Air Serbia/LOT: Ljubljana - Niš, Sofia - Warsaw


Written by jsg

Balkan holiday part 2 - Serbia & Bulgaria

With half of the first week of my holiday gone by visiting Sarajevo, Ljubljana and Ptuj, it is time for me to move further south to explore the third largest city of Serbia and the Bulgarian capital. It will be my first visit to the city of Niš.

JU1193: Ljubljana - Niš. Today is a lazy day in Ljubljana. After hotel check-out, I go for a quick breakfast, then for a walk along the Ljubljanica embankment and for a stroll in Tivoli Park, where I lounge on the grass. Having still some time to spare, I return to the Old Town for a late lunch, followed by afternoon coffee on the river embankment. After finishing my Irish coffee, I pick up my luggage and move to the Trg Osvobodilne fronte, from where the airport bus departs. While sitting in the bus shelter, I notice the old Adria Airways advert, which lists former airline destinations prior to its collapse. I particularly like the Slovenian spelling of Lodž and Varšava, which I would spell as Łódź and Warszawa, but my favourite is Dunaj, which in Polish means the river, which flows through Vienna, while in Slovenian means just Vienna. The shuttle bus arrives on time. Before we reach the airport, we pick up one more passenger from Ljubljana suburbs, then go straight to Ljubljana Airport.

Inside the terminal building there is already a queue for check-in desks A9 and A10 assigned for two Air Serbia flights: JU1193 bound for Niš and JU195 for Belgrade. The check-in takes a quarter of an hour and I proceed upstairs for security control, which takes a further 10 minutes.

Inside the departure lounge, I browse through the duty-free shop, but I buy nothing. Later, I proceed to the B-gates area, but first I need to pass through passport control as my flight is to the non-Schengen zone. There is no queue, my documents are verified in no time.

Flight JU1193 departs from gate B1. The departure lounge is quite busy today due to 3 departing non-Schengen flights: JU1193, JU195 and 6H752, the latter bound for Tel Aviv. Around 19:30, the gate agent announces boarding for flight JU195 bound for Belgrade at gate B2. It seems that today’s flight to Belgrade is busy as many passengers are boarding the flight operated by the A319. After boarding of the Belgrade flight is completed, the gate agents move to gate B1 and announce the boarding for the flight to Niš.

There aren't too many passengers booked for this flight and the boarding takes only several minutes. After scanning my boarding card and cross-check with my passport, I proceed downstairs to the tarmac, then to the parked 5.7-years old ATR72-600 (reg. number YU-ALW). The double-head eagle draws my attention. Later, I decided to find out more about the airline logo. The logo was created by Serbian graphic designer Tamara Maksimović in 2013 and artistically incorporates the symbol of Serbia - a stylized double-headed eagle traditionally present on the Serbian flag and coat of arms.

Inside the aircraft, I take my assigned seat of 11D. The aircraft interior is pleasant, clean and in good condition. Boarding is soon completed, the doors are closed, and the cabin crew (1 male and 1 female) stands by for the safety demo in Serbian and In English. After a final check of the cabin, the aircraft’s engines are turned on and after short taxi we takes-off for Niš.

I am not a big fan of the ATR-72 aircraft as I remember them as noisy and with high level of vibrations, when they were part of LOT fleet operating domestic and short European services. But I am presently surprised with the new version of ATR-72 as most of the noise and vibration have been reduced.

After reaching our cruising altitude, the cabin crew offers a complimentary 250-ml bottle of water and collect orders from buy-on-board menu. Then I notice something is missing? A small pack of Noblice cookies! ‘Hmm, have they run out of the Noblice cookies, or they missed offering to passengers?’, I wonder. No cookies, no fun…. Nevertheless, I spend rest of my flight for reading more about Niš and planning my visit there. I also take home an issue of Outstanding Serbia, which featured Novi Sad- a really cool place to visit. ‘Perhaps, I should visit Serbia next summer?, I contemplate.

Today’s flight path crosses over the Slovenian town of Mengeš, the Croatian capital of Zagreb, then the Bosnian town of Gradačac. We enter Serbian airspace around Trbušnica and after a right turn near Kragujevac we fly towards Niš Constantine the Great Airport, where we land 9 minutes ahead of the scheduled arrival time. After a short taxi, we park in the front of the terminal building then we walk to the tiny arrivals area of the terminal building, which contains passport control desks, a small baggage reclaim belt and a custom officer who monitors passing passengers. After passing all these steps, I leave the terminal building and search for a pre-arranged taxi. While awaiting the arrival of my taxi, I watch two stray dogs running around passengers in hope of getting something to eat. As my taxi is not arriving, I call the hotel, who pre-arranged my taxi and I was told, the driver is waiting at the taxi stand which is 100 meters away from the main terminal building before the barrier. I quickly find my driver, who takes me to my hotel.

