decided to do the 1325 Sofia – Burgas out to Podujane we all departed on 44090, Aidy & I leaving Dan & Kev to their own devices as they did a longer distance move; we’d have been as well doing it in the end!
Our plus 36 turned into a plus 2 hours courtesy of 8610 0645 Burgas – Sofia being 75 late. Having been bitten by the very same train a week previous at Iskar we’d decided on the Podujane move to at least give an option of a tram back to Sofia if we needed and also the option of waiting at Podujane for the 1530 Sofia – Plovdiv; and that’s ultimately what happened. 46234, with 8610, was about 3 minutes too late to risk doing back into Sofia for the 1530; it only having 7 minutes to get there as it departed. Coupled with Sofia seeming to dispatch trains a good 60 seconds early, likely due to their clocks being wrong, it was never going to make and sure enough 44144 rounded to corner from Sofia a couple of minutes early! That would be the same 44144 we’d had into Sofia earlier after our 90 minute fester at Podujane. Thankfully there’s a decent bar on the station and having spent 3h30m that day at Podujane we departed at 1537 hoping the evening wouldn’t be as wasted as the rest of the day seemed to have been! The irony being had we actually gone to Iskar, as we had done a week earlier, we’d have had a better move…..
At Iskar we didn’t have too long to wait and attempted to pass the time photting a couple of BZD 43’s that were basking in the sunshine when we arrived. The security guards roaming about had other ideas though and we were pulled aside and asked to produce our passports and train tickets. Thankfully it wasn’t a police station affair and once they realised we were tourists and interested in the railway they actually apologised for not allowing us to take photos; but didn’t let us take any more. 1624 1325 Plovdiv – Sofia was bang on time with 44066, complete with Dan & Kev on board; who’d had a nice afternoon out.
The evening in Sofia is a lot easier to bash than the daytime but it got off to a bad start when the 1700 Sofia – Kulata didn’t produce a 61 so we headed back out to Podujane on the 1700 Sofia – Jambol instead for a quick beer. Back at Sofia a second attempt to get a 61 in was made as we did 44096 out to Zaharna Fabrika on the 1800 Sofia – Dupnica, hoping for one back in on 5622 1610 Blagoevgrad – Sofia; which Aidy & I had seen one arrive on the previous week.
It had started to rain as we left Sofia and by the time we got off at Zaharna Fabrika it was absolutely hammering down and we got soaked just legging it from the train to bar! Unfortunately we were bowled out by a nice shiny Flirt EMU on 5622 and that concluded our hunt for 61’s that evening and another trip to the bar at Podujane followed with 44128 on 493 1845 Sofia – Istanbul. En-route back into Sofia we wre gripped and as Dan hadn’t got a ticket we managed to stand in front of him in our compo and flash the gripper everything we had, her interest in Dan waning after our confident shield had put her off!
Back at Sofia we came across Daffy & Co. and couldn’t resist joining them on one last late bash to Sofia Sever where a 45 minute fester resulted in us using the tin pot shack outside the station for a beer. A quick walk down the road towards the main road revealed nowhere to eat but plenty of tram related options to get back towards town if needed. Right outside the shack is the turning circle for the No.18 tram, we only saw one during the hour we ended up spending at Sever; during which time the shack we were using to drink beer at closed!
44138 was a little late with 2614 1330 Varna – Sofia but dropped us into Sofia just in time for the rest of the clan (Flossy, Youth, Brigg & Vic) to be waiting at the station front for us. A quick pizza at one of the small restaurants next to the bus station sufficed before we were kicked out just after 2230, when the place closed for the night.
