Archives For London to Sofia by Train


Facing a long day flying home, I wake early for a run on the beach. I repeat the route I took yesterday, enter the beach at its start, run north for thirty-three minutes and turn around. A fitness program on my phone allows me to play music while it tracks my progress and time. In a nice voice it reminds me every so often that I still cannot run a mile in under ten minutes. At this rate the 70 mile triathlon I have been training for will take nearly eight hours to complete.

The beach is nearly empty this morning. There are a few other joggers but most people I meet are here for a nice walk at the water’s edge. The tide is coming in and I am not always quick enough to get out of the way of the small waves that climb the beach. My running shoes are soon wet and heavy.

I have set the program to shuffle music and despite the randomness the songs always seem to fit what I am experiencing. As I cross under a pier a song based upon an Irish blessing starts to play in my ears.

May the wind be always at your back

And the sunshine warm upon your face.

May the rains fall soft upon your field

Until the day we meet again.

And the roof that hangs over your head

Find you shelter from the storm.

Before the devil knows you’re dead

May you be in heaven my friend.*

As if on cue I come upon an elderly woman facing the sun with her palms raised. Finishing her morning prayer, she makes the sign of the cross, turns slowly and walks away.

The next song starts and I continue jogging north.

* Devil Knows You’re Dead by Delta Spirit


Heading home alone

September 4, 2013 — Leave a comment

I left Abby in Obzor at 4:00 PM and drove back to Burgas. I fly home to Baltimore tomorrow.

Over the last eight days we have traveled more than 2,000 miles together from London to the Black Sea. At the start I expected that we would spend this time in long heart felt talks. We didn’t. Those talks belong to an earlier time when I was the only man in her life. I am not that person for her any longer. Instead, we spent most of our trip in quiet reflection as we watched Europe pass by our train windows. She drawing sketches and sharing her experiences with her boyfriend by email and I writing these blog entries.

In earlier trips I was depended upon to make sure everything was in place. On this trip I travel with a partner who did more than her fair share. From finding a conductor to let her on a locked train to retrieve the bag containing my passport I had left behind, to finding great restaurants and an amazing bike tour, Abby’s contributions made the trip better.

When she announced that she had obtained a grant to attend this program I was nervous. This was not like the organized school trips overseas she had taken before and I was frightened of the prospect of her traveling to Bulgaria alone. I realize now that she could have done this without me and has sacrificed some of her independence to let her worrisome father tag along to unnecessarily make sure she made it okay.

We arrived early to the pick up point and waited in a cafe next door. She said goodbye to me there and walked the remaining fifty meters alone. She left soon thereafter already deep in conversation with the people she had just met.

She did not look back.

During our brief layover in Sofia we took the Sofia Bike Tour and spent an amazing morning biking in Sofia with our tour guide Lucy.

We rented bikes from Sofia Bike and met Lucy at the front of the National Theater at 10:00 AM. She rolled up on a Drag mountain bike and for the next three hours led us around the center of Sofia and through its parks.

At the start she advised us that Sofia was not “bike tolerant.” She wasn’t kidding. Bikes were everywhere when we were in London and Paris but there is no real bike infrastructure here. There is a single bike trail in one of the parks that was originally built as a private exercise area for a senior communist official. The trail is still in good shape and is now open to the public but doesn’t appear to get much use.

Bikes don’t share roads here. Most riding takes place on sidewalks and using crosswalks. No helmets are worn, only sun glasses. There are formal walking trails in the parks but we do not use many of them. Instead Lucy’s tour takes us down smaller and narrower paths. We bike across a four lane high-speed boulevard and even down a ramp to an underground mall, a first for me.

At the stops along the way Lucy tells us the history of her country, its current struggles and the reason for ongoing protests in front of the Parliament. It was a wonderfully informative ride and one of the best tours of a city I have ever taken.

As well as being a strong cyclist and enthusiastic tour guide, Lucy is a kindergarten teacher who works with special needs kids. She has studied English since the third grade, is extremely proficient, and wants to visit the U.S. someday. I hope it happens soon and that when it does she will include a visit to Baltimore so I can return the favor and show her my city by bike.

