Orient-Express 5: Dogu Ekspresi (50 p.)

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Proud Earthling

To the previous part of the series:
Orient-Express 4: Filia - Dostluk - Friendship Express (50 p.)

Welcome back to the tour where you never know where it will lead you next - just in keeping with the "Oriental" factor of the express, or we could also rename it to "Inschallah"-tour...
By the end of 2012 I decided to take part in an organized railway tour through Turkey, in the last week of September 2013 we would travel from Divrigi through Euphrates valley all the way east to Kars. I had reserved a week for an individual arrival on land and perhaps explore parts of Serbia and Bulgaria on the way. Of course there would have been obstacles like current railway line closures due to construction work around Istanbul, a few hours of bus ride would have been necessary to bridge this gap. Well, in April the route had been planned, hotels booked. Sadly around June my job thwarted these plans, I was desperately needed in September, only the core week of the organized tour could be kept free. So, once again everything was replanned, the return flight from Erzurum could remain the same, I would arrive on Thursday, September 19 2013, by Pegasus Airlines at Kayseri. I wanted to get there a day earlier, as I arranged to hire a car and explore as much as possible of the area in the short time on hand. Well, this also did not materialize, as I did not feel well the week before the trip and did not dare a hired car adventure in Turkey under medication. Once again cancelled and rebooked, somehow I would find a way to get around once there. Despite of many changes and uncertainties I looked very much forward to this trip, as attunement I browsed travel reports on German railway forum Drehscheibe Online (DSO), current ones, but also the fantastic historic ones from steam operation times by users Karabük and others.
A collection of interesting links can be found here: http://www.trainsofturkey.com/w/pmwiki.php/Resources/LinksDrehscheibe

A very detailed TCDD railway map is accesible via this link (attention 12.9 MB file, but worth it!):

September 19 2013

Thursday noon I took a bus of line 9A which conveniently conveyed me and my big backpack as main luggage to Vienna Meidling station. There I waited for the airport bus from Dörfelstraße halt which had proven to be to most direct and comfortable route over recent years. However, upon entering I learned that now 8€ full fare had to be paid, seasonal tickets within Vienna and other concessions were not valid on this service. Still, it was the most convenient option, so I took a seat behind an Iranian couple in one of the front rows. At the airport the bus now stopped at the new terminal, yet my check-in was situated in the old part, particularly check-in 1a in a separate building across the street. I heaved my baggage onto a trolley, followed a long corridor to the other end of the airport and fought my way through a queue for a budget vacation flight to Antalya already leading around all corners of the check-in hall. Almost nobody was queueing at the counters for my flight - just once more the already known Iranian couple. Additionally they blocked the online check-in queue, where I was the only person waiting legitimately. My backpack was immediately checked through to Kayseri, so no stress at Istanbul. Afterwards I could slowly walk to the familiar out-of-EU departure terminal, where security screening only took place at the gate. Almost half of the passengers were tourists, some were veiled and upon security check given the choice of taking off their coat or being subjected to a manual search.
My Pegasus 737-800 (same type for all planes on this trip) even docked at a jetway, outside the plane a quite portly Austrian policeman of Turkish descent was chatting with the crew in Turkish. For this flight I had treated myself to an emergency row seat on the longer leg to Istanbul, you can select it while booking online. It had been a good idea as seat spacing was very narrow on Pegasus planes. Even better, the seat next to me stayed free during the flight, at the aisle seat a businessman had taken his place and did not even stop playing on his iPad during takeoff. Other than that not much negative or positive can be reported about Pegasus, absolutely nothing was offered for free. Only the safety video proved to be very creative, it featured kid actors throughout, in Turkish with subtitles in other languages. I thought the idea was quite good, nowadays nobody watches these instructions anymore, but in this case most people were. Only for frequent flyers it must be torture over time.
You can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20Oijew6xHs

We finished our last report in the skies above Belgrade, now I could see Lake Balaton from above, near Belgrade it became cloudy. In the upper picture you can spot Holy Mount Athos rising from the haze in the background. Subsequently we flew in a curve across the Asian part of Istanbul where the city abruptly starts. Upon approach we crossed the former Formula 1 circuit already taken out of the racing calendar again, then landed at Sabiha Gökcen airport, named after the first female Turkish pilot, an adoptive daughter of Atatürk. Istanbul's second airport mainly was used as a Pegasus base, other companies represented the minority. I walked to the passport control, everything went quickly as I had purchased the visa online beforehand, then moved on to domestic departures. At the gate there still was time for a first Efes-beer-break.