The Hotel Sylvia is a 5 minute walk from the station front, over towards the main tram stop, then right off the main road. It has decent sized rooms, is basic, but more than adequate for what we needed; which was really just a bed for the night. With 7 of us staying we had three rooms next door to each other, one triple and two doubles.
|661112||Nis||Dimitrovgrad||2150 (12/09) Belgrade – Sofia||293||SZ 661112 to Dimitrovgrad for BDZ 61012 forward|
|44132||Sofia||Podujane||1035 Sofia – Varna||8601||BDZ 44|
|44144||Podujane||Sofia||0530 Jambol – Sofia||8640||BDZ 44|
|44090||Sofia||Podujane||1325 Sofia – Burgas||8613||BDZ 44|
|44144||Podujane||Iskar||1530 Sofia – Plovdiv||1625||BDZ 44|
|44066||Iskar||Sofia||1325 Plovdiv – Sofia||1624||BDZ 44|
|44178||Sofia||Podujane||1700 Sofia – Jambol||8641||BDZ 44|
|44128||Podujane||Sofia||1345 Plovdiv – Sofia||10114||BDZ 44|
|44096||Sofia||Zaharna Fabrika||1800 Sofia – Dupnica||50235||BDZ 44|
|31001||Zaharna Fabrika||Sofia||1610 Blagoevgrad – Sofia||5622||EMU|
|44128||Sofia||Podujane||1845 Sofia – Istanbul||493||BDZ 44|
|44100||Podujane||Sofia||1000 Varna – Sofia||8602||BDZ 44|
|45180||Sofia||Sofia Sever||1930 Sofia – Lom||7630||BDZ 45|
|44138||Sofia Sever||Sofia||1330 Varna – Sofia||2614||BDZ 44|
Gen for Saturday 13th September 2014
(Other than in the moves above)
441321 293 2150 Belgrade – Sofia (to Nis)
441510 2900 0315 Nis – Belgrade
441749 Young Explorers Train heading towards Skopje
444019 335 1845 Belgrade – Thessalonica
44090 10205 1045 Dragoman – Sofia
44125 2613 1030 Sofia – Varna
44127 2615 1300 Sofia – Varna
44177 7621 0540 Vidin – Sofia
46234 8610 0645 Burgas – Sofia, 5611 1700 Sofia – Kulata
The next week was spent doing the PTG Greek Track Bash tour before returning to Bulgaria yet again to do a bit more cranking.
Saturday 20th September 2014 (More disappointing Sulzers….)
Having had a late enough night the early alarm call to get us to the station for IC460 0755 Sofia – Bucharest wasn’t a particularly welcome one but we were quite thankful of the fact that we didn’t turn up for it last minute as the train was wedged; full and standing on departure from Sofia. Thankfully we managed to get in a compo at the front of the train and were joined by others off the tour who were making their way home via Bucharest, as the flights were cheaper.
The journey to Levski was harmless and BDZ’s 44141 did a good job of getting us there right time. The scenery en-route is worth a mention and it’s quite picturesque in places as the train climbs and runs through some hilly terrain. You could be forgiven for forgetting you were in Bulgaria as the scenery takes away the dismal attempt that Sofia had to impose itself on us as a nice place to visit!
In the station at Levski we found BDZ 6 cylinder Sulzer 55116 attached to two coaches, which the driver confirmed was the 1122 to Svishtov, and 07106, which ran to shed shortly after we arrived. There was a single coach in the east facing bay platform, which could well have been left by 07106; it had been out working locals from Levski the previous weekend. This loco had been the mainstay power for the Kardam based 07 turn for most of the summer, with 07126 having replaced it in recent weeks.
As we boarded the 1122 Svishtov a Desiro came off the shed to form the 1120 to Lovech; both that train and ours were held waiting connections from the 1110 arrival ex Varna which was 45 late. We departed 38 late at bang on 1200, heading out of town and into the wilderness; literally. The line curves away from Levski, to the east, as it heads out of town then back on itself as it then climbs the hillside to get up and over towards Svishtov. The journey is quite nice with emphasis on a dustier ride than that on the journey over from Sofia. With the hills the loco was worked hard but unfortunately it was as disappointing, if not more so, than 06029 had been the previous evening and even the sound even more muffled. Still it did the job and was run round at Svishtov quite quickly and we were only 16 late on the return journey; albeit on a plus 13 at Levski onto the 1346 to Varna if we needed to do it, or a plus 17 onto the 1350 Troyan if it was hauled, and not 07106! We’d decided, based on previous experience of Kolomna’s, that it just wasn’t worth doing and an earlier finish in Varna was more preferable to spinning it in!
