By train from Bucharest to Istanbul - traveling onwards to Ankara. This blog describes all my personal experiences of this Interrail adventure, information, photos and the difficult transfers between trains in Turkey. This trip was during my solo Interrail journey (@TravelingOnRails) with a single goal: visiting at least all the 30 capital cities of the participating Interrail countries through whole Europe in just 30 days.
But first, let me introduce myself: Koen Nijbroek, 23 years old and currently working in the field of molecular biology & informatics - known as Bioinformatics. This is my very first blog post, hope this will be an interesting read!
So... diving half-way in my trip: my most distant located destination was Ankara - and it has been the most adventurous part of my journey. There's only 1 suitable option per day (from Bulgaria or Romania) to head into the direction of Ankara: I left Bucharest at 12:50, taking INT 461 from București Gara de Nord to Gorna Oryahovitsa (seat reservation mandatory). The train itself was surprisingly convenient, and if I recall correctly I was the only one in the compartment. I remember asking the conductress whether there was WiFi on the train (I'm still laughing thinking about this fail.. such an old train and then asking for high-tech?), oddly enough the conductress did not speak a single word of English - she did not even understand the words WiFi or internet. Apparently this did not make a very good impression on her, because shortly after departure I had to show my Interrail ticket. Obviously, the whole ticket was in English... so I'm stil not sure what she did in the 2 minutes it took her to accept my ticket ;-).
OK - ticket approved! Continuing with the "technical" details of the journey: arriving in Gorna Oryahovitsa (middle of nowhere), you have approximately 15 minutes transfer-time to board INT 465 (18:28 - 18:45). Do not let the train-personnel on the Bucharest stations or anywhere else confuse you: due to all the maintenance on the route to Istanbul (and further) there is a lot of communicative failures. They will either tell you that it is not possible to go to Istanbul, you have to take multiple buses, or they don't understand English. Anyhow - it's possible! From Gorna Oryahovitsa, INT 465 will bring you to Dimitrovgrad where you have a transfer-time of 40 minutes (22:50 - 23:30) for INT 493 - coming from the capital of Bulgaria: Sofia. In the completely deserted (but modernized!!, it looks pretty) station, there will be a staff member informing you with real-time information (in German... again, they don't speak English ;-)). INT 493 will bring you to the Turkish boarder station Kapikule, where you'll arrive at 01:48.
Due to maintenance on the Turkish section of the route, there is a bus replacement from Kapikule to the main station of Istanbul. After passport check's in the middle of the night (remember to get a VISA - and print it (!)), you are allowed to go to the waiting area. At approximately 2:45 the bus driver(s) will pick you up, and will bring you to Istanbul Sirkeci without any other intermediate stops. From my own experience, you will arrive at Istanbul Sirkeci roughly 2 hours earlier than planned. Continuing to Ankara from that point is rather tricky, due to constructions the trains going to Ankara are starting at Pendik - a suburb outside Istanbul. From Istanbul Sirkeci you can take the Marmaray (a metro line) to Ayrilikçesme, where you have to change to another metro going to Kartal. In Kartal you have to take the bus to Pendik YHT - but there are signs everywhere helping you in the right direction. The metro lines & buses are not included in your Interrail pass - in my case the clerk at the ticket office gave me a free metro stamp (by telling I'm heading to Ankara (perhaps an official arrangement?)) and some random dude payed for me in the bus with his public-transport card.. people in Turkey tend to be really kind :). In Pendik you'll have to get a mandatory (but free!) seat-reservation (in your best sign-language, again no English), and after going through custom-checks you are allowed to board the high-speed trains heading to Ankara - leaving Pendik roughly every 2 hours.
See? Not that difficult at all ;-). In the near future it is the plan of the Turkish Government and the TCDD to have a full high-speed line from Ankara Gari to Istanbul Sirkeci, possibly even up to the Turkish boarder station Kapikule. Since Bulgaria just finished maintenance on their part of the route Plovdiv-Svilengrad, they are now ready for serving high-speed trains. If by some miracle all the maintenance on this line will be finished - the total traveling time from e.g. Sofia to Ankara by train could be reduced with approximately 10 hours (or even more!).