The following is part 2 of our journey. If you need to catch up, here’s part 1 of our train journey from Ankara to Erzurum on the Doğu Ekspresi.
At around 8-9 pm, we head to the restaurant car for food. There are a few other people in there and, of course, everyone turns round to have a good look at us; guess we’re the only foreigners on the train, then. The chef and waiter look mildly amused / happy to see us (never sure which, but we must be a little novelty in their usual workdays of crisscrossing Turkey so we don’t mind) and we look through the small menu. We glance to the opposite table and there’s a guy with an Efes. Hmm, we’re thinking it’s gonna be a long while before we have a beer again so we order chicken şiş, chicken pirzola and a beer each…
Memories of that meal: Simple, but completely does the trick, and that and the beer are very reasonably priced. If you are considering rail travel in Turkey and are worried about food, you don’t need to be. Back to our cabin and after a bit of reading it’s a comfortable, gently-rockin-n-rollin sleep to the sound of clackety-clack of train on track…until we wake up just after 6 am and open the curtains…
Through the night, we’ve headed southwest of Ankara to Kayseri in the Cappadocia region. From there we’ve changed direction and gone northwest to Sivas and east towards Erzincan. What a feeling to be in the mountains, on a rail track, and not be completely sure where you are…
Eventually, GPS picks us up – it takes a while – and reveals we’re in the Erzincan region of northeast Anatolia. As we’re scheduled to be in Erzurum at 1:15 pm, this is really the last leg of the journey. We’ve got seven hours to take in our first glimpses of the scenery of Eastern Turkey so, even though a couple more hours sleep wouldn’t go amiss (we’ve got a long day ahead of us – we’ve still got to get to Patnos, somehow), the curtains are open and sleepy eyes refuse to close.
From now onwards, we’re constantly following the path of the Euphrates river. We’re heading east and the Euphrates is flowing first west and then south. Mostly, it’s to our left, visible through the cabin window. Very occasionally, we cross it, and, at those times, the corridor of our train carriage is a row of people (including us) taking photos through the window.
Other people stay in their cabins with what looks like the whole family belongings piled into a corner. Some people in Turkey don’t travel light. Maybe they do this route on a regular basis and find it all thoroughly tedious and boring. For us though, we’re on a new adventure. Excuse us while we clamber over your boxes to take photos.
At times, the Euphrates gently meanders through rolling hills.
At others, it forces its way through craggy mountains as we trundle at relaxed pace through tunnel after tunnel (the tunnels were to be Barry’s nemesis as he tried to capture his video). We’ve not seen a building for miles, we’ve been in this gorge for some time…and you just wonder where/how this guy goes home when he finishes doing whatever he’s doing with that yellow box. (We were to have thoughts like that quite often when we were in Eastern Turkey. So vast.)
And this seems like a good time to drop in Barry’s time lapse video. Just over 2 minutes of beautiful East Turkey scenery from the Doğu Ekspresi put to music; including the arrival to Erzurum. Watch the weather and scenery change as we travel across country. Notice the tunnels, mentioned above. We like this one!
Yesterday was the first time we’ve looked through these photos properly since we did the trip last May. I was tempted to edit them them, but we wanted this post to be the views through the window of the train. Reflections and window frames have been allowed to stay.
It’s getting to sensible morning hours by now – around 9 am – so we decide to go to the restaurant again for some breakfast. The chef and waiter wave at us with a smile and bid us günaydın (good morning). And a very good omelette and çay sets us up for the rest of the journey. We don’t hang around in the restaurant car for too long – more photos to be taken.
And the beauty of booking yourself into a sleeper carriage is that they are right at the back of the train. We spend half an hour or so just standing, looking through the rear window, watching the stretch of track disappear over the horizon.
The landscape and the weather changes back and forth – sometimes it’s alpine-like mountain greenery and others, we’re travelling through almost baron highlands. Winter has only just passed but you can see spring is already winning the battle and is beginning to make itself visible in these parts. We’ve got sunshine, sleet, rain, heavy cloud, sunshine…and we hope there’s at least some sunshine when we get to Erzurum. A true blessing will be no rain or snow.
The closer we get to Erzurum, the colder it looks. Erzurum was recently home to the Youth Winter Olympics – hardly going to be sunshine and beaches is it? We’re grateful for the lack of rain and sleet at this point. We have warm clothes – but we’ve lived in Fethiye for some time now and our bones are easily chilled these days.
This is one of those occasions where the Euphrates is to our right. There’s one lonely herdsman with his flock, and, again, he looks like he’s come from somewhere far away and still has so far to go. We’ve had a text from our friend in Patnos to say there’s a bus from Erzurum to Patnos at 4pm. This was sounding great at first, but, by now, our 1:15 pm arrival schedule has already passed. We’re not too concerned though. We’re still very chilled on our little train adventure. We’ll get to Patnos somehow, sometime…
Eventually, at around 2:30 pm, we start to roll in towards Erzurum; small settlements on the outskirts give us the clue. Most of the dwellings in this part of Turkey are single storey homes like these in the photo above. Corrugated roofing tops each home. This must be the most useful material for this climate because even brand new apartment blocks and hotels are topped in the same way.
And just what is it that makes this part of Eastern Turkey appear so vast, so remote, so wild? We’ve been through towns and villages so it’s not the lack of buildings. The further east we get, the more remote it seems. We can’t put our finger on it – not yet, anyway. It’s pointed out to us a few days later when we’re in Patnos.
Eventually, at around 3pm, we pull into Erzurum Garı. It’s a neat, modern station – with corrugated roof. We ask a guy in railway uniform where the otogar is. It’s only a couple of kilometres away, he says, and points the directions out. You can walk it in 15 minutes he says. Wow, yes we can and we will, but this is a first for us. He’s not suggested a bus or a taxi or sucked his breath in as though it’s miles away. It’s only a 2km walk. And off we go in search of our next mode of transport to take us to Patnos.
Doğu Ekspresi Train – Useful Info
- The Doğu Ekspresi leaves Ankara Garı (the train station) at 6pm daily. It’s final destination is Kars. A private cabin for 2 people in 2013 cost us 80TL.
- Erzurum is a historic city which attracts many tourists for adventure sports – we can’t do it justice as we only walked between the train station and bus station, so we’ll leave that research to you.
- Despite our problems getting the Van Gölü Ekspresi, this really was a one-off and the trains are generally very reliable.
- The restaurant car on the Doğu Ekspresi serves a small menu but the food is perfectly good and reasonably priced. We didn’t test it out during the night but we were told by our attendant we could get food and drink in there at any time during our journey.
- If you’re at all tempted by the idea of travelling by train in Turkey and would like to know full routes, fares, timetables, lines that are closed for maintenance, photos of the trains – just about everything you need to know – then you can do a lot worse than visit the The Man In Seat 61 (the link goes straight to the Turkey section).
- We travelled out of season and the train wasn’t very busy, but if you want to be sure you’ve got a cabin (seats are cheaper if you’re on a very strict budget), you can book online at the TCDD website (the link is for the English language section of the website).