Svishtov station has its own restaurant, which was open and serving. We just didn’t have enough time to use it. There’s plenty of siding space adjacent to the station and the docks are close by so a decent amount of freight must operate over the line? Even if so we saw nothing freight wise at all and there didn’t seem to be a great deal of traction available at Levski shed.
Coming back down to Levski the town is visible from the hillside and its more evident where the railway line goes and turns back on itself. As we rolled by the shed, at 1347, there was no sign of the 1346 towards Varna and we found 55196 in the platform upon arrival, poised to work the 1530 to Troyan with the one coach in the bay platform; the 1346 to Varna then becoming irrelevant and we were ultimately held 5 minutes waiting connections off it from Sofia.
We’d toyed with going through to Troyan and back but the nearly midnight arrival into Varna didn’t appeal to either of us so we went out to Aleksandrovo, on the load 1 train that was the 1350 Levski – Troyan, to await the nice Desiro coming back in from Lovach. 55196 was no better than 55116 had been and actually sounded better departing from Aleksandrovo than it did when bellowing out behind it from a window in the coach that formed “the” train.
After watching 55196 depart I went in search of some snacks and cold drinks outside the station. What I found was a large building with what appeared to be potatoes laid out in its very large court yard, on one side of the cobbled road that led away from the station building and another industrial type place on the other side. Further down the road were some dwellings and traversing the road were two separate horses with their carts in tow, also conveying people; there were no places to buy snacks or beverages of any kind, not even beer!
The Desiro back to Levski was on time and that was as far as the pleasantries went for the journey! There were no lights on board, the AC wasn’t working and the windows were open, for what the gesture of opening them was worth, the electrically operated bog worked though so you could go for a crap but the place would have soon become very “nice” indeed in the afternoon heat, which was in the high twenties. Other than that the nice new DMU was in tip-top shape and fit for service, but for the broken windows, which were held together by sticky plastic sheets. I’m not even sure if the Desiro journey was actually a step up from a compo on a load one train hauled by some old diesel……
Back at Levski we had an hour to kill and food was needed. Despite there being plenty of café types outside the station, all appeared to be either bars or simply coffee shops. There are two small shops on the station though and thankfully one did sausage or kebab sandwiches; which did the job, followed by a beer while waiting for the next train to Varna. One of BDZ’s refurbished 44’s, 44002, turned up with 2615 1300 Sofia – Varna, and in a stark contrast to the other trains heading west during the day, it was virtually empty and we had a compo to ourselves the whole way to Varna. An opportunity arose to catch up on some doss for the day and it was taken; I eventually got myself up half way to Varna, just in time for it to start getting dark. We’d toyed with the idea of getting off at Poveljanovo for 8601 1035 Sofia – Varna via Plovdiv, which was bound to be late, but didn’t bother, only to find it 40 late on the screens at Varna after we arrived; 1 minute early.
The Hotel Aqua overlooks the station and is only a couple of minute walk from the side exit at Varna, being visible from the platforms. Check-in was simple and I even booked a room for the following night before we went to the room. It had seemed like a good idea when we’d arrived in Sofia two weeks previous but as my planned overnight move from Varna to Bucharest via Ruse approached, it really wasn’t looking that enticing at all. I was told by the hotel staff to log in to their WiFi and book a room via Booking.com as it was cheaper than the rates they could offer me as I stood right in front of them; so I stood right in front of them and booked it on my phone before confirming I could keep the same room to myself for the following night, despite it being a twin room. The room was spacious, clean, had toiletries provided, along with AC and free WiFi.
