Trip to Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia and Croatia - April/May 2010

including Turkey and Greece, briefly

General Notes

The central part of this trip (1 to 3 May) was the "Magnificent Seven to the Black Sea" railtour, featuring five former British Railways Class 87 locomotives, organised by PTG Tours. The days before and after were designed to provide interesting ways of getting to and from Bulgaria, and coverage of some routes in Macedonia and Kosovo that were not open when I last visited the area in 2004.The final Saturday was originally planned for a day around Beograd, but the Croatian branch from Bizovac to Belišće was reported as "under threat" so I altered that day to cover that and some other local routes also not open when I last visited that area.

Operating Company Abbreviations:

  • BDŽ - Bulgarski Darshavni Železnici (Bulgarian National Railways)
  • BŽK - Bulgarska Železoputna Kompanija (Bulgarian Railway Company, a private freight operator)
  • HEx - Heathrow Express
  • HK - Hekurudhat e Kosovës (Kosovo Railways)
  • HŽ - Hrvatske Željeznice (Croatian Railways)
  • LOROL - London Overground Limited
  • LUL - London Underground Limited
  • MŽ - Makedonski Železnici (Macedonian Railways)
  • OSE - Οργανισμός Σιδηροδρόμων Ελλάδος (Hellenic Railways Organisation)
  • SET - South Eastern Trains
  • SM - Stagecoach Metrolink (operator of Greater Manchester Metrolink)
  • TCDD - Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Devlet Demiryolları (State Railways of the Republic of Turkey)
  • VT - Virgin Trains
  • ŽS - Železnice Serbije (Serbian Railways)
Place Arrive Depart Train Traction details & notes

Wednesday 28th April 2010

Timperley   08:09   SM tram 2005
Altrincham 08:14 08:25 '18' Arriva bus
Manchester Airport (MAN) 08:50 11:20 TK1994 Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 TC-JGI
Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST) 17:20      
Havalimani   18:07 'M1' metro
Zeytinburni 18:17 18:21 'T1' tram
Sirkeci photo 18:52 19:30 'T1' tram
Karakoy photo 19:33 19:44 'F2' funicular
Tunel photo 19:47      
Sishane   20:05 'M2' metro
Taksim 20:07 20:16 'F1' funicular
Kabatas 20:18 20:22 'T1' tram
Sirkeci 20:33      
Istanbul Sirkeci   22:00 81032/ TCDD EL E52511 + 3C
Kapikule 03:10 04:05 /492 * BDŽ DL 07124
Dimitrovgrad 06:22      
New passenger track today: Istanbul Sirkeci - Simeonovgrad (dark/asleep).
First time in Turkey: convenient arrival route for doing the Podkova branch in Bulgaria next day. Caught the Metro and Tram from the airport to Sirkeci station, where I booked a Balkan FlexiPass (TRL 305.50 for 10 days 2nd class) and a berth in the sleeper to Bulgaria (TRL 20.10). I knew that getting a Balkan FlexiPass would be marginal on cost benefit, but I wanted the flexibility to change my routing at short notice. The Sleeper coach was a bit rattly, and we had to get up to go to the border post at Kapikule for Turkey exit formalities.