Flight statistics:

LF: 45 %
Distance: 667 kms (360 nm)
Departure time (scheduled/actual): 20:55/20:54
Arrival time (scheduled/actual): 22:45/22:34
Flight duration (scheduled/actual): 1h 50 min/1 h 40 min

Niš. The next morning, I leave my hotel, located a short walk from the King Milan Square. My first impression of the city is chaotic and kind of random as well-maintained building abut to less fortunate ones. I pass the hotel Ambassador, an iconic building for citizens of Niš, which received total revamp and proudly holds five stars. Then I head to the north end of the bridge on the Nišava river occupied by an immense fortification – the Niš Fortress, that was built by the Turks at the end of 17th century and at the beginning of the 18th century, but the origins can be traced back to Medieval, Byzantine and even Roman times. The Niš Fort was conveniently located on the path between the Danube and the Adriatic, Aegean and Black seas and its strategic role was recognized since prehistoric times. In more recent times, the city was an important stop on the road from Belgrade to Constantinople and Athens. Although Constantinople has changed its name to Istanbul, Niš still stays on the crossroads of two important European roads: E75 (linking Vardø w Norway and Athens) and E80 which connects Lisbon with Istanbul via Rome and Sofia.

I enter the Fortress via the Stamboli Gate, passing the Summer Stage, the Vidin Gate and some gunpowder houses with distinctive interior design. While standing on the walls, I can also see Niš from various angles, thanks to the polygonal shape of the fort. I also stop at the Bali-Beg Mosque, intrigued by a sign of Nišville. ‘Is it artistic allusion to Nashville or linguistic play of words Niš and ville?’, I meditate.

The next day I take a 4-kilometer-long walk passing several crossroads, the concrete high rise residential building TV5 constructed in socialist modernism style, more recent building of New Clinical Centre of Niš, and finally I arrive at the Skull Tower. The monument itself is a scary one, with 56 rows of cemented human skulls. Initially, there were 952 skulls, but only a fraction of them were preserved. All skulls belonged to Serbian rebels killed in the battle of Čegar during the First Serbian Uprising. After winning the battle, Hursid Pasha ordered the construction of the horrific Skull Tower, as a warning to anyone raining against the Ottoman Empire.

Niš Express: Niš - Sofia. The last day is a lazy one. I check out from the hotel and stop for a coffee, then stroll along the south Nišava embankment, get a small lunch is a restaurant of Hotel Ambassador (come on I am on holiday, so why not 😉) and then collect my luggage and walk to the Niš Bus Station. Stand 8 is assigned for the 16.00 Niš Express bus to Sofia. Fifteen minutes before the departure time, the bus of with Bulgarian registration plates operated by Matpu – a Bulgarian transport company drives up. There are approximately 12 passengers boarding the bus, mostly foreign tourists from different countries on the way to Sofia. We depart on time, passing the suburbs of the city and joining the A4 motorway. There are two planned stops: Pirot and Dimitrovgrad. In Pirot we have a 10 minute break and 3 new passenger boards the bus. In Dimitrovgrad a couple of bikers (probably from Italy) are awaiting at the bus stop. The driver neatly puts their bikes in the luggage hold and the couple board the bus. We move to the border crossing point Gradinje – Kalotina located only a few kilometres away. The proper border crossing point with passport and custom control on both sites. Being spoiled by travelling within the Schengen zone, I almost forgot how the proper border crossing looked like. First, we stop on the Serbian part and wait for a frontier to turn up in a booth. After 10 minutes, the driver instructs us to leave the bus for passport check. And yes, I got a stamp in my passport. Then custom clearance, which takes longer than expected as one of the passengers carrying some medication in the form of powder, which obviously raises suspicion of the custom officials. After 15 minutes check, the passenger is finally cleared, and we can depart to the Bulgarian part. Again, we must leave the bus for passport control, but this time I received no stamp in my passport. Custom clearance is a breeze, and we drive non-stop to the Bulgarian capital, where we arrive around 20:30 local time.