The restaurant in the Hotel Aqua was open until 2230 and was used quite a bit during our stay. The food was good, and more to the point actually more like a meal than anything else we’d had in Bulgaria, it was cheap and was freshly cooked and just what we needed before retiring for the night.
|44141||Sofia||Levski||0755 Sofia – Bucharest||IC460||BDZ 44|
|55116||Levski||Svishtov||1122 Levski – Svishtov||24204||BDZ 55 (Sulzer)|
|55116||Svishtov||Levski||1238 Svishtov – Levski||24205||BDZ 55 (Sulzer)|
|55196||Levski||Aleksandrovo||1350 Levski – Troyan||24223||BDZ 55 (Sulzer)|
|10025||Aleksandrovo||Levski||1407 Lovech – Levski||24274||BDZ Desiro DMU|
|44002||Levski||Varna||1300 Sofia – Varna||2615||BDZ 44|
Gen for Saturday 20th September 2014
55116 24204 1122 Levski – Svishtov, 24205 1238 Svishtov – Levski (Load 2)
55196 24223 1350 Levski – Troyan (Load 1)
Desiro 24273 1120 Levski – Lovech, 24274 1407 Lovech – Levski, 24206 1520 Levski – Svishtov
24206 is part of the alleged Class 55 booked turn at Levski
07106 at Levski had possibly worked in from Troyan that morning?
44082 20164 1650 Varna – Komunari
44107 2613 1030 Sofia – Varna
44111 2612 1105 Varna – Sofia
44128 40118 1725 Gorna Oryahovista – Ruse
45204 2610 0715 Varna – Sofia
Sunday 21st September 2014 (Strange on goings on the Kardam turn)
The possibility of an 0715 move ex Varna was dissed the night before and a more leisurely 0920 start was more like it. Breakfast in the hotel was good with plenty of choice, including some hot food, which of course opened itself up to some being taken with us for snacks for the day.
As we got to the station 44082 was just arriving in with 20163 0540 Komunari – Varna and 44065 was being attached to 9620 0920 Varna – Ruse. It wasn’t the warmest of mornings but the sun at least kept trying to make an appearance as we headed out to Poveljanovo, where the sheer size of the surrounding industry becomes very apparent. The previous night it had been dark and there had just been lights scattered around all over the place, not making much sense to the eye with regards where buildings were. At this point of the cool morning though the cool air clearly showed the pollution emitting from some of the surrounding chimneys, depicted by a very clear yellow haze!
The station master clearly didn’t quite understand why we were waiting on his station to board the next train heading back towards Varna, having just got off a train coming from there, and was even more confused when we arrived back after a quick return trip to Beloslav via 44078 & 44060; and actually seemed a little concerned when he asked me if “there is problem” and then pointed to his watch and told me the train was running right time. It actually wasn’t and had just been dispatched 4 minutes early, which seemed to be the norm in these parts as the same had happened at Beloslav and with the previous train we’d got off at Poveljanovo! Maybe he thought we were spying on his timekeeping or something along those lines? It didn’t stop him dispatching trains early though.
44127 arrived with 2655 0700 Pleven – Varna and was let go in favour of doing the 07 turn behind towards Varna. We could see the 07 skirting its way off the Kardam line in the distance, as it approached Poveljanovo and when its number came into view we were a little confused when we made it out; 07106! Having seen it at Levski, a four hour journey away, the previous day we could assume one of two things; either it had worked the Sofia – Kardam from Levski, or done a freight to Poveljanovo overnight to then re-engine the Kardam portion at Poveljanovo. What we didn’t know at the time was that the Kardam 07 turn had been worked by a 55 the previous day!
