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London – Istanbul

The Bible

There was some excitement at expedition HQ this week when a package arrived from from the team behind the European Rail Timetable. I last held “The Bible” back in 1988 and it was an immediate trip of nostalgia into past European rail adventures. Back then it was produced by Thomas Cook who had been printing the “continental” timetable since 1873. Today it still produced in the familiar format, and is now run independently since Thomas Cook discontinued their involvement in 2013. In today’s world to some it would perhaps be inconceivable that there was a time when there were no […]

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Final Preparations for the Orient Express

Next week I am getting back on the rails and heading for Istanbul, a journey I last completed in the 1980’s. Not surprisingly I have been doing some packing, much reading of Seat 61 (it feels like I have been cramming train times and numbers for some sort of European Interail qualification), and a bit of reflection on what I got out of Interrail all those years ago – and what I want to get out of this trip. First the bad news. Interrail isn’t as simple as it used to be. I would expect it to be more expensive, […]

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The Caledonian Sleeper from Edinburgh to London

It feels good to be on the move again. Tonight’s journey was not originally planned as part of my London – Istanbul trip, a recreation of the Orient Express for the modern age. I thought I would be starting my trip in London, but in fact I’m a few hundred miles further away from the start line, in Edinburgh. Waverley Station has a strange atmosphere on a Sunday night. Police officers patrol a fairly deserted concourse. The bar is busy with stag and hen parties winding down after a busy weekend. They mix rather uncomfortably with walkers and cyclists returning […]

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Zen and the art of not missing your Eurostar

I had only been on the Eurostar once before, and that was 18 years ago. Not only did they now depart from the reborn St Pancras station (rather than Waterloo), but there were a new generation of trains. I liked the check in system at St Pancras, and was only sad that that the champagne bar above the platform was closed for my visit. Security and immigration were a doddle, and my luck was in – I found a seat, from which I people watched and nursed my stomach, ravished by cramps from something I had eaten that it clearly […]

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The Duplex TGV from Paris to Munich

Paris Gare d’Est is a charming and rather old school French railway station. By modern standards it’s simple, but perfectly formed. The atmosphere is relaxed, but there are signs of obvious tension around the edges. Paris has suffered so much and security is obviously at a heightened state, especially at railway stations. My immediate priority on arrival is an emergency ablution pit stop. I’m not well. As I have a first class ticket for my next train, I head straight for the SNCF Grand Voyage lounge. Outside the lounge are a pair of female soldiers dressed in full combats. They […]

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Train 463 – The “Kalman Imre” from Munich to Budapest

Tonight’s journey is my first taste of a Hungarian train. At first sight it looks quite unusual here on platform 14 of Munich HBF, surrounded by modern high speed (ICE) trains. The Kalman Imre is actually more than one train at this stage of the night. It is made up of just five carriages – a sleeper and a coach to Budapest, a sleeper and a coach to Zagreb and a coach to Venice. During the night there will be much railway shuffling. More of this later. My carriage is number 263, in the middle of the train. It is […]

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Train 473 – The "Istar" from Budapest to Bucharest

I’m on the Istar tonight and tomorrow, headed for Romania. I arrived at Keleti station nice and early, and my plan was to buy provisions and have a quiet beer before boarding the train. Some of the station food options looked a little scary on the food hygiene front, so all I ended up with was a cheese roll. In finding the sandwich shop I also discovered that under the station there is a migrant encampment, with people living in tents behind wire barrier fencing. Everything looked peaceful, but nonetheless a reminder of the difficult times we live in. Back […]

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On the route of the "Bosfor" from Bucharest to Istanbul

Bucharest Nord is a good station for the long range train traveller. It has loads of shops close to the platforms selling fruit, local pastries and fresh coffee. I’m sure it’s not the safest place in the world, but on a sunny Saturday morning it feels just fine. If you are interested in rail travel you will probably know about the problems getting by train to Turkey. There is no direct service, and hasn’t been for several years owing to extensive engineering works on the line in Turkey and also in Bulgaria. Over the next 18 hours I’m therefore taking […]

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Mad to go to Istanbul by train, or mad not to?

Having just competed a one week run from London to Istanbul on the train (mostly), I’m contemplating if it’s a journey that I would recommend to others. Whilst just a modest 3000 km, it contains some real highlights, but also a couple of challenges. The major highlight of such a trip is the huge cultural diversity that you can encounter in just a few days. Every day is a new currency, a new favourite beer, and a place that feels very different to yesterday. If you are unlucky you may discover a new top scam too. Living in Europe we […]

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