Thursday 29th April 2010

Dimitrovgrad   07:52 40250 BDŽ EL 43 504 + 1C photo
Mihajlovo photo 08:57 10:51 40251 BDŽ EL 43 504 + 1C
Dimitrovgrad 11:51 14:55 40163 BDŽ DMU 10031
Podkova 18:05 18:20 40266 BDŽ DMU 10031
Momchilgrad 18:44 19:35 40166 BDŽ DMU 10031
Dimitrovgrad 22:24      
New passenger track today: Dimitrovgrad - Podkova.
Overnight at Hotel Slaviani, ul Bulgaria, Dimitrovgrad 6400. BGN 50.00 for a single room including breakfast.
Today was totally based around covering the branch to Podkova, the afternoon/evening workings being the only practical way to cover the branch. The late arrival back meant that a hotel would be needed, and I'd been advised of a good one about 15 minutes walk from the station. After arriving on the sleeper from Istanbul, I walked up to the Hotel Slaviani to have a look, walked in, asked for a room and was offered the key! This was better than I had expected, and meant that I had all day without having to carry my large bag around. The morning run to Mihajlovo was just a time-waster as there was nothing better to do. Incidentally the main line between Dimitrovgrad and Plovdiv was shut for engineering works at this date so other options were limited. Went back to the hotel for lunch. There have been reports that the Podkova branch has been threatened with closure, though passenger levels were pretty good. The pause at Momchilgrad on the return seems to be so that staff can have their evening meal in the station cafe!

Friday 30th April 2010

Dimitrovgrad   07:52 40250 BDŽ EL 43 516 + 1C
Mihajlovo 08:57 10:06 8610 BDŽ EL 44 099 + 1C
Plovdiv 11:28 15:08 80115 BDŽ EMU 10001 via Filipovo
Stara Zagora 17:15 18:06 8614 BDŽ EL 46 242 + 8C
Sofia 22:04 22:45   25 late. Taxi to hotel
Hotel Anel 22:55      
New passenger track today: Filipovo - Skutare; Kalojanovec - Stara Zagora.
Overnight at Hotel Anel, 14 Todor Alexandrov Blvd, Sofia 1303.
With the main line blocked the only possible interesting moves were to cover the route from Filipovo to Skutare, only done by about 3 trains per day (most run via Trakija), and continuing on to Stara Zagora for fill a gap left by the 2008 PTG railtour. Train 8614 was "compulsory reservation", I had no problem obtaining this at Stara Zagora for BGN 2.20. The hotel in Sofia, plus those for the next three nights, were part of the PTG package.

Saturday 1st May 2010

Hotel Anel   09:00   Coach
Sofia 09:15 09:40 BV3691 BŽK EL 87003 + 3C
via Kazichene - Stolnik - Dolno Kamarci photo stop
Pirdop 11:24 11:39   * BŽK EL 87020 photo
Kanazluk 13:45 15:30 BV3693 Lunch Break photo
via Svivachevo photo stop - Karnobat - Turnak (photo stop) - Struia (photo stop)
Razdelna photo 19:42 19:58   * BŽK EL 87028
Varna photo 20:25 20:45   Coach
Hotel Golden Tulip 20:50      
New passenger track today: Dolno Kamarci - Mirkovo; Pirdop - Karlovo; Karnobat - Varna.
Overnight at Hotel Golden Tulip, 3A Hristo Botev blvd, Varna 9000.
First day of the PTG "Magnificent Seven to the Black Sea" railtour. This went exactly as planned.

Sunday 2nd May 2010

Hotel Golden Tulip   07:50   Coach
Varna 07:55 09:35 BV2960 BŽK EL 87028 + 3C
Razdelna 09:57 10:08   * BŽK EL 87004
Varna Feribotna 10:18 10:38   reverse/run round
Shumen 11:55 13:30 BV2692 Lunch Break
via Slavianovo photo - Gorna Priematelen Park
Resen 15:47 16:22 BV4691 reverse/run round photo
via Polikraishte
Gorna Orjahovitsa 16:34 16:48   reverse/run round photo
Veliko Tarnovo photo 17:05 17:25   Coach
Grand Hotel Yantra 17:40      
New passenger track today: Razdelna - Asenovo.
Overnight at Grand Hotel Yantra, 2 Opulchenska str., Veliko Tarnovo 5000.
Second day of the PTG "Magnificent Seven to the Black Sea" railtour. We expected to go a little further at Varna Feribotna, to the actual ferry terminal, but in hindsight (a) it's not clear whether the line is electrified, and (b) the station building where we reversed said "Varna Feribotna" on it so we got to the place we'd asked to go to! We had also requested the curve avoiding Gorna Orjahovitsa direct towards Veliko Tarnovo, but this was reported as "unavailable" - a crossover appeared to be out of use. 87004 was in excellent external condition, worthy of the loco's prior history as a UK Royal Train locomotive.

