And here’s the highlight of the journey: a ride on the legendary Bar-Belgrade railway, one of the most beautiful railways in Europe, with a spectacular panoramic view of the mountains that culminates with the Mala Rijeka viaduct, the highest of the world with its 200 metres height.
The railway, 476 km long, was opened in 1976 by the Yugoslavian ruler Tito, who wanted to connect the capital of Serbia with the Mediterranean coast, on the Montenegrin city of Bar, and often travelled the route on its private Blue Train. Now the entire trip takes almost 12 hours and the ride on legendary Bar-Belgrade railway is a treat for vintage Balkan lovers: it is not very efficient, trains often seem to break down and buses are a better solution to visit the region. I AM a vintage Balkan lover, so no surprise I ended up buying the ticket 🙂
I catch the 8.10 a.m. train from Podgorica, and this is the first adventure: nobody speaks English or Italian (as everywhere in Montenegro!), nobody knows which is the right binary, I rely on a mythical conversation book for English tourists. After a while, I immerse myself in the show: viaducts, galleries, mountains, isolated villages that sprinkle with snow as you go up, more or less near Obluska, up to the station of Kolašin, the highest on the route.
Crossing the Mala Rijeka is adrenalinic: the viaduct suddenly appears in front of you after the train has gone out of a mountain tunnel, and you just have the time to see how high it is, and to hope Montenegrin railway maintenance is appropriate, that you are already running over a green abyss… A few seconds and you are on the road again, eager to come back again on the same route.
I enter Serbia at Bijelo Polje – where we stop a little bit for customs, police and document checks – and I arrive at 1 p.m. in Prije Polje, where I decide to get off the train to visit the Mileseva Manastir, with its famous White Angel. I only have 3 hours, and my dear friend Bojan from Novi Sad told me it was not worth the effort, but thanks to a trusted Serbian taxi driver I can enjoy the magnificent monastery, actually about 6 km from the station. Therefore I stop to read some Moby Dick on the edge of a nearby canal … it seems like to be in Milan on the Martesana Canal 🙂
The return is intended for meetings, new friends on the train, glances at life that runs alongside the tracks. In Vrbnica, a woman takes her little dog for a walk, while nearby on a table under a flowering tree there is a council of Serbian “alpha males”. On the train I get to know an Australian gentleman who has been doing Eurail for 2 months and tells me about his adventures on the Trans-Siberian Railway. In Bijelo Polje, a boy and girl hug on the tracks, regardless of whatever is going on around them, while a lady with her daughter goes upstairs and offers mint candy to the whole compartment.
It is a beautiful image that closes the journey for me: while I photograph the Kolašin station, in love with the vintage of these Balkan rails, an elderly gentleman dressed in black, with an old cap directly coming from the past, raises his hand in a greeting gesture. And immediately we leave.
- This trip is not only for trainspotters, but for everyone loves travelling in the Balkans!
- As of November 2014 valid visa holders and residents of the European Union and Schengen Area member states and USA can enter Serbia without a visa for a maximum stay of 90 days.
- If you have more time, Mileseva Manastir is just one of the beautiful monasteries you can find in Serbia: rent a car and follow the route.