Crossing Turkey by Train: 40 Hours on the “Eastern Express”


Scenery from the Eastern Express. © Sharon Lundahl

Most foreigners,  when they think of Turkey, bring to mind a  more-touristy western Turkey,  with its biblical sites and Med-Sea beaches.  The country of Turkey is actually quite huge, east to west.

During our recent trip, we decided that a good way to see a lot of Turkey would be to take the train from Kars back to Istanbul.   Everyone has heard of the “Orient Express” running from Vienna to Istanbul, but few of us have heard of the “Eastern Express” which runs to Istanbul from far eastern Turkey.

The Eastern Express Train. © Sharon Lundahl

We boarded the train at midnight in Kars after buying a sleeping compartment ticket for the two of us for the next two nights  for an exorbitant $65.00. For that amount we received a two-person sleeper with clean bed linens, complimentary snacks for our small fridge, and an attentive sleeping car attendant to look after our every need (though not our need to find someone who spoke English, which he didn’t.)

Kids Playing along the Turkish Train

Kids Playing Along the Train Track. © Sharon Lundahl

The train route seemed to hit all major cities from east to west throughout Turkey.  The track bed on which the train rode is quite old and limited the speed the train could travel, but the scenery was simply spectacular.   There were hundreds of tunnels along the route which often winded through the mountains beside river beds rather than following highways.  In many parts of Turkey the highways were built after the railroad.

The Good Cook on our Train. © Sharon Lundahl

As our trip took place in mid-October– already the beginning of winter in the lofty mountains of central Turkey– the train wound its way through snow-capped mountains that reminded us of the U.S. Rocky Mountains.  The view from our compartment window or from the splendid restaurant car often provided a wonderful glimpse of Turkish village life as people went about their daily tasks oblivious to the train passing their barnyard or village coffeehouse .

Picture of Famous Attaturk in Train Station

Attaturk Sign in Train Station. ©mellen-petrich@flickr

The scenery began to flatten out a bit by the time the train reached Ankara, and from that point to Istanbul, the old meandering track was paired with a straighter new high-speed train track under construction along side.   This is to be the new TGV (Trein Grande Vitesse) fast train which will cut the  Istanbul/Ankara travel time from six hours to two hours.

The thought of being able to take such a speedy train in the future began to gnaw at us…as our “express” seemed to lose speed the closer it got to Istanbul.  As we followed our train’s plodding advance across our map of Turkey,  and the hours stretched on and on, we finally found ourselves alongside the Bosphorus.  Our hopes rose at sight of the familiar waterway, but  our train’s speed declined still further in response.

Map of Turkey Showing Route of our Train © Sharon Lundahl

The train’s progress into Istanbul seemed interminable, as we were five hours late, and especially because Sharon ran out of books to read about four hours from the end.  This disaster resulted in a solemn promise to all the gods ever worshipped in Turkey to buy a KINDLE so that she would never be caught bookless anywhere again.  (She did so, and found out that it is good “travel insurance”–but not anywhere as pleasant as holding a book in your hands.)

The only other problem Sharon experienced on the train involved the Turkish-style hole-in-the-floor toilet in the swaying railway car.

The train finally pulled into the picturesque  late 19thcentury Hadarpasha Railway Station on Istanbul’s Asian shore 40 hours after leaving Kars. We had forgotten, however,  that our journey was not yet over just because we had finally stumbled off the train.

Turkey Train

Haydarpasa Train Station on Istanbul's Asian Shore. © fafaru mitikie@flickr

Istanbul is split by the Bosporus into an Asian side and European side, the latter of which was where we spent most all of our visits among the great monuments of past epochs such as the Hagia Sofia and her sister palaces,  churches and mosques.

To return to our hotel on the European side, we exited the Railway Station and boarded a ferryboat for a 20 minute journey across the Bosporus to a tram stop and hauled our tired bodies across the Golden Horn and back to our non-swaying beds and American-style (hurray) “convenience” and bathroom!

Scenery from the Eastern Express. © Sharon Lundahl


Judyth Reichenber

From two world travelers to two others…. I LOVE your travel stories. Inspires me to write about our travels, which I have been mulling over doing. I also love Turkey and Turkish food. You bring the experiences to life! I was ready to hop on that train till I heard the last 5 hrs. Just remember to keep your Kindles charged. And to download the books you want when you are somewhere with WIFI, because sometimes it’s not available when you want the book(s). I only went to Konya and Ephesus and would love to return. Will ooh and ahh over your Turkish items when we return at the end of April. We return on our anniversary, so maybe even a little present.


Sharoon as alyas very learning. U both are not less than Ibna-a- Botota. please keep on sending such interesting travel stories.


I would have left a response saying how beautiful the photos are and how riveting the text, and how our dream is still to travel with you some day if I can get well, but I couldn’t figure out the answer to how much nine plus six is.

Helen Holter

What a hoot! It takes a 40-hour Turkey train trip to convince Sharon to buy a Kindle! Thanks for the travel story and especially for your amazing photos through eastern Turkey. I look forward to seeing your trip’s treasures in your Whidbey Island store. — Helen


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