Monday 3rd May 2010

Grand Hotel Yantra   08:45   Coach
Veliko Tarnovo 09:00 09:24 BV4693 BŽK EL 87004 + 3C
via Drianovo (photo stop)
Careda Livada 10:20 10:35   reverse/run round photo
Gabrovo 11:05 11:20 BV3690 reverse/run round photo photo photo
via Triavna (photo stop) - Plachkovci (photo stop)
Kazanluk 13:35 14:55 BV3692 Lunch Break
via Klisura (photo stop)
Pirdop 17:00 17:18   * BŽK EL 87008
via Zlatica (photo stop) - Dolno Kamarci (photo stop) - Saranci (photo stop) - Stolnik - Jana - Kremikovtsi - Iljenci - Birimirci - Podujane
Sofia 19:40 19:55   Coach
Hotel Anel 20:05      
New passenger track today: none.
Overnight at Hotel Anel, 14 Todor Alexandrov Blvd, Sofia 1303.
Third day of the PTG "Magnificent Seven to the Black Sea" railtour. This went exactly as planned.

Tuesday 4th May 2010

Hotel Anel   06:30   Taxi
Sofia 06:40 07:00 361 BDŽ EL 45 129 + 3C
Kulata 10:20 10:40   * OSE DL 220 015 + 3C
Strymón 11:22 11:34   reverse/loco run round
Thessaloniki 12:50 13:20 2591 OSE EMU 460.x06
Litochoro photo photo photo 14:17 14:37 2590 OSE EMU 460.x11
Thessaloniki 15:33 17:05 334 OSE EL 120 025 + 4C photo
Gevgelija       * MŽ EL 441-107 (+ 1 hour)
Skopje 20:17     arr 10 late
New passenger track today: Kulata - Strymón - Thessaloniki; Thessaloniki - Litochoro.
Overnight at Hotel Bristol, ul Marshal Tito, Skopje. MKD 2570 for a single room with breakfast.
The main aim for today was the border crossing at Kulata. The trip to Litochoro was simply a fill-in move, the location selected as being sandwiched between Mount Olympus and the Aegean Sea. The hotel was about a 15 minute walk from the railway station.

Wednesday 5th May April 2010

Hotel Bristol   06:30   Taxi
Skopje photo 06:35 06:55 6902 MŽ DL 661-238 + 2C  photo
Kičevo photo 09:12 12:18 6903 MŽ DL 661-238 + 2C photo
Skopje 14:22 16:25 892 MŽ DL 661-235 + 2C photo
Hani-i-Elezit 17:33 17:50   * HK DL 007 + 2C
Prishtinë 19:27     photo
New passenger track today: Skopje - Kičevo; Skopje - Hani-i-Elezit; Fushë Kosovo - Prishtinë.
Overnight at Hotel Grand, Prishtinë. EUR 70.00 for a single room including breakfast.
The line to Kičevo was not running when I last came to Macedonia in 2004. The line is interesting as it replaces a previous narrow-gauge route, the alignment of which can be seen in several places. There are several long tunnels and high viaducts. At Kičevo, the "preserved" narrow gauge train had been moved from where it was in 2004, in a patch of weeds & trees alongside the station building, to pole position on the station approach road. The border crossing into Kosovo at Hani-i-Elezit was also not open when I was last here in 2004, nor was the link from Fushë Kosovo to Prishtinë. I was quite pleased to get a "Republic of Kosovo" stamp in my passport at Hani-i-Elezit. I think that, in theory, I should have paid a fare for Hani-i-Elezit to Prishtinë, but the ticket checker seemed happy with my Balkan FlexiPass. The hotel, in the centre of Prishtinë, is less than a ten minute walk from the railway station.

