Tag Archives: Serbia

Goodbye Niš, Serbia, Hello Sofia, Bulgaria!

I was taking a 4:30 am bus from Niš, Serbia to Sofia, Bulgaria.   My Niš apartment was on the third floor of a building that had a cement spiral staircase, and no lighting at all in the hallway. Being that I am leaving at this ridiculously early hour, there is also no sunlight in the hallway.

I gave myself an extra half an hour to sit down on the stairs and scoot down them with my suitcase in tow, to avoid breaking my neck and killing myself.  It is times like these that I almost wish I were not solo, just so that someone else could witness how stupid my life is.

steps death

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The walk to the bus only took about fifteen minutes.  As I was boarding the bus, I was shown that on my ticket, it clearly states that there is a charge for storing luggage on the bus.  I cannot recall the exact amount, but it was less than $1 USD.  I flashed back to the conversation I had with the driver’s assistant back in Sarajevo and now realized that I was probably about ten cents short with paying for my luggage on that route.  I had no idea what was even going on.  Now, I know.

The bus ride was relatively uneventful, save for the beautiful scenery outside.  When we crossed over into Bulgaria and had to show our passports, it became clear to everyone that I was from America.   This caused a lot of the usual interested stares I have gotten this trip, but the only person who commented on it was the driver’s assistant who seemed very surprised I was traveling solo.

We arrived in Sofia at around 9:30 am.  I did not even realize we were in Sofia at first.  We were let off at an annex to the main bus station.  All that is over on this side is rows of store fronts that contain only specific bus company ticket desks inside.  It took me a bit to realize that the main bus station was right next door.

I had approximately eight hours to go see Sofia before heading on a bus to Belogradchik (I would be back in Sofia tomorrow for more time to spend here).  I did not want to leave the bus station until I had secured my ticket for Belogradchik.  Finding out the bus information for this route was not the easiest thing.  The internet is so not clear on anything.  As a bonus, today was Sunday and the schedule I had, clearly stated “every day except Sunday”, which I had not realized until I was getting my stuff together when leaving my hotel back in Niš.  Oh I feel a migraine coming on.

The counter for the bus company that goes to Belogradchik was not open yet.  It did not open for two hours.  I spent two hours in the bus station waiting for it to open.

Once I got my ticket, I checked my luggage.  Then off to the tram to head downtown.  This was a headache as well as I could not figure out how to buy a ticket.  OH HEY you can buy one on the tram.  Duh.

My main plans in Sofia for today are:  (a) follow the tram directions for the hotel I am going to be staying at tomorrow night, so I know how to get there tomorrow  to avoid getting lost (I AM ALWAYS LOST) with luggage and (b) visit St. Alexander Nevsky Church.

My plans were slightly thwarted when outside the tram window, I spot the holy grail – DUNKIN FREAKING DONUTS.  AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!  DUNKIN DONUTS.  THERE IS ICED COFFEE AT DUNKIN DONUTS.  I HAVE NOT HAD ICED COFFEE SINCE LEAVING HOME.  I NEED ICED COFFEE.  GIVE ME ICED COFFEE NOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

I get off the tram and bolt back to the Dunkin Donuts.  I was so excited.  I think the guy working there probably thought I was a bit off with HOW excited I was.  Not only did they have iced coffee (well, iced lattes, close enough!), they also had donuts with smiley faces on them.  Of COURSE I am going to buy a donut with a smiley face on it.  I am so happy ICED COFFEE (OKAY LATTE, CLOSE ENOUGH).  I place my order in pretty much a sing song voice, which was even singier when i asked for “smiley faced donut please!!!”

EEEEEE!

dunkin donuts

As if this wasn’t cool enough (it totally was!), I managed to then walk to the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral without getting lost!  I read a map correctly!  What a fantastic day.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is gorgeous.  Insanely gorgeous.  One picture will never be enough.

alexander nevsky alexander nevsky church, sofia, bulgaria, sofia, bulgaria alexander nevsky church, sofia, bulgariaalexander nevsky church, sofia, bulgaria

I was really surprised at how empty it was inside.  There were maybe about ten people in there, with about eight of them praying.   You are not allowed to take pictures inside.  Of course, the two other tourists were ignoring  this and doing it anyway until they got told to stop.  I sat in here for quite some time just admiring it.  It was so quiet and peaceful.

