Bulgarian Transportation of the Week: Trains
Friday, March 21, 2008
are by far the best way to get around
This transit system is nationally run by the Български държавни железници (Bulgarian State Railways) or БДЖ/BDZ for short. There are train routes through the country with trains running during most hours. Some PCVs say that I have an unhealthy obsession with trains. Can you blame me? Trains are usually no more than five minutes late, cheaper and the city name is clearly marked on the station.
Trains are a wonderful way to see the beautiful Bulgarian countryside. They also offer more space to stretch out, meet cool people/have crazy adventures and toilet facilities that dump waste straight to the track. This beats buses that have no toilet but I’d still wait until really really had to go before using a train toilet. The Bulgarian train engineers had a worse situation, they had no where to pee on some of the older trains except out the window. In response to this concern being raised by their union, the management issued the following response:
“Bulgarian train drivers have been issued with rotating chairs so they can pee out of the window without having to stop.”
I love this country.
There are four types of trains: International (международен), Express (ускорен бърз) , Fast (бърз) and "contemplate life" (пътнически). International trains should only really be taken domestically if you really have to be somewhere and you live on an international line (ex Plovdiv, Stara Zagora or Dimitargrad) since they are hella expensive but the fastest train available. Express trains are a bit pricey but worth it since they only stop in large cities. Fast trains tend to be the most frequent and are the ones to catch. The slow trains can be excruciatingly long. For example, I took a slow train from Sofia to Dupnitsa. By bus it's a 45 minute ride. By slow train, it's 3 and a half hours. I'm pretty sure we stopped to pick up hitch hikers. So when faced with a choice, pick the fast or express trains (unless you don't live on the main line or in a small village, then you're just S.O.L.).
Train carriages come in a variety options, open, compartment and sleeping. The open carriages are like a plane, with two rows of seats; usually two by two. They don't offer too much privacy but it's still more comfortable than a plane. The compartment are just that-a compartment of eight seats (four by four) facing each other. I find that these are the best when travelling with a bunch of noisey Americans as you won't disturb other passangers. The downside is the aisles can be narrow but that's not much of a downside. They are the option on night trains when you don't purchase a sleeping car ticket. Speaking from expirience, they aren't very comfortable to sleep on. The ticket lady didn't sell me a sleeping car ticket because my trip was only three hours long. You can also purchase a reserve seat for an extra 0.50лв. If you're in a rush, you can annoy the conductor by purchasing your ticket on the train for a 30% charge. Bulgarian trains also come in first and second class. There really isn't too much of a difference between the two aside from the first class coaches being newer. Regardless of any class, Bulgaria seems to be the place where German trains come to die. I have seen some new trains but they tend to go to random places (like from Plovdiv to Asenovgrad. I would have guessed Sofia to Plovdiv).
To get the most for your money, I highly recommend you buy a discount card. The youth card costs 30лв but it saves you 50% on all train tickets and you'll recoop the cost in no time; it's three return trips to Sofia for me. All of the cards are good for a year from the date of purchase. Other cards available are Student, Rail pass and pensioner. It's also worth noting that if you're planning on travelling internationally by train from Bulgaria to purchase one before you buy your ticket. You'll be a baker rolling in all the dough you're saving.
All in all, I love to travel by train. It's a great way to see the country and save money doing so. I could write so much more about trains but I'll save that for a later post.
J-dub "The Duke" Paperstax
On a solem note I would like to mention the train accident that occured on Febuary 29th, which killed nine people, the worst in the Balkans in 16 years.
Posted byJimmy at 10:02 AM
Labels: Trasportation of the Week