Trip statistics:

LF: 28 %
Distance: 160 kms (86 nm)
Departure time (scheduled/actual): 16:00/16:00 (both local times)
Arrival time (scheduled/actual): 16:00/20:32 (both local times)
Trip duration (scheduled/actual): 3h 00 min/3 h 32 min

Sofia. In a suburb of Sofia somewhere between two metro stations: G.M. Dimitrov and Zholio Kyuri, there is a peculiar museum – the Museum of Socialist Art. It presents works from the period of Socialist rule in Bulgaria (1944–1989). Two Spanish-speaking tourists are walking in front of me. Suddenly one of them loudly says: 'Estrella rosa, estrella rosa' pointing out the five-pointed red star, that welcomes visitors to the museum.

After passing the red star, I enter a park with a big sculpture of Vladimir Lenin and other 76 ones scattered around. All of them were drawn in social realism style and feature various communist leaders and activists, poets, agricultural and industrial workers, and so forth.

At the crossroad of the metro line M2 with lines M1 and M4 there is a station Serdica, named after the name of the Roman settlement and ancient name of Sofia. The Roman and 6th century ruins discovered during the construction of the station can be seen while passing pedestrian tunnels. Outside the underground passages, the immense buildings dominate the streets. They were built in grand Stalinist architecture on the rubble of bombed Serdica during the World War II. On the "yellow brick road," which stretches across the heart of Sofia, the building of the National Assembly of Bulgaria is located. Formerly, it was the Headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party, and the top of the roof was decorated with the ‘estrella rosa’ displayed in the Museum of Socialist Art.

The pleasant afternoon encourages me to further explore the city on foot in slow motion. The Boulevard Vitosha is the main pedestrian street filled with bustling cafés, restaurants, and bars along with bookshops and clothing stores. The thoroughfare opens up to the Bulgaria Square, which is adorned by a long row of water fountains and the building of the National Palace of Culture. The Square is full of youngsters, elderly people relaxing on benches and some tourist taking photo of the square, common sight on a lazy Saturday late afternoon.

LO634: Sofia – Warsaw. It is a sunny Sunday afternoon in Sofia. The city seems to be empty as there are not many people nor passing cars on the streets. I get to the airport by metro line #4, that links the suburban quarter of the capital with Sofia Airport. After a short walk, I reach the terminal building of Sofia Airport and while inside I check the display screen where to check in.

The assigned desks are still closed as I arrived more than 2 hours prior to departure time and check-in has still not opened. At 16.30, the LOT logo appears on both screens and two check-in agents arrive. Shortly after, check-in commences. I am one of the first passengers in the queue and after a few minutes, my bag is checked-in for Warsaw and I receive a boarding card and I proceed to the departure gates located on the +1 level of the terminal 2 building.

The steeplechase has started. First stop, boarding card scanning. Checked. Next one is security control followed by passport control. I decide to use the automated passport control gates as I find them faster, especially since there is no one there. Checked and checked. The full steeplechase took 20 mins, and now I am airside of Sofia Airport, which I call bathroom-like-airport to the peculiar style of the interior and ceramic tiles on the floor.

I still have some spare time before boarding commences, and I take a seat with the view on the runaway, so I can observe aircraft taking-off and landing. I see departing aircraft of European Air Charter bound for Bari and a Ryanair flight to Naples and Paphos as well as arriving flights from Heraklion (Bulgaria Air), Ryanair flight from Malta and LOT Polish Airlines flight from Warsaw, which arrives a few minutes before the scheduled arrival time.

Boarding starts a few minutes before 18.00 at gate B6. There are many passengers queuing for boarding, and, I guess, the flight to Warsaw will be busy.

After scanning my boarding card, I walk down to the 13.4-years old E175 STD aircraft (reg. number SP-LIA) through an air bridge. Inside, I am greeted by two members of the cabin crew and move to the rear part of the aircraft to take the assigned seat of 26A. The flight is busy with only a few seats unoccupied, including seat 26B, which is next to me. Through the window, I can see an Austrian Airlines aircraft bound for Vienna as flight OS798.

Boarding is soon completed and the cabin crew (2 female and 1 male) stand-by for the safety demo conducted in Polish and in English using a pre-recorded demo. It seems there is something wrong with the speaker system as I can hear a muffed voice while the safety demo audio recording is playing. After the completion of the safety demo, we start taxiing to the runway passing the old terminal building of Sofia Airport, now known as Terminal 1 used mostly by some LCCs as well as charter airlines. After taking off, we turn left over the village of Dolni Bogrov and cross the Danube River near the Bulgarian town of Lom.