After leaving, I wandered a bit around Sofia before heading back to the bus station.

former communist party house, sofia, bulgariarussian orthodox church, former communist party houseCIMG0899central military club, former communist party houseCIMG0890CIMG0889monument to the tsar liberator, sofia, bulgariasofia, bulgariasofia, bulgariasofia, bulgariasofia, bulgaria

How beautiful is Sofia’s backdrop?

sofia, bulgaria

Mentally Melting Down in Niš, Serbia

Today I was able to sleep in a bit since Nis doesn’t have all that much to see.  This means I am up by 8:00 anyway.

First thing I do is Google to see where the train station is, since I had forgotten to do that before I left.  Oh fuck.  It is a 21 minute walk, which is fine.  But there are a lot of turns and stuff on Cyrillic written streets.  There is no way in HELL I am going to be able to find it in the dark at 2:30 am.  FUCK.  This was my whole reason for staying an extra night in my hotel.  I don’t want to trust that I can get a cab.  So I decide that I will just take the bus to Sofia tomorrow.  Good bye dreams of finally taking an overnight sleeper train.  UGH.

Since I am going to the Fortress today, I make that my first stop since it is pretty much at the bus station.  This way I can buy a bus ticket to Sofia for tomorrow. It was an easy walk, passing over the Nišava River.

Nišava River, Nis, Serbia

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Buying a bus ticket was not as hard as I anticipated it would be.  I manage to convey that I want to take the 4:30 am bus tomorrow morning.  The woman working the window manages to convey that it will be 1350 dinar (around $17 USD).  We worked very well together for two people who did not understand a word the other was saying.

After this, I realize I am starving.  I go to a restaurant in the bus station parking lot.  That did not go as well as the bus ticket did.   I asked the waitress if she spoke English.  She did not. I start off by pointing to the huge poster advertising iced coffee.  She brings me a cherry milkshake.  I am not kidding.  She also brought the check so I guess I wasn’t going to get my chance to order food.

I went to the Fortress.  It was so nice.

fortress walls grafitti Nis, Serbia

fortress walls Nis, Serbiapark Nis, Serbiapark Nis, Serbiafortress Nis, Serbia

Obligatory Nis dog picture:

doggie Nis, Serbia

I will admit I wanted to take the tourist train, even though it was clearly for kids.  It had a smiley face on the front and played ice cream truck music.  There were adults on it though.  I just could not figure out where to board so I let it go.

Train in Fortress Park, Nis, SerbiaTrain in Fortress Park, Nis, Serbia

I meander around a bit, being a tourist and taking pictures.  It took forever to get a picture of these fountains because they just KNEW I was waiting with my camera and they were being camera shy. But I got you!

fountains Nis, Serbia

Next stop:  Skull Tower.  I am so excited for this.   I walk to where it is on my map.  I cannot find it.  Flash forward literally two hours of walking around, I do not find it.  I finally give up and decide to go back to the Fortress entrance, where there is a tourist information booth.  It was open when I was here earlier.  It is closed now.

I find a big map of Nis, including all the tourist sites.  On it, they show a picture of the Skull Tower.  But it is not on the actual map.  Are you freaking kidding me?

By now, I am just about done.  I agree to do the following:  go back to my hotel, go online, re-Google the stupid skull tower, consider taking a cab.

I get to my hotel and my key won’t work.  Will not work.  Cannot open the entrance to the door on the third floor.  I know the woman who checked me in yesterday mentions she is one floor above.  I go up one more floor.  There are three doors, none are marked.  I try again and again and again.  I try kicking the door.  I am now freaking out and breaking down and sweating and about to burst into tears.

