Many years ago, there was a direct train from Istanbul to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, via
Kars. However, during the war over Nagorno Karabakh,
the situation between Turkey and Armenia escalated, and so all border crossings have been closed
That's why the so-called Doğu Express (pronounced doe-oo) ends in Kars not far from the border to
Armenia. For more information on the train, see "transportation" below.
The train leaves at 7:10 in the morning, and there's only one train a day. Which means that we had to
get up at half past six. We pack our things and leave the hotel without breakfast. Without coffee.
The morning air is very clear and pleasantly cool. On our way to the train station we meet two packs
of stray dogs, with people throwing stones after them. Each pack consists of around 8 to 10 dogs with a
great diversity. Wildlife in Kars. In front of the train station we face another animal problem: Somehow we have to
pass a herd of cattle to get to the entrance. The day before, staff told us that it would be better to show up
half an hour earlier. We are not the only one - many other people are waiting at the platform. But it's less than
There's a kiosk inside the train station, but it doesn't sell coffee. Since there's supposed to be a
restaurant aboard the train, we don't buy anything to eat. Shortly before 7 am, the train arrives.
It's quite a modern, red and black train. The dining-car and the sleeping-car are at the end of the train.
Since the whole ride to Istanbul takes around 39 hours, we opted for a comfortable solution. The sleeper-car
has its own conductor, who's welcoming us heartily. He speaks little English and explains the
compartment. The compartment is a surprise: It's spotless clean, there are two folding beds on the left and
a table plus a wash-basin on the right. It's going to be a piece of cake to spend almost 40 hours on this train.
Or maybe not!? The train is leaving on time, but the conductor explains, that due to technical problems
the dining-car doesn't work. And that the car needs to be exchanged in a town called Erzincan.
"When do we arrive in Erzincan!?" is my next question. "Shortly after 4 in the afternoon" is his answer, and I was
afraid that he would say that. It's 7 am now, which means that we would have to spend the next 9 hours
without food and drinks. And - to make things worse - without coffee!
The train doesn't care about that - slowly we cross a wide plateau. As expected, the train isn't very fast.
But compared to trains in Georgia and Armenia it's almost like a ride on a bullet train.
Around noon we stop in Erzurum, a large city in a middle of a plateau and around 1,900 metres high.
According to our friendly conductor, we are going to stop for some ten minutes at the station.
This means that we have the chance to grab some food and drinks. 10 minutes is not much time when
you are at the end of a rather long train.
Soon I can find a small kiosk, selling bread, cookies and mineral water. Sometimes it's a small thing that makes
me happy. Like food. Or water. Thanks to the monotonous jolting of the train and the soft bed, it's just natural
to fall asleep from time to time. The plateau ends somewhere, and we enter a wild and rugged mountain range with
some white water rivers. What a stunning view - this train ride offers a highly interesting pot-pourri of Turkish
Picture: Plateau at around 1,900 m near Erzurum
At around half past four, the longed-for dining-car is coupled on. Coffee! At last! And real food!
There are many items on the menu, but only two things are available. And the waiters are rude.
We order the two things, meat balls and chicken. Both come with rice, which turns out to be
lousy. Together with coffee and some pop we pay around € 6. I wonder how much it would set us back on
a German train. Probably € 30 or so. Due to the lack of alternatives, we visit the dining-car
again in the evening, to have some beer and some snacks.
Sometimes we spend the time chatting with the friendly conductor. Our Japanese guidebook has
a list of some basic Turkish vocabulary. The conductor says something about his parents, pointing at
the expression for "it's on the right". We have no idea what he's talking about, but after some very interesting
gestures we understand - they are dead. Is that a phrase!? If yes, it's an interesting phrase I've never heard before.
He's a calm and open-minded person and even talk seriously about his future and his job.
Picture: Wild Anatolia: High mountains and deep valleys
Even after sundown there's plenty to see outside - it's full moon, and the moon is shining bright.
But after a while we're getting tired and going to enjoy a night on this fantastic train.
Picture: Crossing Turkey from east to west on the Doğu Express