Friday, February 17
1:30. There’s a cab parked in front of Hostel Mostel and the driver is honking his horn so I grab my backpack and rush for the door. I regret that I didn’t say a proper goodbye to many of the nice folks at the hostel but I didn’t expect a cab to arrive within one minute of being called.
1:35. At first I assumed that taxi drivers in Veliko Tărnovo wear a standard uniform because the guy I’m riding with is wearing a camo onesie that is similar to but not exactly the same as the one worn by the driver who picked me up at the train station four days earlier. After a few minutes this driver makes a comment about Toronto and I realize that it’s the same guy. He must have camo onesies in both orange/brown and green/brown/tan hues. He had tastefully accessorized this outfit with a camoflouge vest. It’s a look that just might catch on.
1:55. The lady at the ticket wicket speaks good english and patiently explains the route that I will take to Plovdiv. It’s pretty straight forward: I’m on the next train to Stara Zagora leaving at 2:53 with a 10-minute layover in Stara Zagora where I change trains, and finally a train straight to Plovdiv. What could possibly go wrong?
2:25. There’s no food service on the train or in the station and I didn’t have time to buy anything in town so it looks like I’ll go without lunch and likely dinner. I’m sure I’ll survive.
2:30. Some of the people who are arriving at the station are carrying plastic bags containing similar sized boxes. Was there a big sale on Tide, I wonder? When a girl sits down on the bench beside me I take the liberty of checking out her shopping. She has a 3 litre box of Sophia wine. Hmm. It doesn’t take Hercule Poiriot to deduce that cheap booze is available in the hut next door to the station.
2:51. The train barely comes to a stop while about 40 people climb aboard. It’s an eclectic group of seniors, working class men, and about 25 young people who I later learn were in town to write exams at the university. Thankfully they all have their own boxed wine… so I won’t have to share mine. (The guy at the shack also made grilled cheese, tomato and wiener sandwiches so I won’t starve.)
2:53. We depart on schedule. There are eight people in most cabins but I somehow find one with just three people. There’s a man of about 60 who works for the railway (possibly an off-duty conductor), a woman of about 50 who has her nose buried in a trade magazine for hairdressers, and a girl of about 18 who is watching a move on her iPad. I try to have a conversation with the older two but it’s pretty one-sided and they don’t seem very interested in trying. That’s okay, I have about 100 hours of podcasts.
6:22. This marks my second arrival at the station in Stara Zagora as I stopped here on my way from Kapikule to Veliko Tărnovo. According to the signage and the man at the ticket wicket, my train will depart on Track 3 in 3 minutes.
6:24. It seems odd that no people are waiting on Track 3 but at least 50 people are over at Track 2. I decide to go with the flow. Let’s see where Track 2 takes me.
7:05. The conductor confirms that this train is indeed bound for Plovdiv. I made the right choice by ignoring the ticket agent and the very clear signage. Another perfectly good story down the drain!
8:25. We have arrived in Plovdiv. This leg of the Orient Express was about as uneventful as one could imagine. Perhaps I should have taken the bus!