After reaching cruising altitude, the cabin crew offers complimentary service. I choose a savoury snack (a tomato bun), a glass of mineral water and a cup of tea with lemon. I also inquire about a sandwich with meat (185 g), which I pre-ordered through the airline website at the price of 15 PLN. ‘No, nothing was provided to us. When did you order it?’, a cabin crew member asks. ‘Few days ago’, I reply, but I see a negative expression on her face. ‘There is something, I believe.’, says another cabin crew member, and he walks to the front galley and returns with a sandwich on a tray which he offers to me. ‘Great, thank you’, I respond and take my pre-ordered sandwich.

During the flight, I look through the window and read some articles from this month’s issue of the in-flight magazine of Kaleidoscope. I also help myself to an additional blueberry bun offered by the cabin crew to all passengers.

After crossing over the Danube River, we pass the Romanian town of Oradea, the Hungarian city of Nyíregyháza and further east over the Slovakian town of Košice, entering Polish airspace near the village of Konieczna. At 18:27, the captain informs us we are already over the territory of Poland, and we should be landing in approx. 40 minutes from now. The rest of the flight path crosses over the city of Kielce, then after a slight turn right, and sharp turn left near the town of Warka we start our final descent towards runway 15/33 in the direction of 33, where we land 18 minutes ahead of the scheduled arrival time.

I disembark the aircraft via an air bridge and after the automated passport control located on level 2, I proceed to the baggage reclaim on the ground floor. After several minutes waiting, I collect my bag from belt #1 and walk to the bus stop located outside arrival hall.

Flight statistics:

LF: 98 %
Distance: 1069 kms (577 nm)
Departure time (scheduled/actual): 18:30/18:25
Arrival time (scheduled/actual): 19:25/19:07
Flight duration (scheduled/actual): 1h 55 min/1 h 32 min

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  1. Anonymous09:25

    Nice report :) they didn't forget the noblice, it is just not offered on flights from Nis/Kraljevo. Same way you can't earn frequent flyer miles on the Nis/Kraljevo flights.

    1. Anonymous10:05

      You can't also earn miles if you flying from Belgrade or any other destination in Economy Light fare.

    2. Anonymous10:10

      True but from Nis you can't earn it on any fare.

  2. Anonymous09:49

    Great report but big minus on my side is that you went to Niš and you haven't tried burek! Just near TV5 is great bakery "ANTON" if the sky brings you back again I suggest trying spinach-cheese burek there. And for the meat lovers I suggest beef tails in Niš they are delicious 😋

    1. Anonymous10:19

      Not just burek, Niš has the best barbeque in Serbia and wider!

    2. Anonymous10:20

      And čorbas are also amazing. In general awesome food. Also, no visit to Medijana?

    3. Anonymous10:35

      True, I especially like the телећа чорба that they have down there. However grill is the best thing to eat there. It's a shame their tourist organization is not doing more to promote it.

    4. I should have asked all of you for some tips before my trip. 🙂

    5. Anonymous06:00

      That's why you need to come back to Nis!
      You should fly KRK-BEG-INI

    6. or WRO-BEG-INI 🙂

  3. Anonymous12:18

    Low LF on the one route

    1. Anonymous12:46

      If the INI-LJU is PSO than it's fine with that LF.

    2. Anonymous13:18

      What was nice is that there was a large crowd for the JU A319 flight to BEG. No wonder JU is boosting LJU this winter.

  4. Anonymous14:11

    Greetings from Dolni Bogrov! I was very surprised when you mentioned it!!! 😄😄😉😉😉😉😉

    1. Thank you. Greetings from Warsaw.

  5. Anonymous14:12

    Great report and FYI Nišville is a jazz festival, held annually in the fortress.

  6. Anonymous15:03

    Love it! Love your report. Keep them coming.

  7. Anonymous17:28

    Lazy days are expressions of a good life !
    Nice report, thank you .

  8. I would have thought lazy days are part of a good holiday. 😉

  9. Anonymous11:11

    Why is there ALWAYS an Austrian or Lufthansa plane in Sofia?

  10. Charlie02:11

    Nice report JSG. A pleasure to read, just the right amount of detail and personal anecdotes with it being too much.
    I hope you tell all your Polski friends how great the Balkans are.

    1. The Balkans are great indeed. 🙂


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