Monday, December 3, 2007

Boy, this ain't the West

I'd like to say I am pretty skilled in the art of googling. Back in the infant days of the interwebs when fewer tubes let trucks carrying data to your desktop passed through, there weren't so many advertisements in a Google search. Today, you have to really know how to search for the information you want.

That being said, it's usually pretty easy in the Western world to pull up a train schedule with fares, even if it is in between the countries of Europe. You don't have to wade through pages of books to find what you're looking for - it's in the first one or two entries.

Not so for Bulgarian trains and buses. There is one bus company - ETAR - whose website does an excellent job of organizing clear and concise information. I applaud them for that. Unfortunately, ETAR has limited routes and does not go to some of the places I want to go. But they are a private bus company and that is understandable.

What is not understandable is why I cannot find any information on trains that go from Ruse, Bulgaria to Budapest, Hungary. I am starting to enter planning for the return home mode, and am looking forward to visiting Budapest before going back to the States (and hopefully turn my observations into some sort of travel book.) Yet I have not been able to find information on such a train route, and I am getting frustrated.

Bulgaria is now an EU member and must prepare for the onslaught of tourists it will be receiving in the coming years. This includes providing online train schedules in a language someone in the West can understand. English is the most logical choice given that it is the new lingua franca of the world, and the Bulgarian State Railway website does provide English schedules and fares within Bulgaria. I commend them - the site is well designed, very organized, and user friendly. But the ticketing agency - RILA - knows no such organization.

Look, I know back in the day when the Orient Express was still running, there wasn't such luxury as the internet, nor did people speak English (or other languages) so widely as they do today. Times have changed. The whole world is spinning so rapidly that we need the information at our finger tips so our heads don't explode. The generation under mine probably doesn't even know how to use a phonebook. A young Bulgarian entrepreneur with English language and computer skills could make some dough on offering website translation services. I'd do it, but I need another year or so in this country before I could learn the language well enough to translate it.

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