Akropolis Express…the Ghost Train

Once upon a time there was a magic train that passed through Kosovo in the middle of the night.  It came from Germany then on the Athens and it stopped briefly in the night at what was the crossroads for trains coming from remote and distant places all over Asia and Europe. Voices could be heard in foreign languages unfamiliar, passports of all colors and countries, with strange clothes and dark shadows moving between trains in the night and then to disappear into the darkness and become quiet and empty again…until the next evening.  This was the Akropolis Express that was part of the Orient Express and transported people from Europe to Greece once a day and back again.

Then the War broke out in the ’90s the the train ceased, the station closed and never really reopened…but no one bothered to tell David. He had read travel stories and talked to people that were there before the war.  People that rode the train until they immigrated to the United States and now had no idea that it didn’t exist. The Akropolis Express was a Ghost Train now.

David couldn’t stand the thought of taking another all night bus or two to travel on to his destination in Greece.  He looked into all options. Even flights out of Pristina went everywhere but Greece…ferries may but he would have to return to where he came from and there were no trains from this area.  His only option , other than another bus was to cancel.  He wrote to Kosta in Greece who tried to help with his knowledge of bus routes.  He could return to Albania but having just been there he knew all the roads were under construction and a mess.  No options were appealing.  He had to take a bus to Skopje, Macedonia which was originally to be a day trip from here but now was the only way to get to Bulgaria.  The bus station here had only tour buses to Bulgaria and they went to Skopje anyway.  So he decided to take the time he would have spent in Greece and see Macedonia and Bulgaria properly before moving on to Istanbul. Kosta wrote him a very understanding email back.  David felt bad but hopefully there will be another time to visit Greece and Kosta.

His taxi driver took him to the local Kosovo Bus station then had to backtrack to the “International” one to get the schedule.  He will leave first thing in the morning for Macedonia and booked a hostel there for a couple days.  The laundry came back so David started packing. It was too hot to go out and only two Mosques to visit in the area that were of any interest.  They were some distance so he would have to take a Taxi again. Instead he would spend his time planning his brief stay in Skopje.  Ohrid was a fascinating town and the number one tourist attraction of Macedonia.  Alexander the Great’s father lived there I heard…four million years ago or there about. Better do some research to avoid any more Ghost’s!

 Kosovo has a headquarters here for the UN in this region.  It looks like a space ship converted to a bunker. Billboards warn that land mines have not been cleared and for people to stay away from the remote areas or country meadows.  The Hotel Victory had a replica of the Statue of Liberty on the roof overlooking Pristina. People asked me where I am from and when I reply the United States their eys light up and they greet me with a big smile.  The Hotel Grand made a point of sending over a Fresh Limonade I ordered and told me that it was on the House. Nice gesture.

Outside of Pristina are two World Heritage sites…both Mosques that I believe were built by the Ottoman Empire back the the 1500’s.  One is now a Nunnery but still needs to be protected by Swiss troops though  the general population go there to buy at the Market the Nuns operate with the bounty of their garden.  There is open hostility but I’m still not sure what it is about…something to do with the Serbs and the Muslims …maybe.   The Balkans civilization is ancient.  Their history is incredible but most of their Heritage is not being preserved  or restored.  Possibly because the former occupiers , the Soviet Union, didn’t give a damn and so for over 50 years all these historic sites and treasures were ignored and played down?  It is tragic.  Greece will sell off its treasures to pay for it’s EU membership and the loans it had to accept that it will NEVER pay back.  Everything will be privatized and sold to the highest bidder…and we all know how much they will get in a bankruptcy sale!  International Corporations are bribing politicians to cut deals and  the politicains are selling out the people in every country in the world.  I believe that.

It turns out to be all trains to and from Greece as of January 2011:Greece cut off as all its international trains cancelled from 2011
Due to its dire economic situation, the Greek government is implementing major cuts in the state-owned train service.

The very scenic main line Piraeus – Athens – Larissa – Thessaloniki line and (when completed) the new standard gauge line Athens – Korinthos – Patras both remain, but many branch lines close, including those to Olympia, Argos & Kalamata in thePeloponnese.

Most significantly, all international trains to and from Greece, meaning those linking Thessaloniki with Sofia, BelgradeBucharest and Istanbul are cancelled until further notice as from January 2011, effectively cutting Greece off from the rest of the European rail network. So much for being part of Europe, let alone part of the EU!

It will still be possible to take a train to Venice, Ancona or Bari then a ferry to Greece, but the overland rauil route looks to be cut, after over 100 years.
o international trains arribed as ‘until further notice’ so there’s a glimmer of hope that they may one day be reinst
ated and The cut.s tGreece once more linked to the rest of Europe. But don’t hold your breath, the nightmare is here..

One Reply to “Akropolis Express…the Ghost Train”

  1. Hi David, (one D to another D!) I travelled on this noble train about 1971 with a school mate. Victoria/Sealink/overnight train through France and Germany to Munich/ arrived Munich about 5.30am/ boarded AE amidst a deluge of Gastarbeiten we were coralled onto train like cattle by German armed police with a detached manner/no seats of course!/ spent entire journey in restaurant car at rear with mad chef – old fashioned like something out of a Western movie!/ 2 days later reached border with Greece/ arrived Athens either early morning or late evening I forget/ we brought bicycles – but they missed this train and we went back to railway to collect them a week later. I think it ran twice a week in high season. Because it ran through comunist Yugoslavia and most of the Gastarbeiten were lowly Albanians and we were Western capitalists the Yugoslav customs and border checks were extremely fierce and unfriendly. A lot of shouting andcrough handling. No suchbthing as a refugee problem during the Soviet era chich seems like a sea of tranquility compared with today.This was a most stimulating and physically challenging (as were the onboard toilets filled to overflowing) for a young man and my love of this area and especially Greece has only grown since. Will not hear a word said against them. The West was responsible for all this region's problems from Civil War to economic. I remember the conversation overheard of some so called American Christians discussing the value of Albanian coastline as tourist resorts if one could “get in early”. The world unfortunately has somewhat become the American imperialist apple following 1989.


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