I go back down  and outside to ring the bell to get her to come out.  She meets me at the door.  “Oh Jennifer” she says.  Then she takes my keys and tries to unlock the door and she can’t.  See?  It is not just me.  Oh but it is because she tries again and on the second time, she gets the stupid freaking door open.

Okay.  Problem solved.  I get to my room and the wifi is not working.  Oh fuck no I am not going back down two flights of stairs again to ring the bell to have her meet me.  I Google the Serbia country code on my flip phone – which will probably cost me a million dollars since my data service isn’t covered in Serbia.  I call the number, and someone appears and fixes my wifi.  I am now supposed to re-Google map the Skull Tower, but instead I opt to just burst into frustrated tears.  I tend to have one meltdown on every trip I take; this was this trip’s meltdown.

I thought I might stay here for a bit and relax and build up the mental strength to go back out and see the ONE THING I AM DYING TO SEE HERE.  But it did not happen.

So now I am in Nis to see one thing I did not see.  I am taking a bus that leaves at 4:30 am, instead of one that left at 6:30 pm, which was the better option all around.  You know, so I could be here later to take the overnight train I am now no longer taking.  Everything from the moment I entered Serbia on my layover two (was it two?) days ago has gone horribly wrong.  Serbia hates me.  I still don’t hate Serbia though.  It is not Serbia’s fault I lost my magic trip planning skills.

Bus Ride from Sarajevo, Bosnia to Niš, Serbia

Today I am leaving Sarajevo and going to Niš, Serbia.  I am really excited about this.  I had done and redone this part of my trip 83274398274 times.  I wanted to go to Niš so bad.  I cant explain it, I just NEEDED to see it.  That happens sometimes, you just become completely fixated on seeing a certain place for unexplainable reasons, you just FEEL that you need to be there.  That is Niš for me.

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This part of my trip was so complicated to plan.  I wanted to take a bus and arrive, see Niš and get back on the bus and head to Bulgaria.  This seemed impossible to do since I could not find out the things I needed to know in order to do this.  Like for example, is there a bag check at the Niš bus station?  I still do not know the answer to this by the way.  So I opted to just spend a full day and night in Niš, and then later on got really excited when I discovered I could take an overnight train to Bulgaria.  This is a huge bucket list item for me.  Being that I have never done it, it seems so exciting.  I also have a feeling that as life goes on and I have gotten to do this more times than I can count, it will STILL be exciting.  Check back in a few years to see if I am right.

There are two bus stations in Sarajevo.  One is easy to get to.  The one that my bus is leaving from is not that one.  The owner of the guesthouse I was at told me how to take public transport to the bus station I needed to leave from.  it seemed really complicated so she offered that she could arrange for her driver to take me for 20BAM (which is about $13-ish USD).  Done deal!

I am picked up and whisked off to the bus station.   I had some Bosnia Marks leftover and spent them at the little newsstand inside the station.  I bought a few packs of gum and was actually proud of myself for a few moments that I was not leaving with a surplus of cash that would not be good at my next stop.  Big mistake.  Why?  Because before boarding the bus, I needed to use the restroom.  There is a sign that it costs .50BAM.  All I have left is .50BAM.  The man at the door keeps telling me “no”.  I point to the sign that says .50, show him the .50 and he still will not let me in.  He gets frustrated with me and takes out a pen and piece of paper and writes $1.  But it says fifty fucking cents.  He doesn’t understand English, I don’t understand anything except English.   I do not want to be one of those stupid Americans who go to another country without understanding the language and act like it’s the other persons fault for the communication breakdown.  I accept that this is my own fault.  So I don’t get to use the restroom.  Then I become obsessed with it.  I am going to be on a bus for ten hours.  Have you ever NOT had to pee, but thinking about how you COULDN’T pee made you have to pee?  Yeah that.

Oh there are no bathrooms on the bus either.

The bus pulls up and I am ready to board. No need to freak out about wondering if you are getting on the right bus!

