After a few days in Niš, it was time to move on to our next destination: Belgrade. We had the choice between a coach and a train to Belgrade and decided to take the train.
Buying the tickets
On our first day in Niš, we went to the central station to pick up our tickets. You never know what kind of reservation is needed or if a train is fully booked. We didn’t want to end up with no ticket in the end. We arrived at the main hall of the central station, a huge building of socialist style. The building itself was empty. Not only were there no people, also no shops to buy anything for the journey and no restaurants to sit down for food.
5 ticket counters are open. We go for the one that says “international”, hoping to be able to communicate in English. It worked. The member of staff was very attentive. We swiftly picked a date and a destination with him. Times were a little more tricky. It was a Sunday and only three trains operated between Niš and Belgrade. One in the early morning at 5:30, on at 12:30 and one at 5:00 in the afternoon. We had a quick think about the options and, considering the 5 hour journey time, picked the 12:30 train. We were given directions to platform 1 multiple times. Sure we’ll be able to find it. The cost of the train ticket was 834 Dinar (around 7€) per person in the second class.
Waiting for the train
Here we are, patiently sat down in Niš central station, waiting for a train to Belgrade. We picked up some supplies before in a supermarket. We didn’t know if there was going to be a buffet car. And for a five-hour trip, we at least wanted to have something to drink.
I wander around the station and find some trains that are certainly not going anywhere, overgrown train tracks and – oh! – there are in fact other platforms as well. Some of them don’t look like a train is going to pull in there in the near future.
Time passes and I am longing for a toilet. Inside the station, I only find a locked door with a Serbian note. Probably not going to be the solution to my problem. After a little while, I work up the courage to ask the three men working in the station (one of them holding a huge hammer and inspecting the wheels of a train). A little bit of back and forth, then one of them signalled me to follow him. I followed him to the staff rooms and was handed the key to the ladies‘ room. In all honesty, the worst toilet in the worst motorway services is luxury compared to this. A filthy toilet bowl and a pit latrine. I was grateful, I had an urgent need for the bathroom at that point, but I don’t need this experience again any time soon.
A train pulled in at around 12:20. The announcements were Serbian and the signs were Cyrillic, but it was our train to Belgrade. It was made up of two coaches which compared to the standard of German regional trains and even had air conditioning! They were a lot cleaner than I had anticipated and, thankfully, had a toilet on board. Every stop was announced in Serbian and English, I wasn’t expecting that.
Train journey from Niš to Belgrade
What a slow train! I have to admit that I thought our estimated journey time of five hours was wrong. Not even 250 kilometres between Niš and Belgrade! But on the way, it dawned on me why this was taking so long. I stopped counting after 20 stops but it felt like the strain stopped everywhere where a handful of houses were grouped together. There were countless ungated level crossings which the train passed at a maximum of 20 km/h and even without them the train mostly went at about 50 km/h. There were only a few sections where it accelerated to 100 km/h. And that’s why it took us five hours! In terms of scenery, it was a very pleasant journey. We crossed fields and lawns and only a few times little forested areas blocked the view from the window. Towards the end of the trip, we passed and then crossed a mountain range with steep cliffs.
Many of the surrounding villages appeared deprived and were more or less just a row of concrete-slab buildings in the middle of nowhere. No town sign, no station building, no waiting area. Only a few villages had some industrial plants. In those areas, the predominant type of building was noticeably different and looked distinctly more modern. Looking out of the window, I enjoyed the journey a lot. It was a good cross-section of Serbia that we might not have seen from a motorway.
Arrival in Belgrade
What we didn’t know: The old central station in Belgrade is currently closed down section after section. We arrived at the shiny and new part of the modernised station Belgrade Central. (I later learned that construction has been ongoing since 1977). The train stopped in an underground area of the station that looked like it hasn’t been in use for long. Signs with the word „exit“ led us onto a street. No station building or larger square, just a street without a bus stop or taxis… We don’t know if things looked different on the other side of the station, but we hope it did. Fortunately for us, a taxi had just pulled over that we were then able to take to get to our Airbnb apartment.