Thanks again Lucy.

The last train

September 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

From The Man in Seat 61. . .How to travel by train from London to Sofia and Bulgaria

Day 4, travel from Bucharest to Sofia by daytime train, leaving Bucharest Nord at 12:30 and arriving Veliko Tarnovo at 19:16 and Sofia central station at 22:00. . . .There is no catering as this is just one Romanian Railways through carriage with 2nd class seating only in 6-seater compartments, so bring your own supplies of food, water, and beer or wine. However, it’s a scenic and interesting trip, so enjoy the ride. Expect an arrival an hour or so late.

The train to Sofia is about as far away as you can get from the Eurostar we took out of London just a few days ago. There is no air conditioning so we move from our assigned seats to a cabin with a window that can open. There are few other passengers and we have the cabin to ourselves. We will spend 10 hours on this train to travel 400 kilometers (roughly 250 miles) on tickets that cost a total of $41.00. A 16 mile cab ride from our house in Baltimore to the airport costs more.

The northern part of Bulgaria is beautiful. There are enormous fields of farmland under cultivation, probaly stretching hundreds of square miles. Soon the geography changes and we are riding above the Yantra River valley. We descend and follow it into Veliko Tarnova. As the sun begins to set we pass by and then under amazing rock formations that rise on both sides of the tracks.

It is nearly 10:00 PM and our train trip is just about over. It has gone according to plan and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

As we pull into Sofia, I recall that when I was in high school I thought I would spend a summer travelling through Europe on a Eurail Pass after finishing college. Law school and the Army got in the way and it never happened. Until now.

Sometimes in life you are given a second chance. When you are you should take it.


Jogging in Bucharest

September 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

From The Man in Seat 61. . .How to travel by train from London to Sofia and Bulgaria

Day 4, travel from Bucharest to Sofia by daytime train, leaving Bucharest Nord at 12:30 and arriving Veliko Tarnovo at 19:16 and Sofia central station at 22:00. It’s a tight connection in Bucharest, the Ister usually runs on time but I recommend staying the night in Bucharest and traveling on to Sofia on day 4. There is no catering as this is just one Romanian Railways through carriage with 2nd class seating only in 6-seater compartments, so bring your own supplies of food, water, and beer or wine. However, it’s a scenic and interesting trip, so enjoy the ride. Expect an arrival an hour or so late.

We followed Mark Smith’s advice and spent the night in Bucharest, giving me a chance for a morning jog. The route I pick is down and back the embankment of a small canal that runs into the heart of the city from Morii Lake.

Jogging through Bucharest I get the sense that the transition from a communist dictatorship to a capitalist democracy has not been an easy one. The canal serves no navigational purpose but seems to have been built as a public park or green space, complete with small lovely gardens and playgrounds along the way.

This beauty is offset by the urban decay that starts just across the street from the canal. Many of the buildings there are covered with graffiti and a few car windows have been smashed last night.

There is even a deserted power plant just to the south that dominates the skyline.

Stray dogs are everywhere I go this morning but they do not bother me. I do not encounter any other runners on the canal path and the looks I receive from the people I pass confirm that I am out of place.

Three lanes of high speed traffic fill the road next to the canal and it is rush hour. Just ahead a dog starts to cross. The first two lanes slow, but the lane closest to me does not. I am certain she will be hit and turn away. I wait for the sound of impact but there is none.

Somehow she has survived and is now in front of me, running slowly. I follow awhile and then turn back, happy my jogging partner is okay.


The view from Cabin 31.

September 1, 2013 — Leave a comment

The scenery today is magnificent. When I awake we are passing through wooded hills and pastures where cattle and many sheep are grazing. There is some corn being grown, but mostly hay which has already been harvested and put into large circular bales.

We follow the Olt River awhile and then continue through Busteni at the base of the Bucegi Mountains. We will be late to Bucharest but are in no hurry for this ride to be over.


