Jools, a loco driver from UK, had traveled on several routes of Turkey by rail in January 2015.
As with my previous trip to Turkey it was a bash of varying emotions, ranging from fantastic to unbelievably frustrating. We met some great people, and some others, although the only blatant rip off merchant this time was a taxi driver. No surprise there then.
The ticketing situation was a bit of a farce all round. We got our Yatakli Tren Tur Kart without any problem thanks to Onur’s persistence and phone calls. From there it went downhill. The Tren Tur Kart Yatakli was 550 TRY (£150ish) which includes all sleeper reservations. The problem came when they tried to do the sleeper reservations they came up with the price on, which we were not going to pay as they were included, but which would mean that their cash tills were out each time. At Adana they got around this by printing two copies, one for us and one for the till, but most places it caused an issue. Many of the booking office clerks knew it was wrong and tried phoning a friend or several, and yet even with the advice on the other end of the line, were still unable to issue them. Others just didn’t bother trying, insisting on payment. This coupled with the fact that some places the ticket offices were closed at vital periods ruined things at times. It makes the difference between an enjoyable trip and a stressful time, as the whole move can be blown up by the lack of a res that was available when we planned the move and tried to get them, but was sold out later. This has knock on effects as well, with booking hotels, or YHTs being pointless until sleepers are confirmed. As an example the sleeper I got at the last minute from Sivas to Ankara was critical to my move, and it took me about 10 opportunities before I did finally get one. However, as it was fast filling I up I had to book the YHT from Ankara to Izmit prior to getting the sleeper res to get back to Ankara, so it could have gone horribly wrong, and I would have had to bin the purchased ticket, or fly.
The sleepers were used on long day runs as well as the overnights, and are a fantastic way to travel in the day, with your own compo and even more so with coffee and tea to ones liking at your seat. With the window open a little you can hear the loco working, without it being droned over by the genny van, as is the case if you sit at the front. I will do this sort of thing again in future if or when I do another bash here.
I did 4 day sleepers and 5 night ones so the ticket was just about worthwhile. If you are doing less than this it would be better value to get the Express Tren Tur Kart and paying for the sleeper reservations, which vary but average about 60TRY for a single.
I was pleased to do the track we attempted. Originally there was a plan to do Kapikoy, but we wimped out on this for now, as it was decided that it would be better to do this in the summer, rather than mid-winter. The other bit of available track I need to do is Kurtalan, which has its own issues at the moment, but I will try and do it sometime. We think the reason for the police raid on the overnight from Malatya was that the train had come from that area, so beware if you do head that way, and bear in mind that as currently the FCO says don’t go there, many travel insurance policies are invalidated in the area.
The locos were as good as ever, and the full loads with a DE24 on the mixed trains made them very entertaining, especially for those of us who like the Pielstick engines in other locos too. The GMs did their stuff as they do, and the GT26s were ok, but I prefer them in South Korea where they get to stretch their legs rather more. We were rather disappointed at Adana with the lack of changes and locos sticking on their turns for a week or so, but that’s all part of the game.
The hotels were generally pretty good, although I don’t much rate the one in Adana over the road from the station, but it will suffice for the odd night. The Ibis in Alsancak and Adana were booked online, as were the Wes hotel in Izmit, the Hilton in Samsun and the Kent in Kars, the others being turn up and ask rates.
The food was almost entirely fantastic as I found before. I managed a whole trip without ice cream this time, although I was tempted on occasion. As well as the normal sis kebabs and kofte I really enjoyed the meals that were made up of bowls of things from a serving counter, like beans, mince, blé, rice or couscous. Every one of these I tried was delicious. Oh and the syrupy cake things. Enough said.
The flights were very good, although the one from Istanbul to Samsun was rather wedged. I would be quite willing to fly more domestic flights inside Turkey to keep on the move and / or improve the bash. The prices can be silly cheap and even on the day are not too bad. The Sun Express flight was a bargain really, £33 all in, each saved us a day and 2 nights, thus making it easier to fit other things in. To find the best prices I used Skyscanner to see what was available, and then went onto the airlines own websites to see what they could offer, generally cheaper.
Will I go again? Probably. Will I enjoy parts of it if I do, certainly. Will I spend hours wondering why I went again, undoubtedly!