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September 11, 2018

The Istanbul – Ankara YHT (High Speed Train)

Pendik station on the outskirts of Asian Istanbul isn’t the easiest place to reach, especially with heavy luggage. Deciding to avoid multiple forms of public transport, in the end I took a taxi, which took about an hour and cost £17. Please don’t tell my insurers, as Istanbul taxi drivers must rate as some of the maddest in the world, and the traffic can be crazy. But today I’m lucky and I arrive in good time and without any injuries.

Descending into the tunnel that forms the working part of the station, I discover that it isn’t possible to get onto the platform until 30 minutes before departure, or even to go through to a waiting room. Instead I have to hang out in the rather grim bowels of the station with the stray dogs until security opens. Speaking English has become pretty pointless here as no-one seems to understand. Eventually one of the security guys uses the translate facility on his phone which works well – I’m going to have to try that..

Once the gate opens I queue Turkish style, that is trying to bat off the mainly older men who don’t think queuing is for them. They are incredible chancers, and just breeze past everyone. A woman at the ticket check looks at my passport and then my bag and declares a surcharge needs to be paid, as it is bigger than an airline carry on – fortunately I have a big bundle of small denomination notes. I wondered if it meant it needed to be put in a special wagon for bags, as it gets tagged, but that just means the surcharge has been paid, it just goes in the racks like on most other trains.

Up on the platform the modern train is there, and I find carriage 1, seat 2C situated at the rear of the train. It’s comfy and roomy. Nothing to grumble about here.

In business class there are three seats across, C being the single one. Siting on the right hand side facing forward gives better views through most of the journey.

Business class didn’t cost much more than standard class, and it was well worth it for the four hour journey. The train was full, but no one was standing – unlike in the UK, you can’t get on without a seat reservation. Tickets go on sale 10 days before departure and sell fast.

We set off on time at 11.15, and cruise at around 150 – 180 kph much of the way, making few short stops. A simple lunch in a box is served, and I get offered several cups of instant coffee, all included in the ticket price.

The view outside the window changes dramatically during the journey. At the start the line hugs the Bosphorus, where tankers sail through from the Black Sea – I even spot a submarine on the surface transiting from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, something not in the I-Spy book of rail adventures – if it were it would surely be worth over 1000 points.. Then the landscape becomes flatter, drier until it begins to feel quite like a desert until we reach the outskirts of Ankara.

We arrive in Ankara gar (station) right on time at 15.11, and I’m blessed with a working escalator to reach the street. If you had a bag like mine, you would understand the horror of climbing long sets of stairs. I must learn to carry less kit. This has been a smooth journey, the hardest part actually reaching Pendick in Istanbul – eventually the line will come all the way into the city, possibly back to the old and venerable Haydarpasa station. That’s going to be amazing. I’m here in Ankara now until I catch the fabled Dogu Express tomorrow afternoon. In fact I realise that all of the remaining trains on my journey from now on will be long distance night trains (sleepers).