As with the other Kolomna’s we’d had 07106 was very underwhelming and even the “burning tire” on the roof was starting to get a little boring; clag or no clag the noise was still the same, virtually non-existent! We did it back into Varna though as there was a lull in trains in the afternoon, both inbound and outbound. This lull was used to get me a reservation for IC460 0755 Sofia – Bucharest from Ruse to Bucharest the following day; vice my originally planned overnight that night. Once you know where to buy the correct ticket for the journey you want, that day, advance or international, it’s a little easier to get yourself to the window you require. The on the day counters are the general ones in the booking hall, the advance ones are tucked away in their own room down the corridor to the left of the on the day ones and the international one, run by Rila, is directly opposite the station’s side entrance as you walk through the door. Of course I found all this out the hard way and was directed around the station’s ticket windows from the on the day ones to the advance ones and then to the international one; which had closed 3 minutes before I got to it! The 1200-1230 closure only lasted until 1210 though and I was in possession of my reservation, courtesy of the nice English speaking woman behind the counter, for the grand total of 1.44 Lev moments later. There must have been a constant flow of people doing Varna – Bucharest via Ruse as she had the connections written down on a piece of paper and showed them to me to confirm I was catching the correct connecting train from Varna the following morning.
Ticket buying sorted we opted for what turned out to be a bit of a waste of time move in the end as we did the Desiro on 28202 1300 Varna – Dobrich out to Beloslav for 44132 back in on 8631 0718 Plovdiv – Varna, which was dud. The Desiro at least seemed to be in a little better condition than the one we’d had at Levski the previous day. Unfortunately we had to watch 44111 run non-stop through Beloslav with 2611 0645 Sofia – Varna; but everything comes to he who waits.
With the afternoon lull really taking hold when we got back we retired to the hotel for dinner and a relax in the room before heading back out to view the 1550 Plovdiv, which turned out to be dud 44132 and the 1600 Kardam which was indeed 07106 returning with the stock for the overnight Kardam – Sofia portion after cleaning at Varna; the only reason the two daytime locals in each direction ran. We flagged both and returned to the station again for the 1650 Komunari which was 44082 for the second day running; and started off a rather nice evening bash.
Back at Poveljanovo the same station master was still on duty, and still dispatching trains early. There was a cracking industrial sunset over Poveljanovo as the place was plunged into darkness and the imagination left to decide what fictional film best suited the surroundings as the lights glimmered all around and yet the industrial noise never changed tone.
After clawing back 44111 on 2654 1735 Varna – Pleven we were thankful of 44061 running about 35 late with 30155 1340 Burgas – Varna as bonus moves were offered from Poveljanovo and when 44088 turned up at Beloslav behind it with 20167 1710 Shumen – Varna a further bonus move to Strashimirovo, the next shack towards Varna, just had to be done. Both trains are shown on the BDZ website as units so they were both unexpected and after a last spin back to Poveljanovo with 44202, which was thrown out on the correct train ex Varna as far as getting new engines in was concerned, we headed directly back into Varna on the same train we’d arrive doff the previous evening, 2615 1300 Sofia – Varna, with 45158. 8601 1035 Sofia – Varna via Plovdiv was nowhere to be seen and we eventually found it showing only 25 late on the screens when we got back.
Aidy was a bit tight for time that evening and after a rushed evening meal, as far as he was concerned, he sloped off back to the station to do the 2145 overnight throughout to Sofia, which was worked by 45158; leaving me on my own to head to Romania the following morning and complete my bash, flying home from there 3 days later.