Night train to Bucharest

August 31, 2013 — 1 Comment

From The Man in Seat 61. . .How to travel by train from London to Sofia and Bulgaria

Day 2, travel from Munich to Budapest by air-conditioned Austrian RailJet train, leaving Munich at 09:27 and arriving in Budapest Keleti at 16:49. A bar-bistro car is available, so treat yourself to lunch!

Travel from Budapest to Bucharest overnight on the EuroNight sleeper train Ister, leaving Budapest Keleti at 19:10 and arriving in Bucharest Nord at 12:10 next morning (day 3). The Ister has a modern air-conditioned sleeping car (1, 2 or 3-bed standard sleepers with washbasin, 1, 2 or 3 bed deluxe sleepers with toilet & shower) and 4 & 6-berth couchettes. A bed in the sleeper is the recommended option, see the photos below. The Ister should have a restaurant car for dinner & breakfast (euros, lei & forints accepted), but the restaurant isn’t always attached, so take some provisions yourself. Enjoy the descent through the wonderful Alpine scenery of the Carpathian mountains between Brasov and Bucharest. Ister is the ancient name for the River Danube.

We arrive on time in Budapest, have a quick dinner, and head for our next train at 6:30 PM. I misread the departure board and we walk to Track 9. An immaculate overnight train is on that track. It is pristine and even has a full dining car, complete with table linens. We look for our carriage number but never find it because this train is heading to Zurich, not Bucharest.

We find the right track and come upon a train made up of mismatched and heavily worn rail cars.There is no dining car and some of the carriages even lack air conditioning. Abby and I are given separate cabins and many of the lights and handles and drains don't work. The night is cool so I leave my window open. It is peaceful and quiet and I don't care one bit that I'm not on the train to Zurich.


Joey, Saldick and Ryan

After finishing my last blog post, I returned to the cafe car to grab another Beck’s. I made it back to our compartment three hours and four friends later.

The WiFi signal was strong so I stayed in the cafe awhile catching up on emails. A short time later I met Ryan and Joey, childhood friends from Springfield, Mass. who were spending two weeks traveling from Barcelona to Paris and Munich. They are big soccer fans and were trying to get the score of the match between Chelsea and Bayern Munich. We followed the game on my iPad, which Chelsea lost on a penalty kick shootout.

Joey has spent his trip through Europe asking people he meets to pose for pictures holding a sign congratulating his sister on her recent engagement. His plan is to make a large collage to present to her when he returns from this trip.

Like me, Ryan had planned this leg of their journey using Mark Smith’s website. Ryan made a minor mistake in the booking and he and Joey have ended up in one of the six seat compartments of which I wrote yesterday. Their efforts to make a last minute upgrade were not successful which is what has led them to the cafe car.

They told me of meeting the Libyan family staying in the next compartment. The father, Saldick, soon joined us. His best English is limited to three phrases, “Libya Good.” “Obama Good.” “Fucking Shit.” We managed to communicate with gestures and a little help from Google Translate.

Saldick wanted to smoke and put a cigarette to his lips only to realize that he had forgotten his matches, which is how we met Derik.


Derick is a surfer from Cape Town who captains a 75 foot catamaran charter boat sailing out of Guadalupe. Finished for the season, he is meeting a friend in Hamburg to deliver a boat to the Mediterranean. He offered Saldick his lighter and joined us.

Five guys met in a bar car while stopped at the German border and shared beers and stories until the cafe closed. Life is good. Libya good. Obama good. Fucking shit.


From Mark Smith’s The Man in Seat 61. . .How to travel by train from London to Sofia and Bulgaria

Day 1, travel from London to Paris by Eurostar, leaving London St Pancras at 15:31, arriving Paris Gare du Nord at 18:47. On Fridays, there’s also a 16:01 Eurostar arriving 19:17. In Paris, it’s a 10 minute walk from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de l’Est. By all means take an earlier Eurostar if you’d like to spend some time in Paris, or if it has cheaper seats available. Also on Day 1, travel from Paris to Munich overnight by the City Night Line sleeper train Cassiopeia, leaving Paris Gare de l’Est daily at 20:05 (20:25 at weekends) and arriving in Munich at 07:10 next morning. It has sleeping-cars (1, 2 & 3 bed compartments, economy with washbasin or deluxe with shower), 4 & 6-berth couchettes & ordinary seats, see the photos & information below or click for more pictures & information about this City Night Line train. Always check exact times for your date of travel at as they sometimes vary due to work on the line, sometimes with an earlier departure from Paris requiring an earlier Eurostar connection from London.

