10th & 11th October 2015 - Expats at Pirdop
Saturday 10th October
The late arrival last night meant that we were not in the mood to get up for the 7:45 departure as planned and the sound of torrential rain outside also put paid to any enthusiasm that we might have summonsed to rush out this morning. We wandered down for a leisurely breakfast, said a few goodbyes then shot off to the station trying not to get too wet en route but should have checked the timetable first. Although we knew that there was a lack of loco-hauled trains between 8 and 10am, it turned out there was nothing until after 11am and the first of those was a unit.
There wasn’t a lot else of interest on the loco-hauled front either so we eventually decided to catch a train towards Pirdop which was new track for us, the line had been closed for engineering works at the time of our last visit. The next service there was at 12:20 which gave us plenty of time to inspect the ongoing building work at Sofia station. Work was progressing on the final through platform, nice new canopies had been erected with no perching space for pigeons though it looked as if they might be in luck when the departure boards were installed.
Trains were still being double and triple stacked in the platforms so the coaches for the 12:20 had been in the station for some time before we noticed a blue and yellow class 44 electric being attached to the front. There are only two of these (44.001 and 002) and we were fully expecting it to be the latter which we had last year but, fortunately for us, it was 44.001. In fact the other one, 44.002, was seen pootling about the station as we sat on the train waiting for departure time.
A friend who had also been on the PTG tour joined us for the journey on what proved to be a nice scenic line. The scenery was apparently even better beyond Pirdop but the line was still closed by engineering works beyond Stryama, less than 20 miles further on so we decided to alight as planned at Pirdop where there was a yard and a large copper works. It was also a base for the private operator “Bulgarian Railway Company” who use a number of former British Rail class 87 electric locos so we would hopefully see a couple of those there as well as other items of interest.
It was still chucking it down with rain when we arrived but we were rewarded with the sight of two class 87s along with a good selection of other locos, including a DB (German Railways) class 204 which was engaged in shunting some wagons between the yard and the copper works, worth getting wet for!
It would have been nice to use the remainder of our time here to have a look round away from the railway but is was a little too wet and dreary for that so the three of us sheltered in the station building until 44.001 returned from Stryama.
We had a good run back to Sofia and were even waiting time at Iskar before arriving at Sofia about quarter past four. This was in good time for another little trip along the short (11 ½ miles) branch to Bankya which we had been told was under threat of closure though we did find this a little surprising bearing in mind its proximity to Sofia.
When the conductor came round he was most interested in our FIP tickets and said something which we didn’t understand so he walked off only to re-appear a couple of minutes later with a book. We braced ourselves for a row but he was only interested in where we came from as his book had a list of abbreviations for various railway administrations and it wasn’t immediately obvious to him which country GBPR on our tickets was (Great Britain Passenger Railways).
Bankya was quite a posh-looking area; the station had three platforms and a resident red-cap though as the service down here is worked by electric units it only looked as if one platform saw any use. On the return journey the guard approached us again waving a clip board this time with a nice picture taped to it featuring a large steam engine passing two semaphore signals and emitting copious amounts of black smoke. He handed us a piece of paper with next Saturday’s date written on it and Bankya which we understood to mean that there was a steam trip down here next weekend, shame we had to go back home. A search on the internet that evening unearthed that it was the first runs after restoration for 46.03 a 2-12-4T which we had seen undergoing restoration during our depot visit in September 2014 and there were trips on the Sunday as well.
Arriving into Sofia at quarter to six, we went straight to the Hadjidraganovite kashti in the hope that it might be a bit quieter this week; it was, which was just as well as the heavy rain had re-appeared making it far too wet to sit in the lobby this time.
Sunday 11th October 2015
It was still raining heavily this morning, not that it mattered any more as we had to be at the airport around half past ten for the flight home. The heavy rainfall had taken its toll on the hotel as the roof was leaking in at least two places in the breakfast room which was in the top section of a two storey extension. It looked as though the joint with the main part of the hotel was leaking as a red carpet with “SATURDAY” emblazoned on it black letters had been put down to soak up the drips and buckets were starting to appear as well.
Given the weather, we couldn’t be bothered with the Metro / Shuttle bus combination so booked up the hotel’s own taxi service which cost 18 Euros / 36 LEV (about £14.50) but would at least take us straight to the correct terminal. The river at the bottom of the road from the hotel which was a mere trickle last week was now a raging torrent and as the road was no longer closed by roadworks here, the driver took us through the centre pointing out places of interest which was much appreciated and a nice way to end the trip.
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