Friday, December 24, 2010

Tirana to Budapest, via train

I just got an amazing email, from my friend Rory on how to get from Tirana to Budapest by train (meaning much longer and cheaper). So if you want to know the ins and outs of this trek, see below

Mackin’ on Makedonia:

I took a furgon direct from Elbasan to the border for 800 leke.  I got ripped off, but not as much as a 25 euro bus will be to Struga.  From there I walked to Struga at least ¾ of the way.  You can try taking a taxi for 5 euros or you can see if a man named Slobodan in an old Yugo will give you a ride. 

Buses leave for Skoje at 11am and possibly 14:00, and the last one for sure leaves at 17:30.  It will arrive in Skopje at 20:50, which is bad because the train is scheduled to leave at 20:45.  It won’t, but buying the Balkan pass will take a long time. 

Buying the Balkan Pass:
It will cost 51 euros, payable only in Macedonian currency.  The exchange at the station WILL rip you off, so maybe try for a bancomat nearby or take our cash-money in Struga/Ohrid.I know that they know computers exist, and I know they know how to use them, but I am convinced they just don’t like them.  This will be slow for you, so try not to arrive at the last minute.  On the train, the seats fold down and make beds, so you guys can commandeer a cabin to yourselves, and fold the seats down and have three soft beds.  Do that, or else an old Serbian man or a Gypsy family will enter while you’re sleeping and use your legs as a pillow. 

Belgrade: I am hoping that you’ll arrive within a few minutes to spare to catch the train to Budapest.  If you have extra time, this is great and you can change money or buy any necessary tickets you may need.  Read below for more info. 

The Hungarian border:
This is the last frontier, and in my opinion the most frustrating and god-forsaken.  You Balkan Pass will get you as far as Subotica, which is right at the border.  You have three options:

1. You can stay on the train and go through customs and then arrive in Kelebia and arrive in Hungarian customs, where you will then have to get off the train and buy your ticket.  This will save you the crossing fee of about $10. Otherwise, the Hungarian conductor will get on at Subotica and will check to see if you have the correct ticket. They will not accept the Balkan Pass and will charge you the extra $10.  If they catch you, the jig is up.  Don’t fight it and don’t be rude or they will place a fine on your ass.  The best idea is to act like you were expecting them to arrive and then buy your ticket to Budapest from them at the inflated price.  Since none of you are packin’ Hungarian money, it will be hard for you to easily buy the ticket once in Kelebia.  There is a bank down the street from the train station but I can’t guarantee you’ll make it in time and the whole thing could blow up in your face and you’ll have to de-train in Kiskörős because the conductor is a total assface and wants to rip you off because you’re from the West so as soon as the train stops you grab your stuff and run past him and then wait two hours for another train.  I do not recommend this option unless you love the thrill of the fight.  Incidentally, I do.

2. The other option is to get off at Subotica and buy your ticket to BP there.  The price will be 15 euros, payable only in Serbian money.  If you catch the 7am train from Belgrade, then you should arrive at 11 and you may need to wait for the next train to take you to BP two hours later because you’ll have tofind a bank, get Serbian dinar, and then come back and buy your ticket.  If all works out in which you can do all this in time to get back on the same train, great, but I would not count on it.  The variant to this is that your train into Belgrade will be late by more than the usual 3 hours and you’ll miss your train and take the 10am one to Subotica.  If you do this, then everything gets shifted forward again and the next train that you can catch to Budapest will not arrive at my house but rather in a suburb of Budapest called Kőbánya-Kispest.

3. You have a third option, and that is to take the tiny commuter train to Szeged from Subotica.  This takes TWO HOURS and is bumpy and depressingly ghetto, but I like it.  From there you can take a $15 train to Budapest, arriving at Budapest-Nyugati station.  This is right next to where I work.  There are two trains from Subotica to Szeged per day.  One at 11am and one at 14:35.  The last train from Szeged to BP leaves at 19:45, and many go earlier than that. 

Let me condense some advice.

1.       Get to Skopje on an earlier train so that you may have time to change money and buy your ticket.
2.       If you have time, buy your ticket from Subotica to Budapest in Belgrade, and use your credit card.
3.       If you arrive in Subotica later than 12pm, take the commuter train to Szeged and then a later train to Budapest.  The Hungarians will take credit cards in Szeged, but not in Kelebia. 
4.       If you buy your ticket to Budapest in Subotica, buy a round-trip ticket, because it will be more expensive in Hungary.

****As a side I just reached 3,632 views!!!! wow! you guys rock!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I'll be spending christmas in Shkoder with volunteers and albanians alike! Shortly thereafter I'll be heading to Budapest to round out the holiday season! I'm wishing my friends, family and blogger buddies a very special holiday season!!!

I've been hearing such wonderful new from friends and family back home, i can't help but think this season is particularly magical! 

Missing you all!

Edit- I learned something fun about Albanian culture from one of my students--on Christmas Eve they only eat fish (no meat) as part of a fast...similar to the Serbians I believe! A little 'food for thought' pun intended! 

jenny d

Saturday, December 18, 2010

the first snow

LEZHE-Yesterday was the first (and likely the last) snowfall of the season. The air was magical as the streets were lined with snowballs and no person young, old or foreign was safe!! The pure, white snow invoked a joyous atmosphere for all. It was truly intoxicating. 
As quickly as the snow had decorated the city, it was washed away by the rain that followed. BUT ohhhh was it nice while it lasted. I hope all of you are enjoying your holiday season!

happy holidays!!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

i have a lot

to tell you all. last week i was evacuated from lezhe because of serious flooding in the shkoder/lezhe districts of albania. im uninspired as of today, so look for a post on that later this week. i will say im safe and sound (as are the other volunteers) and we all returned to our prospective sites yesterday.

Today i want to challenge you all to perform a random act of kindness in your community. you dont have to join the peace corps to make a difference! it can be anything! open a door, call your mom, help pick up spilled milk, give a hug to someone who looks like they need it! everyday there is an opportunity to make the world a better place, so why not start today? report back if you like!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

part of a pcv's job is helping to create resources,

this is an example of a nutrition leaflet (page 1) i created with funding from world vision