We followed the suggestion of taking an earlier Eurostar and left from the St. Pancras international rail terminal at 7:01 AM this morning. The Eurostar is everything you wish the Acela could be. The ride is very fast and incredibly smooth, there is little rocking and swaying. The ceilings are high and the racks large enough to actually fit your luggage. Freshly baked pastries are sold from a basket, not unwrapped from celophane and served on cardboard.

The trip starts underground and after ten minutes we burst into the English countryside. Heading south, sunrise shines through the large windows lining the left side of the carraige. Within thirty-five minutes we are travelling under the Channel towards France. The train is surprisingly quiet this morning, full of English tourists heading out early for a long weekend and napping while they have the chance. For me, there’s too much history flying by the train windows to risk closing my eyes for a second. Fortunately, the coffee being served this morning is strong.

The train seems to go even faster when we reach France. Just as I catch a glimpse of the ruins of a Chateau, they are gone. As we near Paris, we pass a windmill farm that frames the background of the stone church steeple in the nearby village.

Our first stop in Paris is Gare de L’Est, the station we will depart from later this evening. We store our luggage in a locker and take the 4 Metro to the Left Bank. Paris Metro cars are modern, with large glass walls rising from knee level to the ceiling. They are very bright, illuminated by white lighted subway maps along the edge of the ceilings. The tunnel walls are covered with graffiti that is spotlighted as the well-lit glass covered subway cars pass by.

During our short stay in Paris we visit the Mussee d’Orsay and then cross the Seine and walk through the Tuileries Garden and to the Louvre before catching the 7 Metro back to the train station.

From Paris we head to Munich on the City Night Line 40451, which has turned out to be the most unique part of our trip so far. We start the journey with two trains joined together. At 3:00 AM, we will split with half heading to Berlin and the rest of us heading to Munich. Within each section there are four types of cars. First is a car full of compartments with three seats facing three and a large bike storage area. There are jump seats in the aisle so people can sit outside and read without disturbing their compartment mates. This carriage is filled with the very young trying to get across Europe by, no doubt, spending as little as possible. The next level up is the Couchette, the only difference being that instead of three seats facing each other, there are two rows of triple bunk beds lined up across the small aisle. The window curtains are down so many passengers in these cars also congregate in the narrow hallway, but they stand because there are no jump seats. Next is a economy sleeper cabin, each with its own sink and two to three bunk beds depending on the size of the traveling party. Finally, there is the “deluxe” sleeper, each with a shower and toilet in a separate room across from the bunk beds.

We start our ride with the shade open and watch the countryside coast past our feet. The upper bunk is not quite long enough, but the ladder railing does a nice job holding my beer. It will get a lot of use tonight. . .

London night music

August 29, 2013 — Leave a comment
We arrived in London right on schedule this morning. We visited the British Museum and then headed south to the Thames. We left at dusk and walked north towards Charing Cross Station. As we turned the corner to Trafalgar Square three street performers began playing Aerosmith’s Walk This Way, a fitting soundtrack as scores of people waited at numerous intersections to cross the streets that circle Nelson’s Column.

On our way underground to the Northern Line platform we walked down two long hallways. In the first we came upon a violinist playing an Irish Slip Jig. In the next a man with an acoustic guitar played early Beatles songs.

It was the perfect ending to a perfect day in London.

The trip

August 6, 2013 — Leave a comment


On August 28, 2013, Abby and I depart for London for our train trip to the Black Sea. You can follow our travels on the above map. Our rough itinerary is listed in Upcoming Events, to the left. We depart from London and will change trains in Paris, Munich, Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia.

We welcome any suggestions of things to see and do in Bucharest, Sofia and Bourgas, where we have scheduled stop-overs.