Nis Bus

Communication breakdown number two.  There was a man loading luggage underneath the bus.  We had a very confusing conversation where neither of us understood the other, during which he would not take my luggage.  Finally he realizes he can show me and holds out a hand full of change.  OH.  You want some change, I am so excited to learn that this is an easily solvable problem.  I try to give him the fifty cents that the bathroom dude won’t take. He won’t take it either.  I have no more Bosnian money.  I spent it on gum I did not want or need.   I do not know what this man wants.  I think to try maybe giving him Serbian Dinars, which I actually have on me, from my layover at the Beograde airport the other day.  He still shakes his head no, completely frustrated with me at this point, as he should be.  He then motions for me to go on the bus.  We do the “we do not understand each other at all” gesture thing where I make sure this is okay and he repeat motions that it is okay and on the bus I go.  Still having to pee.

I don’t really mind long bus rides.  I just put my headphones on and close my eyes.  When I do decide to open them, I am treated to scenery that gets me all excited inside because I will  never get enough of the incredible feeling of looking outside a bus or train window, at a country I have never been to before, and feel that gush of pride that I got here all by myself.

bus scenery - Sarajevo to Nisbus scenery - Sarajevo to Nis

As the ride goes on, my need  to pee grows.  At some point around hour five, I cant take it anymore.  I take out my flip phone and access the internet on it, which is costing me eleventy billion dollars.  I try Googling to see if anyone else has taken this bus and blogged about it, so I can get an idea of what time the first stop is.  As I am Googling, we pull over!  I GET TO PEE!!!!!  I have never been more excited.

Our stop is at a restaurant. I don’t want to eat so I go outside, as do some others.   I am asked by three separate people if I am from the United States.  All three had no follow up questions for me.

We were at this stop for about half an hour I would guess.  Once the driver is done with his meal, we all load back onto the bus.  I pull out my phone to check the time and that’s when I see that UGH. When I had tried to Google to find out about the stops, my poor, pathetic flip phone could not handle loading whatever website I was trying to load before I realized we were pulling over.  So it has been stuck on “this page is too big to load” for about half an hour. So I have been on the internet for half an hour.  Paying roaming data charges. My phone company is going to LOVE me.

When we arrive in Niš, I plan to walk to the apartment I have rented for two nights.  Here are the walking directions:

1. Head south 270 m

2. Slight right toward Trg Kralja Milana 250 m

3. Continue straight onto Trg Kralja Milana Pass by Споменик Цару Константину (on the left in 78 m) 240 m

4. Turn right toward Генерала Милојка Лешјанина 11 m

5. Turn left toward Генерала Милојка Лешјанина 8 m

6. Turn right onto Генерала Милојка Лешјанина Pass by Medi-Service (on the right in 93 m) 220 m

7. Turn left onto Милорада Вељковића Шпаје Pass by Gnezdo (on the right) 210 m

8. Turn left at AIK Bank onto Nikole Pašića/Николе Пашића Pass by DiStefano (on the left) 51 m

9. Turn right at Minjon onto Александра Ненадовића

Destination will be on the right

I just can’t.  I get lost all the time, I cannot read a map.   I cannot read these directions. I am just not in the mood for this.  I find a cab driver who speaks English and he tells me it will cost me 300 Serbian Dinar to drive me.  That is like $4.   I am so down.

It turns out taking a cab was the best idea ever because once I figured my way around, I realized those directions took me in a really weird way. Finally I have done something right.

I check into my apartment, which cost me $20 USD/night.  God I love Eastern Europe.  Once I am all settled, it is only around 6:00 PM.  But I have a full liter of San Benedetto Peach Iced Tea (that I never opened on the bus because I had that whole “I have to pee” thing going on).  I also have a bunch of snacks leftover from my “I can’t eat any of this because I cannot wash it down because I am too scared to drink anything because I have to pee” thing going on.  The air conditioning is blasting.  I am so comfortable.  So in the end, I opted to shower, do laundry and spent the night catching up on blogging and sorting pictures.  Perfect night.

bed Prenociste Sunce, Nis SerbiaKitchen Prenociste Sunce, Nis Serbia