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How to Speedy Board an Iron Ore Truck

I decided to have a meditative session in the bath at HQ the other night. I don’t take baths very often – but please don’t think I’m unclean, I’m just more of a shower person. Too many memories of all the dirt from communal baths at boarding school. Anyway, I’m lucky now in that my new home has an enormous freestanding bath underneath a big window in the roof, and it’s so dark in these parts that you can stargaze from the tub. No telescope is required. So I lit the scented candles, poured in the Tibetan bath salts and […]

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Ice Cold in Nouadhibou

Let’s be honest, the Mauritania iron ore train isn’t going to be everyone’s idea of fun. I wonder what will I make of it, and will I be tough enough? I’ll soon find out. I sometimes grumble about the temperature of the carriage or the state of the toilets, but on this train, there are no facilities at all. I understand that there is, in fact, a solitary passenger carriage, but I shall be doing as the locals do, and occupying an iron ore truck. After 700 km sat on top of a pile of rubble in the baking sun […]

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The Trans-Caucasus Express from Tbilisi to Baku

I have given this train a bit of a grand name. To me it is the essence of crossing the Caucasus on the main line, the route which transports the oil from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. But to the strict timetable enthusiast, this is of course train number 37, the night service between Tbilisi in Georgia and Baku in Azerbaijan. I should probably also apologise for going a bit ‘jazzy’ with my main image for this post. The thing is that all Soviet derived locomotives begin to look the same after a while, so I felt I should […]

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From Yerevan to Tbilisi on the South Caucasus Railway

My arrival at Yerevan station is textbook. The taxi driver charges me 600 Dram for the trip, about £1.10. I give him a 400 Dram tip, and he seems very happy, shaking my hand and waving goodbye. “Armnenia good?” he asks me. I tell him “Armenia good, good, good”, as I think his English (far better than my Armenian or even Russian) is very limited. He smiles and leaves me to it. It’s a short stroll into the station, where I find a large and very peaceful Soviet designed hall that reminds me of a Moscow metro station. I can […]

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‘The Armenian’ from Batumi to Yerevan

Over on platform number two of Batumi station this afternoon stand two very different trains. On one side a new double decker Georgian Stadler electric train headed for Tblisi, and opposite it stand seven rather battered old Armenian carriages pulled by a Georgian engine known as train 201, or ‘The Armenian’. It will also head to Tbilisi (at a much slower pace), then turn south, crossing the Armenian frontier and on to Yerevan. I’m very early, and at first the guard of carriage number 6 says I can’t come on board for another 25 minutes. This is a Soviet style […]

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The ‘Dogu Express’ from Ankara to Erzurum

It’s 17.05 on a warm September afternoon on the wide and peaceful platform 1 of the old Ankara station, still functioning behind the modern YHT (high speed) station. If you arrive at the back there are no stairs to deal with, no escalators, just an x-ray machine and you are in at platform level. The woman screening my bags asks me if I have a knife. I tell her it’s little one and just to prepare my food. She accepts this explanation without my needing to open anything to prove my innocence. The ‘Dogu Express’ pulls in slowly from the […]

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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 […]

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The Sofya – Istanbul Ekspresi

I keep thinking of this train as the mythical ‘Midnight Express’ from Alan Parker’s 1978 film, which made a big impression on me when I was old enough to watch it. But there were of course no real trains in that film. For Istanbul train based films you have to look to James Bond (‘From Russia With Love’) or Hurcule Poirot (‘Murder on the Orient Express’). Sofia station seems to be a good place to me. It’s a large, slightly brutal, Soviet inspired building, but it is clean and seems safe. Getting a ticket for the Istanbul train proves very […]

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‘The Balkan’ from Belgrade to Sofia

Those of you in the know will be aware that Belgrade has a bit of a railway station identity crisis at the moment. The original station now having closed, the new station called ‘Central’ is open, but barely finished it is not yet capable of dealing with all the services it is supposed to at the moment. So confusingly, the single daily summer service from Belgrade to Sofia currently departs from a tiny station in a leafy suburb of the city called Topcider. My train from Zagreb yesterday arrived in the Central station though.. Both have ticket offices, neither have […]

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The ‘Lisinski’ from Munich to Zagreb

There are twenty-five platforms at Munchen Hbf, but tonight it would seem that all the international night trains are going to depart from platform 12. On consultation with a station manager it turns out that my train is a polymorph. Four trains begin as one and take on their own route during the night. One huge composition of differing rail carriages sits at platform 12 with staff wearing all sorts of uniforms. It feels a little like arriving at a new boarding school and trying to find your housemaster and dormitory. In search of carriage 271 I pass carriages going […]

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