Thursday 6th May 2010

Prishtinë   07:50 4201 HK DL 005 + 2C photo
Pejë 09:47 11:10 4200 HK DL 005 + 2C photo
Fushë Kosovo 13:06 13:15 '1' Minibus
Prishtinë bus station 13:35 14:00   Coach
Skopje bus station 16:35 16:45   Coach
Niš bus station 21:12      
New passenger track today: Fushë Kosovo - Pejë.
Overnight at Hotel Ambassador, Trg Kralja Milana, Niš 18000. RSD 3160 for a single room.
A return ticket from Prishtinë to Pejë cost EUR 4.80 (20% discount for the return ticket over two singles). Again, this line wasn't open when I was last in Kosovo in 2004. Quite a scenic line and a pleasant town at the end of it. I had originally planned to get the 13:10 train from Fushë Kosovo to Skopje, arriving 15:51. However I later noticed that this train is amended to run only as far as Hani-i-Elezit. I had already worked out, whilst at Skopje, that there were a reasonable number of buses between Prishtinë and Skopje, but had not been able to find full details; however I caught the little No.1 minibus from outside Fushë Kosovo to Prishtinë bus station (ticket cost EUR 0.30, pay on the bus) then fortunately found a suitable bus to Skopje (ticket cost EUR 5.00). At Skopje, in theory I had to wait until 20:45 for the planned overnight move to Niš, but I spotted a bus heading to Beograd via Niš so quickly got a ticket (cost RSD 680) and got on the bus which left almost immediately. At the border at Tabanovce, the Serb staff crossed out my "Republic of Kosovo" stamp and marked it "ANULE"!

Friday 7th May 2010

Hotel Ambassador   06:30   Taxi
Niš 06:40 07:30 40250 ŽS EL 441-604 + 2C
Beograd 13:35     arr 27 late
    15:25   ŽS EL 444-019 + 4C via flyover at Stara Pazova
Šid       * HZ EL 1141 390 (+ HŽ 1142 010 dead in train)
Vinkovci 19:15     arr 17 late
New passenger track today: Šid line flyover at Stara Pazova.
Overnight at Hotel Cibalia,  A. Starčevića 51, Vinkovci (2 nights). HRK 357 per night including breakfast.
The aim for today was to view, and hopefully travel on, the 07:08 departure from Niš via Prokuplje, Kuršumlija and Kosanička Rača to Merdare. I had done part of this line, between Kuršumlija and Niš, in 2004, the line from Kosanička Rača and Kuršumlija having closed due to condition of track only a few days previously. The 2009/2010 timetable shows that the 07:08 now runs to Merdare and back, but a friend had reported that the train only ran beyond Kuršumlija if it was a DMU, not loco-hauled, due to there being no run-round facility at Merdare. However today the train was a lightweight diesel loco and a single coach, and staff said that it was only going as far as Prokuplje, for a bus forward to Merdare! Needless to say I did not take this option but got on the first train to Beograd. This main line has a poor and unreliable service, losing half an hour on a six hour run calling at all intermediate stations. On to Vinkovci, another slow train!

Saturday 8th May 2010

Vinkovci   11:56 6304 HŽ DMU 7122 016
Osijek 12:40 13:41 6052 HŽ DMU 7121 119/120
Bizovac       reverse
Belišće photo 14:46 15:12 6503 HŽ DMU 7121 119/120
Bizovac 15:39 15:52 6015 HŽ DMU 7121 119/120+121/122+117/118
Osijek 16:17 16:28 6305 HŽ DMU 7121 117/118
Vinkovci 17:12 18:41 745 HŽ DL 2044 019 + 4C dep 14 late
Vukovar photo photo 19:15 19:37 ? HŽ DL 2044 019 + 4C arr 9 late
Vinkovci 20:20      
New passenger track today: Vinkovci - Osijek; Bizovac - Belišće; Vukovar-Borovo Naselje - Vukovar.
Overnight at Hotel Cibalia, Vinkovci (night 2 of 2).
Vinkovci - Osijek (return ticket price HRK 34.20) and Vukovar-Borovo Naselje - Vukovar (single ticket price HRK 17.20) had not yet been re-opened, after the civil war, when I was last in the area. Bizovac - Belišće (Osijek - Belišće return ticket price HRK 34.20) has been reported as under threat of closure: I was the only passenger on the return journey. I was able to hitch a ride on the empty working from train 745 back from Vukovar to Vinkovci, since there is no advertised return train until early next morning.