|44065||Varna||Poveljanovo||0920 Varna – Ruse||9620||BDZ 44|
|44078||Poveljanovo||Beloslav||0630 Ruse – Varna||9621||BDZ 44|
|44060||Beloslav||Poveljanovo||1025 Varna – Burgas||30152||BDZ 44|
|07106||Poveljanovo||Varna||0900 Kardam – Varna||28103||BDZ 07|
|10043||Varna||Beloslav||1300 Varna – Dobrich||28202||BDZ Desiro DMU|
|44132||Beloslav||Varna||0718 Plovdiv – Varna||8631||BDZ 44|
|44082||Varna||Poveljanovo||1650 Varna – Komunari||20164||BDZ 44|
|45196||Poveljanovo||Beloslav||1030 Sofia – Varna||2613||BDZ 45|
|44111||Beloslav||Poveljanovo||1735 Varna – Pleven||2654||BDZ 44|
|44061||Poveljanovo||Beloslav||1340 Burgas – Varna||30155||BDZ 44|
|44088||Beloslav||Strashimirovo||1710 Shumen – Varna||20167||BDZ 44|
|44202||Strashimirovo||Poveljanovo||1835 Varna – Karnobat||30156||BDZ 44|
|45158||Poveljanovo||Varna||1300 Sofia – Varna||2615||BDZ 45|
Gen for Sunday 21st September 2014
Varna Departures (All between 0920 and last train that day)
44065 9620 0920 to Ruse
44144 8602 0950 to Sofia
44060 30152 1025 to Burgas
44191 2612 1105 to Sofia
Desiro 10043/044 28202 1300 to Dobrich
44127 2614 1330 to Sofia
EMU 32081/082 30154 1340 to Burgas
44132 8632 1550 to Plovdiv
07106 28104 1600 to Kardam
44082 20164 1650 to Komunari
44111 2654 1735 to Pleven
44078 9622 1805 to Ruse
44202 30156 1835 to Karnobat
Desiro 10043/044 28204 1900 to Dobrich
45158 2616 2145 to Sofia
Varna Arrivals (All between 0859 arrival and 2023 except 8601 at 2010 as was late)
44082 at 0859 with 20163 0540 ex Komunari
44078 at 1023 with 9621 0630 ex Ruse
44127 at 1140 with 2655 0700 ex Pleven
07106 at 1205 with 28103 0900 ex Kardam
EMU 32081/082 at 1216 with 30153 0740 ex Burgas
44111 at 1344 with 2611 0645 ex Sofia
44132 at 1400 with 8631 0718 ex Plovdiv
Desiro 10043/044 at 1648 with 28203 1457 ex Dobrich
45196 at 1752 with 2613 1030 ex Sofia
44061 at 1815 with 30155 1340 ex Burgas
44088 at 1912 with 20167 1710 ex Shumen
44065 at 1950 with 9623 1605 ex Ruse
45158 at 2023 with 2615 1300 ex Sofia
Note: 2010 (8601), 2110 (30157) & 2314 (4640) arrivals not viewed
Monday 22nd September 2014 (A change of scenery)
I’d been told by others that Romania had been the worst country in Europe that they’d ever visited so as I sat in my compartment, with virtually the whole train to myself, on board the 0920 Varna – Ruse you can imagine just how much I was looking forward to getting into Romania, especially as I was on my own. Still I had the previous week to reminisce about during the four hour journey to Ruse as I’d planned to try and catch up on a lot of bureaucracy during me alone time; of course it would have actually helped if I’d charged my laptop since I’d last used it, and almost flattened it, in Macedonia some 10 days previous; what a schoolboy error! I had to reacquaint myself with the art of writing things down on paper; thankfully I had some scrap paper with me.
The train never filled at all to Ruse and I had the run of the front coach all the way. The scenery is nothing like that on the journey from Sofia to Levski either and was rather dull really. Thankfully I had something to keep me occupied. The first thing of interest that caught my eye was 87017 in the yard at Ruse which surprisingly still had its Iron Duke nameplates attached!
Ruse station is rather grand for the amount of trains it has passing through it nowadays and I’m sure it had seen a lot better days. Some of the tucked away corners outside it had the remnants of fires where the homeless looked to have taken refuge at some point and other parts were boarded up. It was a shame really as the architecture and the building itself were actually quite nice.
