Montenegro 9th September 2014
Having travelled round Eastern Europe for a few weeks in September 2014 we managed a quick dash into Montenegro; it was in overnight from Belgrade (Serbia), the day there and then back out overnight towards Belgrade the following night. It’s right what they say about the scenery in Montenegro, all of what we saw was from the train journey in/out.
Booked through EU Rail
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)
Tuesday 9th September 2014 (Welcome to Montenegro)
The first thing that I knew about the following morning was when Aidy was waking me to tell me he couldn’t get out of the compartment. He was going to see what occurred during the engine change at Kraljevo. Having lent over and twisted the lock firmly, I managed to open the door for him in seconds; apparently he’d been trying for about 5 minutes, had something in the slot trying to twist it open, tried to use the call attendant button and had even tried booting the door open! My earplugs rule by the way. To be fair to Aidy the lock mechanism was a bit stiff and I did struggle to get it open myself later in the morning.
The compartment related door issues weren’t the only ones Aidy had while trying to get to the front of the train to spot the loco change at Kraljevo; he told me the following morning that he couldn’t walk through the train as all the vestibule end doors were chained up and to get out of the coach he had to unchain the door as well. Neither ZS nor ZCG seemed to be big up on safety with that one as had we actually managed to get out of our compartment in a fire we’d then got a further two doors to negotiate before reaching fresh air and potential safety; I’d have been out of the window in the compartment as it seemed to be the only thing in our coach that opened quickly and easily but for the bog door! Bless him, Aidy had to run back down the ballast to get into the rear coach once 461155 had replaced 661155 and the dead 461011 at Kraljevo; before being left behind and he’d very recently had an operation on his foot which had almost stopped him doing the trip full stop!
The next disturbance in the morning was the passport checks as we departed Serbia at Prijepolje Teretna. Thankfully it was a quick affair and sleep wasn’t disturbed that much at all. When the Montenegro border police joined the train at Bijelo Polje to do their stuff though sleep was disturbed a little more and I almost averted a disaster when I realised the guy was about to put an entry stamp in one of the two empty pages I have left in my passport; these were needed for my next Indian visa, that I would be getting very shortly after returning from this trip; thankfully I wasn’t actually needing to apply for a new passport as well and once I’d explained to him why I didn’t want that particular page stamping he just handed my passport back and didn’t stamp it at all!
After another hour’s sleep we decided to surface at around 0800 and having opened the compartment door we were soon in awe of the fantastic scenery that people comment about when travelling by the Belgrade – Bar overnight train. As the sun was still trying to elevate itself in the sky it hadn’t quite burnt off the morning mist that lingered in the mountains as we sailed through them on our train. By the time we reached Podgorica though, having dropped down the other side of the range, the sun was blazing down and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. We were about 30 late and joined most of the rest of the train as we alighted at Podgorica.
With over two hours to kill we attempted to get breakfast from the restaurant on the station but were told the kitchen wouldn’t be open for at least 30 minutes so after a quick coffee we used the same route to get to the depot that all the locals were using to get from one side of Podgorica to the other; straight over the tracks at the Bar end of the station. There was always a constant flow of people so we didn’t stand out at all.
Back at the station the kitchen at the station restaurant didn’t open until it was just too late for us to contemplate using it so we settled for some very good freshly made pastries from a place inside the station booking hall; and a bargain they were at 60 Euro cents each.
The train to Bar was load 4, with a couchette coach leading then a couple of 2nd class compo coaches followed by an air-conditioned compo coach, which was freezing cold! We managed to get a compo to ourselves in one of the non-AC coaches and enjoyed the journey to Bar but for the half a dozen kids that were just being kids and running about screaming at each other and out of the windows. The journey took under an hour and the scenery is best where the train heads round a lake about 15 minutes out of Podgorica, as well as that offered as the train arrives into Sutomore; where the beach down below was rammed with sun-seekers; it was bloody hot though!
At Bar we went in search of some food. We didn’t walk far in the end and opted for a place called Bar Konova on the right hand side of the road just over from the station. While not in English the waiter managed to explain some things on the menu to us and we had a decent grilled chicken with chips and salad, followed by a 0.5L Jelen each and the bill only came to €13; the beers actually only being €1.50 each. If you think that was cheap we found a 2L bottle of Jelen in a fridge at the station for the grand price of €2.30; I can hear everyone saying how cheap now……..!
We returned to the station to board 12432 1700 Bar – Belgrade; the stock just being backed in as we got back at 1615. There seemed to be a bit of a commotion going on with two Germans and their rather large bikes. We didn’t see what actually happened to the bikes but the two Germans were on the train; there isn’t a bike coach on the train so maybe they had to put them on the car carrier at the rear of the train?
We were in the second coach from the engine for the journey back north, which would save a lot of messing about during engine changes. Strangely though the upper bed had been left down in the compartment but this was soon dismissed and the middle berth was higher than the one the previous night which actually allowed us to sit on the bottom berth without having to duck. Once we’d departed Bar the attendant came and took our tickets/reservation; only when he started to become a little confused with what he was looking at did Aidy hand over his Serbian travel passes as well as his Montenegrin ones, at which point all became well with the attendant.
While the scenery beyond Podgorica wasn’t as atmospheric as it had been that morning, watching the sun sink behind the mountains was still pretty impressive. After watching which we decided to use the restaurant car on board to get a bit to eat. Aidy was handed a menu in English on his first trip to the restaurant car and when he returned the second time, with our order, he returned empty handed as hardly anything was available; only cold sandwiches and beer. Ultimately we ended up with what turned out to be a decent sized cheese sandwich, which randomly had tomato sauce on it; still it filled a hole before we relaxed for the evening and unfortunately I managed to trip the plug socket out in our compartment when I tried to charge my Surface so beware. The sockets do take mobile phone chargers though but don’t like laptop ones! Other than the sockets not being up to scratch the ZS sleeping coaches were in a lot better state than I expected. The toilets weren’t quite up to the borderline standard but at least they flushed, had running water and a toilet roll; once the latter had gone though, it was gone and never got replaced. When the doors were left open they could be smelt down the whole coach corridor!
The passport checks by Montenegrin border police at Bijelo Polje were harmless enough and we were soon on our way; at Prijepolje Teretna it was a different story and despite being stamped in to Serbia two days previous we still got another stamp and thankfully the guy put it right by the previous one in the corner of an already full page of my passport; I was watching the whole time though, just in case he decided that the two empty pages looked like they were in need of a stamp. While the guys on board the train at Bijelo Polje did the grip others proceeded to take the train apart inside as others did the same outside and one guy even through the engine with a fine toothcomb. Meanwhile the two through coaches to Novi Sad, which were conveyed to Bijelo Polje on 6102 1450 Bar – Bijelo Polje, were shunted onto the rear of the train; making it load 10 + car carrier. At Prijepolje Teretna while the border guys did their stuff 461155 was detached and used to add a car carrier to the rear of the train, which was removed at Lapovo by 661158 the following morning, making the train load 10 + 2 car carriers.
After the border grips were complete and we’d departed Prijepolje Teterna it was time for bed; the next disturbance would be my alarm clock going off at 0600 so we could spot the 661 before it came off at Lapovo.