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Mar '14

Trip Report: Istanbul To Bucharest On The Overnight Train.

Checkout time is noon, the train is at 10pm. What to do with a day…leave the luggage at the hotel and do a little unscripted exploring.

Breakfast in Europe, lunch in Asia.

Back to Sirkeci Station (the train station I leave from later tonight) to hook up with the Marmaray Metro Line that goes under the Bosporus and ends at Aynlik Cesmesi where I catch the M4 (Metro not Tram) to Kadikpoy station where there is a historical trolley doing a circular route. I found the trolley, but for the life of me couldn’t figure out how to pay since it looks like they only took cards and not tokens. Tokens I have, cards I do not – and the thing was jam-packed so that dampened my enthusiasm. But it’s a cute little thing:

Lunch was a little Doner sandwich at the dock that included fries and pepperoncini peppers IN the sandwich. Really good and only 5 Lira. Solus+ had mentioned going to Princes’ Islands, but that ferry wasn’t for a while and seems to run every two hours so timing was an issue. As is the fact that it’s ninety minutes in each direction and I have a train to catch.

You will find Princes’ Islands located at the bottom right of the map below – it’s a car free set of nine islands that the emperor used to send his troublesome princes for blinding, execution and the like.

Instead I went to Besiktas and turned about and came back to Kadikoy. Here are some tourist shots from the ride:

Hopped back on the metro headed for the Outlet Mall I spotted yesterday to finally get a light-weight jacket to replace my beloved maroon and black leopard print that went missing on my arrival to Istanbul earlier this week. The Outlet Mall is at the Gungeren T1 Tram Stop and features a Carrefour Xpress (grocery store) and four floors of shops, a huge kids entertainment area complete with rides and, of course, a food court which was handy for having dinner before catching the train. Several turns around the building and I settled on a 60 lira ($30) cotton jacket that almost feels like neoprene, but has some lovely maroon bunting. Sort of funny that it’s the same color combination as the one I lost. There were ones in the 30 lira range but they were ones that I just couldn’t see wearing ever again.

Dinner at Green Salad in the mall – which I’ve been craving more salads – I had the mixed platter with 3 different meats, a little pasta, and a salad. With the Diet Pepsi it was under 20 lira (less than $10).

Off to catch the train after swinging by the hotel to grab my bags and a cab. The tram was clogged on the way back, luckily I started so far out that I got a seat, but it being Friday night traffic on the roads was ugly – it took a while to find a cab to get me to the train station. Made it with time to spare but you know how uptight I get about missing connections.

So, here is the map of train connections to the major European cities – you will find my route on the lower right:

Actually the “train” is a bus from the train station to where the Bosfor (what they call the train running from Istanbul to Bucharest) terminates due to work on a massive train tunnel under the Bosphorus – that would be Cerkezkoy station, 110km to the north. This the station that the Orient Express was snowed in for days in 1929 which gave Agatha Christie the idea for her 1934 novel. It hasn’t changed much:

I’m actually lucky enough to have hooked up with a couple of Berliner (25 and 27) on the bus who are working on a project on European youth’s impressions of Europe as an entity – but more on that later. With the boys in the car ahead of me, I don’t see them again until the border.

Its midnight when we board the train. From what I’d read on www.seat61.com (everything doing with long distance trains no matter the continent) the trains consist of newer Romanian sleeping cards with 1, 2, or 3 berth compartments with a washbasin and a Turkish couchette car with 4 and 6 berth compartments. The boys ended up in the more modern car, though the rooms didn’t have a washbasin, and I ended up one car back in the Turkish Couchette Car in a Soviet-era car complete with birds eye veneer in most places, and rooms that could have three berths tall and open the connected doors and you have a 6 berth configuration. They had mine made up for 2 berths, but it was just me all the way to Bucharest – for half the price of a room booked as a single.

Notice the differences in the hallways. Their car:

And now my hallway:

I should have re-taken the shop during the day, but I think you can get a feel for the difference… plastic versus wood. And here are a couple of shots of my home for the next 20 hours:

Made up for the evening above, and made up for the day, below.

I used the washbasin area to store all my snacks to keep them cool and the cabinet above for the liquids:

Nice that the washbasin had a closable lid – makes for a nice food prep table:

With memories of a EurRail adventure 30+ years ago with Tim, and knowing probably have to get off the train to get our passports stamped at the border, I’ve come up with this little security arrangement using a laptop locking cable. There is no way to pull the cable out of the suitcase and the suitcase is locked though the briefcase. Did I really need to do this, probably not, but too many stories of past grab and dash. These days with everyone flying, there aren’t enough people taking the train to make it worth it for thieves is my guess.

At about three in the morning we arrive at Kapikule on the border with Bulgaria – time to get our passports stamped:

Passport control is on the left hand side of the building – and I was amazed that there was a Duty Free shop at the train station – and open at 3am in the morning. Apparently the train coming in the other direction also arrives about the same time. It was a pitiful little shop, but the 1liter bottle of Jameson was a welcome site. An hour stop here… and then an hour stop on the Bulgarian side of the border. But know I have some really nice passport stamps!

Slept well on the train – amazingly. Next border stop was around 3pm – that would be the border between Bulgaria and Romania. Quicker, but again two stops, punctuated by crossing Europe’s longest steel bridge at 2.4 kilometers long.

The train is scheduled to arrive in Bucharest at 6:30 at night – we got in about 5:15 which is amazing because it has a reputation for running 1-3 hours late.

As for my arrival – WOW, a real functioning train station with cash machines, restaurants, shops, masses of people. Got some cash on the second try, grabbed a cab and headed to the hotel – which turns out is out of the city center near the large green belt. Doesn’t look to be tram friendly but the cab was cheap for the distance – 10 Lei (about $3) for the 20 minute ride.

I’ll drop the story right there saving Bucharest for the next post but I’ll return to the Berliners and their adventure. Here is the selfie I took on the platform in Bucharest:

Here is their itinerary – 3 months’ worth if I remember correctly:

The final leg of their journey is to Kiev – timed before all this nonsense, but it should be a good final chapter since their GenerationOne project is talking to youth about what it means to be European. You can follow their project here: http://herrundspeer.de/the-project/

I’m off to explore the city and pick up my return train ticket for tomorrow’s return to Istanbul.

[? ? ?] Clueless but I’ve been having more carbs that usual, but walking a ton.

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