There are quite a few places to get snacks outside and over the road so getting a bite to eat wasn’t a problem. Back on the station there weren’t many folk about and those that were all disappeared on EMU 32083/084 working 40115 1400 Ruse Razpredelitelna – Gorna Oryahovista, leaving only a few waiting for IC460 0755 Sofia – Bucharest Nord; and even when that did arrive some were only waiting to greet people from it.
The loco to work the train over the border, 07032, had arrived into the station well before IC460 did itself and when 45158 arrived with IC460, clearly having gone Sofia – Varna on 2615 1300 Sofia – Varna then Varna – Sofia on 2616 2145 Varna – Sofia the previous day and then straight onto IC460 at Sofia, it immediately shunted the front coaches off the train and into the opposite platform leaving one BDZ and one CFR coach to go through to Bucharest. The reservation I’d made at Varna the previous day, costing 1.44 Lev, had clearly been a waste of time as there were only about a dozen people on the train at Ruse. My reservation had been in the BDZ coach and the CFR coach was completely empty.
Before departure the Bulgarian border police came through the train and checked passports, in the meantime 07032 was attached to the front, ready for the off, and we were away right time, with yet another crap 07 on the front. This one really did clag lots, while making no noise, when it was opened up; except for when I attempted to video it coming off the bridge on the Romanian side. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this but after the last few days in Bulgaria I was actually glad of an engine on a train that actually made a little bit of noise; when CFR GM 65-1204 dropped onto the train.
IC460 and the opposing working of IC461 from Bucharest are both timed to meet at Giurgiu Nord on the Romanian side of the border. The CFR GM ex IC461 shunts to IC460 and the BDZ 07 from IC460 shunts to IC461; both returning to whence they came from. While the locos do their thing the Romanian border police do theirs and go through both trains checking passports. With only a dozen or so people on our Bucharest bound train we managed to be 10 late away, the loco swap seeming to take a lot longer than it needed to and being the main cause of the delay but had the train been full I’m sure there would have been further delay. Still, after the stop at Videle, where the train loaded up with locals, we hammered along to arrive into Bucharest Nord bang on time and the first thing I found on the blocks when scanning about was CFR Sulzer 60-1356 which had arrived shortly before me with R7040 1455 Urziceni – Bucharest; this being a turn that used to be an 82 before the Summer yet seems to have stayed in the hands of 60’s/62’s since the Summer timetable had finished a couple of weeks before.
|44202||Varna||Ruse||0920 Varna – Ruse||9620||BDZ 44|
|07032||Ruse||Giurgiu Nord||0755 Sofia – Bucharest Nord||IC460||BDZ 07032 for CFR 651025 forward|
|651025||Giurgiu Nord||Bucharest Nord|
|477268||Bucharest Nord||Ploiesti Vest||1730 Bucharest Nord – Budapest Keleti||EN472||CFR 477|
|477703||Ploiesti Vest||Ploiesti Sud||1640 Brasov – Galati||IR1731||CFR 477|
|410588||Ploiesti Sud||Crivina||1230 Suceava – Bucharest Nord||IR1752||CFR 41|
|410406||Crivina||Peris||1925 Ploiesti Sud – Bucharest Nord||IR1556||CFR 41|
|400482||Peris||Buftea||1645 Brasov – Bucharest Nord||R3008||CFR 40|
|477784||Buftea||Bucharest Nord||0820 Timisoara Nord – Bucharest Nord||IR1622||CFR 477|
Gen for Monday 22nd September 2014
44082 20163 0540 Komunari – Varna
44111 90101 0720 Ruse – Shumen
45158 IC460 0755 Sofia – Bucharest Nord (to Ruse)
EMU 32083/084 40114 1050 Gorna Oryahovista – Ruse Razpredelitelna, 40115 1400 Ruse Razpredelitelna – Gorna Oryahovista
And onward into Romania for two days……..