Tuesday 1 October 2019
01.10.2019 - 01.10.2019 29 °C
With a day to kill before getting the overnight train, I began with a leisurely start to the day, making sure everything was packed. Ironically, being in a smaller room made it more likely that I’d overlook something in the clutter. My plan was to get my bag down to the station to leave it in the left luggage lockers so that I was bag free for the rest of the day. Before getting the Tunel funicular, I stopped for a coffee and was besieged by a friendly cat who seemed to think my bag was great fun.
Taking the funicular down and then the tramway to the station made it a smooth journey but when I got there, all of the lockers were full, upsetting my plan. When I’d looked at left luggage options earlier in the week, I’d found a site called BagBNB. I needed another coffee so found a cafe with WiFi and booked my luggage into a hotel close to the station. BagBNB site is a start up and I have to say, their business idea saved me from a hideous day of dragging my bag around. Also the people in the hotel where I left the luggage where very helpful.
Baklava and ice-cream
Once free of luggage I decided to do a bit of public transport hopping, starting by going to the tramway to Kabatas as there is another funicular that goes up to Taksim Square. I rewarded myself with lunch plus a baklava with ice-cream at Sutis at the top of Istikial Caddesi. I practically rolled down the street after such indulgence. Although it’s great that the street is pedestrianised, it’s also incredibly busy and full of the larger chains including familiar names such as Mango and H&M, so less interesting. Diverting off into the side streets you are rewarded with small interesting shops and cafes as well as getting a slice of Istanbul life as people sit on doorsteps or shout to each other from balconies.
Beyoglu to Sultanahmet
Hopping on the train from Tophane to Sultanahmet means that you enter a very different type of district. The houses here have a distinct style and many of them are wooden with overhanging upper floors. It’s less frenetic in this part of the town once you get away from the main tourist spots by the bazaars and mosques.
It’s tempting to keep on the move when you are on a trip like this but it’s also good to find a quiet, shady spot to read and rest. Gulhane Park is large with lots of seating and shade.
As there are no refreshments on the overnight train or at the station, I bought snacks and water to keep me going whilst en route. Basically, it’s a 12 hour journey with several stops for border control. The man in seat 61 https://www.seat61.com is a mine of information about train travel and the availability or more likely, unavailability of food is high on the list of essential information. The train leaves Halkali station at 21.50 but it takes one hour from Sirkeci to Halkali via the Marmaray line. To be on the safe side, I thought it best to give plenty of time despite Halkali sounding rather lacking in facilities. I collected my luggage from the BagB&B hotel and headed out.
The Marmaray line to Halkali
The lift down to the Marmaray line has a long queue because it can only take about ten people, less if there is a wheelchair or luggage. It’s meant for disabled access, people with buggies or heavy luggage but the queue was actually full of overweight guys who obviously couldn’t be bothered to use stairs. It seemed strange that they’d queue rather than walk.
The Marmaray line was busy but there were less and less people as the train went further away from the city. It took less than an hour but I was still glad that I gave myself loads of time. I hadn't quite recovered from the taxi incident. Once at the station there was absolutely nothing to indicate which platform the train would be going from but when I asked someone in the waiting room, I was told we had to wait until called.
Overnight train to Sofia
Eventually, about 40 minutes before the train was due to leave, someone came to collect us and we dutifully made our way down to the platform. Luckily there are lifts at the station for those of us with heavy luggage. A bit like the Tbilisi to Yerevan train, there are stewards who show you to your compartment. It turned out that I had the space to myself which was great. This was a far superior train to the previous overnight one - comfortable beds, a sink and even a fridge with water, juice and biscuits. Although I knew I wouldn’t have the perfect sleep, it was definitely a pretty pleasant space to be in. There was also quite a camaraderie built up with fellow travellers as we chatted in the corridors before the train started.
Quite a mix of people but from what I could tell from the people in my carriage, again, I seemed to be the only person from the UK.