Sunday 9th May 2010

Vinkovci   09:31 413 HŽ EL 1141 201 + 4C (+ HŽ 1142 010 dead in train)
Šid       * ŽS EL 444-019
Beograd 12:18 13:30   ŽS EL 441-316 + 2C
Tošin Bunar 13:47 14:10 '72' bus
Aerodrom 14:40      
Belgrade Nikola Tesla BEG   18:05 JU208 JAT Airlines Boeing 737-300 YU-ANV
London Heathrow LHR 20:15 21:20 'H56' Hotel Hoppa bus
Ibis Hotel 21:34      
New passenger track today: none.
Overnight at Ibis Hotel, London Heathrow. GBP 58.95 for a single room including breakfast.
A single ticket from Vinkovci to the border at Šid cost HRK 20. Buses run from just outside Tošin Bunar station every 30 minutes or so to the airport. The booked route home was with Lufthansa from Beograd to Manchester via München, however when I arrived at BEG I found that München was closed due to the ash cloud problem! Lufthansa offered me a flight next morning, but with no guarantee that it would run of course (nor with an offer of a hotel room for the night), so I checked the alternatives and found the JAT flight to Heathrow was available at a reasonable fare - which I took. I booked a room at the Ibis at Heathrow there are then, I didn't want to risk arriving late and having nowhere to stay. Just missed the 20:50 hotel shuttle.....

Monday 10th May 2010

Ibis Hotel   08:23 'H6' Hotel Hoppa bus
London Heathrow Terminal 3 08:43      
Heathrow Central Terminals 1,2,3   08:56   HEx EMU 332 001 + 332 008
Heathrow Express Terminal 5 09:01      
Heathrow Terminal 5   09:37   LUL Piccadilly Line
Leicester Square 10:31 10:36   LUL Northern Line
Euston 10:41 10:55   LUL Northern Line
Charing Cross 11:03 11:10   SET EMU 375 624 + 375 710
London Bridge 11:18 11:24   SET EMU 376 032
New Cross 11:30 11:33   LOROL EMU 378 144
Dalston Junction 11:54 11:57   LOROL EMU 378 151
New Cross Gate 12:19 12:25   LOROL EMU 378 151
Canada Water 12:30 12:32   LUL Jubilee Line
London Bridge 12:36 12:40   LUL Northern Line
Euston 12:53 13:40   VT EMU 390036 via Crewe
Manchester Piccadilly 15:43 15:50   SM tram 1009
Piccadilly Gardens 15:53      
Mosley Street   16:06   SM tram 1007
Timperley 16:26      
New passenger track today: Heathrow Central Terminal 1,2,3 - Heathrow Express Terminal 5; Heathrow Terminal 5 - Heathrow Terminal 1,2,3; New Cross / New Cross Gate - Dalston Junction (where on different alignment from former LUL East London Line and former Broad Street approach route).
With an unplanned day's holiday in London, I spent the time covering recent openings in the area before heading home.


Another excellent railtour organised by PTG Tours - many thanks to Phil Wormald and Marion Matthews, and also to Petya from Across Europe. The other parts went pretty much as expected, and very enjoyable, except perhaps for missing Merdare in Serbia and being messed about by the ash cloud!

Tickets used (excluding special trains): Balkan Flexi-Pass, plus individual journey tickets for Kosovo and Croatia as listed.