Trans Asia Express time!
We set off on our Trans Asia Express train to Tehran, at 10.00a.m. When we arrived by the luxury of Taxi! I alas did forget my watch at the hostel and had to instruct the driver to turn back so I could get it before returning to our journey to the railway station in down town Ankara. Good thing we left ourselves plenty of time to get there. Watch secured we arrived at Ankara station in enough time to buy ourselves a drink and some breakfast bread. Staffs at the station were polite and helpful, even though once again English was not a familiar language. Our train pulled in at 10.15 and left at 10.26a.m. we got to our carriage and stowed our backpacks into the smallish compartment. Seats look and are roomy though, and once underway blankets, pillows, and sheets are brought round. Ticket inspector checked and marked off our outward bound tickets, and wished us a good journey. I had a cracking headache, probably from getting up way to early, so crashed on the extremely comfortable pull out beds. I got two hours sleep/rest and got up in a better place. The staff all appear very friendly and try their best to help us out. Tea (chai) is offered and brought to your cabin. We have yet to try out the buffet car, but a quick rekkie tells us prices look the same as any in Ankara, and the variety as interesting. We sampled the delights of the buffet car and ordered (guess what?) chicken Kebab, and salad. Which was not to bad, we shared as both of us didn’t quite feel like much to eat(kinda kebabed out). Staffs were very friendly and Angela had another last drink of coffee, at the local Turkish cafe.
This train does do a lot of long stops, most of the night I woke because of the lack of movement, not the gentle rocking it does when underway. It rained a lot too as we seemed to higher into the hills.
Next Morning we both woke to find us again stopped, this one lasted around an hour as the train staff seemed to be eating breakfast at the local shack! Still raining, but the scenery starts to altogether change, more mountainous, and most of them covered with snow. As we pull away from our breakfast stop we start to see more stunning scenery, the train follows a long and powerful river, with breathtaking views of the hills and we pass through numerous tunnels where the train track cannot hope to bend in time. I have taken some lovely pics, albeit through the train window/glass. Great cracks in the hills some of them revealing small and larger waterfalls. The other passengers (none of whom speak any common language to us) treat us kindly and try to communicate with the usual speaking in Turkish/Farsi and hand gesturing. Smiles always go a long way. The other thing I notice as I look at the landscape from the train is the sparsely populated country side. Few single storey crofter type cottages, looking like there are no roads in and no roads out to them, small numbers of cattle. A very hard life of small agriculture with fishing from the river spring to mind. This is definitely getting away from it all places also quite desperately poor by western standards. At last the sun has come out, and we have stunning sunshine, but still the temperature has not risen by much. We have now hit a large succession of tunnels; this is not so fun, so Blog writing I am.
We arrive at Takvan to get the ferry to Van, where we pick up the second half of the TransAsia. Express train to Tehran. The ferry is included in the train price; very narrow steps up two flights lead you to the seating deck, which looks like a budget airline seating arrangement. We find ourselves a pair of seats and settle with our bags to watch what becomes a cockney style market stall at the snacks and drinks area, with one very “larger than life” character selling olive oil, chocolate spread, fruit flavoured chewing gum, and various treats which are apparently very expensive in Iran. All being sold to the highest bidders. Fascinating to watch and I even indulged to get some flavoured chewing gum, which was 3tl for three packs. People on the ferry(Iranians) were very friendly and helpful, letting us know what was going on, and what all the announcements.
We wandered outside onto the middle deck to see the most stunning sunset over Lake Van, a huge lake which looks more like a sea
once underway. The ship doesn’t just carry passengers, it carries one of the train carriages we just got off from, loaded with people’s baggage, and two further shipping containers full of various goods unknown. All making for a very slow 5 hour trip across the lake, but I really didn’t think that was a problem as I really didn’t want to go any faster with all that on board.
We arrived around10.00p.m.at Van Iskalsi, and disembarked after around a forty minute wait as the train was late. We were herded into a large shed, where we waited for the ticket managers to check our train tickets and reallocate our seats as women and men are not allowed to share the same carriage, except families of course. During all through this the train arrived. A rather ancient looking stock, inside and out. We get lots of help from the train ticket supervisor finding our carriage as everything is now in Farsi, and no English numbers. We squeeze ourselves into our 4 berth compartment, and settle down when two more ladies come to join us, one older (in her 60’s+ and one about our age (45-49). We are greeted by them with smiles and the younger lady, Zoreh, speaks some English. It’s apparent that the older lady is not going to make it up into one of the very high couchette, so Zoreh goes off to find her a lower bunk elsewhere, stressing that she loves our company and that she loves chatting and helping us, which she does for the rest of the train trip.
We arrive at the Turkish border check out point at around 3.00a.m. To have our passports stamped out of Turkey. Again men and women in separate ques, with children and old people first. Back onto the train and we must have stopped in a siding about an hour later not to move until 8.30a.m. the next morning. Where we are woken up to be told that Passport control was boarding to take our passports to stamp us into Iran. Hooray! Bearing in mind we still had to go through a customs check later at Tibriz. Passports were returned after breakfast with our stamps of entry on. Breakfast was not so good, what can only be described as flat bread that was more like chip paper, and a tiny pot of honey. He seemed to think we needed several folds of these large sheets. About 8 to be precise, we both didn’t manage to get through half a one each. Tea and a pot of hot water were provided.
Next big stop Tibriz, where customs board the train to check everyone’s baggage, it’s at this point we are grateful we carried our backpacks ourselves and didn’t tow them in the luggage carriage. As everyone who did had to go out with their luggage receipts and wait for their bags to be taken off. We were trying to work out if they were going to make us empty every bit of our bags, or do the cursory once over glance. Thankfully it was the latter and we cleared customs to be able to go and try out our new garb of lightweight long length shower coats and head scarves (which we had been observing since we had passed passport control). Tibriz station is very modern, and large, but very plain, just the obligatory ticket booths, one small kiosk, a bank, where Angela tried to discuss changing $100 but the guy behind the counter wouldn’t indicate what the exchange rate was and just kept asking her for the $100 bill. She walked out, rather than risk not getting a decent rate, and actually our train did accept Turkish lira, so as we had some left we new we wouldn’t be needing rials at this stage. There was also a small open book stall, and some smaller units, along with a prayer hall. Ladies toilets were downstairs, behind a discreet curtain, with several cubicles with squat toilets, but clean if not a little wet! I was a bit apprehensive as I had coat, scarves etc., but actually once in them you see they provide a rack and coat hook for all of your bit and bobs. Very civilised (I really didn’t know what to expect). After that back to the train where our lovely porter informed us it would leave by 2.00p.m. so we enjoyed the cool shade as it was quite warm when we arrived, and boarded about 1.45p.m. to start the rest of our journey. Sleep was first on our list. We both had lunch (provided by the staff on the train) and then sleep, we both needed it by then. We both finally got up about 6- ish and felt a bit more normal after the very long day and eventful night! Both thirsty we decided to drop down to the buffet car, and were knobbled by our new Iranian friends, who invited into their carriage for afternoon tea (well that@s what it turned out to be). Hot water and tea bags, biscuits (Iranian style) and lots of friendly chat saw us spending till 9.00p.m. with some very lovely people.