A Balkan Train Ride

Is it possible to feel sorry for a train?

Watching this little steam engine freezing in the snow at Bansko station, I almost did…

A steam engine in the snow at Bansko station, Bulgaria.

The steam engine only runs from time to time, but even the regular trains on this narrow gauge railway feel theatrical enough. Almost every station, however tiny, has a stationmaster in full uniform and braided hat, complete with lollipop signal, to see you off.

Stationmaster between two trains, on the Septemvri-Dobrinishte line.

Frankly, there are many quicker ways to get to wherever you’re going from Bansko than taking the train. It chunters along through snow clad villages towards the terminus at Septemvri at a pace one can only describe as leisurely.

Snowcovered houses in a Balkan village, on the train from Bansko to Septemvri,

Little rivers carve their way through mountains, valleys and plains.

Stream cuts through the snow on the train from Bansko to Septemvri.

There are patches of industry, but in the countryside, beehives sit amid the snow-covered pines, waiting for the spring flowers, like they have for centuries.

Beehives in the snow between Bansko and Septemvri.

And when the sun shines, snow clogs the briar branches with cottonwool clouds.

snow-clad branches against the pine trees, between Banko and Septemvri.

It’s rather a splendid way to travel. Though I would recommend bringing snacks…

Want to do it? There are (as of January 2012) three daily trains from Bansko to Septemvri, at 6.55, 10.03 and 15.17: the journey takes about five hours. From Septemvri (Септември) there are regular, fast connections to Plovdiv (Пловдив) and Sofia (София): Septemvri-Plovdiv takes about 45 minutes.

23 Responses

  1. Laurence says:

    I like what you’ve done with the colour theme of these photos. Certainly an interesting effect. It does look cold though!

    • Theodora says:

      Yep! It’s chilly at this time of year in the Balkans. Quite looking forward to some beach in a couple of weeks. Glad you like the pictures. There was relatively little colour in the landscape, so I decided to take it all out.

  2. Tara says:

    Very good photographs!

  3. Natalia says:

    Gorgeous images! This Balkan trip is coming up with some lovely pictures from you guys.

  4. Jill says:

    Ooooh lovely photos!

    • Theodora says:

      I was pleasantly surprised. Z was a bit “meh” about the whole narrow gauge railway thing, largely because he hadn’t had any breakfast…

  5. Mary says:

    Those are glorious pictures! Almost, and I stress the word almost, makes me want to head out to the cold and snow. Pai is about as cold as I can go!

  6. lunaticg says:

    Nice pictures…. 🙂
    I never been to a cold country like this before.

    • Theodora says:

      Ah! You have to. If you spend a month in one of the resorts, you can get an apartment for 15 euro a night…

  7. Gorgeous shots! When it comes to snow, I agree, you might as well make them b/w or duotone cause they look like that for the most part anyway.

    • Theodora says:

      Yes! There was some colour in them, but really not enough to do much with — so I went with duotone. Back to colour tomorrow…

  8. Whitney says:

    This almost makes me want to ride the train to Plovdiv. I complain about the two hour drive there from where we live to Plovdi, I wonder if I could handle the train. And like everyone else said, beautiful photos. I agree that there is very little color around these parts this time of year–other than white, of course!

    • Theodora says:

      It’s very, very cute. But, if you complain about the roads, the train will drive you up the wall. It really does stop at every hamlet in the mountains. For about five minutes, so old ladies in headscarves can get on and off…

  9. Oh lovely photos!! This has reminded me to use the effects on my camera that I paid so much for!!!

    • Theodora says:

      The effects are actually in Adobe Lightroom, another product that one can pay a lot for and become addicted to. Happy developing!

  10. Vicky says:

    Awww lovely photos! Great article too – I quite fancy going to Bansko for the cheap ski next year, but we’ll see!

    • Theodora says:

      I like Bansko a lot. There is, however, much cheaper ski in Bulgaria: I think Bansko’s good if you’re a relatively advanced skier, because a lot of their blue runs would be reds in the Alps, just because of the shape of the mountain. Pamporovo, I think, is better if you’re less advanced, because the runs are shorter and there are more easy ones. A lot of the easy ones in Bansko have so much flat that you’re almost cross-countrying for parts of them.

  11. dibach says:

    Fantastic photos, very atmospheric. I did the trip recently and there was no snow, even in February!