In the planning stage of this trip, Iran was on my itinerary. The train to Tehran crosses all of Turkey, including an eccentric manoeveur onto a midnight boat across Lake Van. I envisioned arriving in Istanbul for a coffee and baklava, buying supplies and jumping onto the Tehran express just as it slowly rolls out of Hydarpasa station, waving my hat out of the window to the cheering crowds. As a British national/spy/journalist/ Mossad agent and otherwise nefarious character, the Iranian visa process is slow. Despite my efforts in London, by the time I had my pre-visa letter of invitation, I had already arrived in Turkey.
But in the end, I was able at least to board a train, the ‘Erzurum Express’ from Kayseri to Erzurum. A 15-hour, 363km campaign through gorges and mountainscapes played through my mind. Even if this was my second choice, I shall still live it.
Why are the Turks so uninformed when I ask them about the trains in their country? How they tut and grumble! Brothers and sisters of Turkey, all is forgiven. Now I know why most of you would rather walk than take the train. By the time it arrived in Kayseri, it was 6AM and moral in the station was low. The Turks are used to wait, indeed there are TV screens installed into the waiting rooms of train stations. We all enjoyed Kevin Costner’s Waterworld, and then the time began not to drag, rather to sit in the middle of the room like a truculent child. After three hours, I was about to murder an old mustachioed drunkard who kept telling me to go forth and have many children, and everyone else was engaged in the frustrated conga of tortous wooden-bench napping.
Although most of the nation uses the buses, the trains are very cheap and provide you with the opportunity to view parts of the country all but hidden.