The first thing that hits as you when you enter the ticketing area of Belgrade’s main station is the smell of piss, then the sudden muting of the urban bustle just outside its walls.
We walked in, didn’t see any signs we knew how to read, and decided to start at the information desk.
“Hello,” I said to the lady behind the counter. “We want to buy tickets from -”
“Ah!” She leapt to her feet, barked a string of instructions in Serbian, and gestured violently at one of the counters in the row behind us.
“Tickets there?” we hazarded tentatively.
Vigorous nodding. Her other hand joined in the gesturing for emphasis.
Off we trotted to counter 18. Watched the pair of customers before us haggling about tickets they’d just bought, cutting off a crafty old fella who tried to slip in front of us in the queue.
“No no, you go to International. At 12,” counter 18 declared when it was our turn, flapping a hand in that general direction. “There.”
International was aghast. “You want to go to Bar today?”
“No, on Friday morning.”
“Not here,” International counter snapped, annoyed. “At counter 19.”
There was no one at counter 19. But the window said “VIP”. which was encouraging. The freshly washed denim jacket draped over the office chair, and wooden stool jammed into the door also suggested that its occupant might return soon.
Counter 19 returned after ten minutes or so, stepping over the stool holding her cubicle door open with a deftness that suggested long practice.
“Is this where we buy tickets from here to Bar in Montenegro?” we asked.
She beamed. “Yes. When would you like to go?”
“Friday morning. We would like to come back from Bar on Sunday morning.”
She tapped at her computer – a 1998-ish PC replete with clicky yellowed keyboard and 14″ CRT monitor – stuck a couple of slips into the dot matrix printer next to it, took our payment with a late model modern credit card reader, and presto, we had a pair of return tickets from Belgrade to Bar on the train.