At the gate two queues were forming, a friendly (as about everyone) Turkish man let some Indian tourists pass and said: "No problem, no problem!", suddenly it became clear that we were dealing with a 10-strong Indian travel group and he shouted out jokingly: "Ah, big problem!" ;-)
Consequently we took a bus to the next, identical aircraft. On this flight I occupied seat 8F, at first the seats next to me stayed free, but then a second busload arrived. Initially I thought my neighbours were workers, but then I was asked in a friendly way about my destination in best English. The flight across Anatolia passed quickly, not even an hour. It became interesting as parts of the landscape twinkled through the cloud cover in the light of the full moon, for example the big lakes west of Kayseri after we had traversed Ankara. We landed punctually and walked over to the terminal which could easily be crossed walking within just a minute. We waited in a hall with two baggage conveyor belts, one was displayed for our flight, the other started up. Soon almost everyone had their luggage except for some puzzled tourists including me - suddenly an airport emplyee walked in and announced: international transit luggage at the international arrivals! We marched as a group back onto the tarmac and through the neighbouring door into an identical hall where our bags already laid evenly distributed on the conveyor belt. Next I walked past closed passport control using the same exit as domestic passengers. I immediately took the first taxi and gave as destination Hotel My Liva. It was located close to the station at the edge of a commercial and manufacturing district. The taximeter showed 20.70 Turkish Lira, but - as I would exprience more often in Kayseri - the driver only asked 20 from me. Taken by his honesty and modesty I gave him an extra tip. At the hotel I was expected and received a key for room 515. The lift was controlled by a touchscreen which displayed live TV around the clock.

Before midnight I set up the tripod on the balcony which faced the city centre. Again and again the full moon was showing through the clouds covering almost 13000 ft high dormant volcano Mount Erciyes, sitting enthroned above Kayseri.
More about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Erciyes

September 20 2013

During the night occasional train horns already put me into the right mood for the upcoming tour, I finally was woken up by the first call of the Muezzin, usually one hour before sunrise, in this case 5:20 a.m.. Next morning the sky had completely cleared above ancient Caesarea, nowadays city of a million people Kayseri (according to Wild-West-like city-limit sign showing current population figures). More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kayseri

First an early morning tour to 2009 opened tramway Kayseray was planned, which was operated by Italian AnsaldoBreda "Sirio" class vehicles. The route: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kayseray
I walked through the commercial quarter - where you definitely could purchase everything you desired during the day - until I reached Osman Kavuncu Boulevard still under the full moon.

Like in Istanbul streetside stations were only accessed through barriers guarded by security personnel. Nobody said anything against my photography, but I kept my distance to the stops.

Trams ran on lawn covered tracks through the city centre, on the streets many modern CNG busses served the public. I noticed regular puffing of compressed air on busses and wondered what that was, I have never experienced anything like it anywhere else...

At Cumhuriyet Meydani, Republic Square, Atatürk was riding into the dawn.

Tram meeting in the city centre.

Despite modern transportation, haze was caused by a multitude of coal-fired heatings in houses, the smell almost reminded of Chinese coal mine towns.



Quickly, or I'll miss my Kayseray!
Kayseri is known as most conservative city in Turkey, yet I saw only few women with headscarves.

Alternative transports on offer:

Inbetween all those new busses occasional relics of older times appeared.

From the bridge of Ekilet Boulevards you had a good overview of the station yard:

Kayseri station was used to deploy loco crews - you can spot two class DE22000 GM diesels in this picture. Several shunting manoevers were necessary:
1) Getting water from the fountain
2) Getting your provisions (the most important thing for every TCDD-driver)
3) Getting your orders

Further destinations can be seen here...

In front of the gar (= station) steamer 44019 stood plinthed. A Prussian class G8, which had been delivered to Turkey in 1912 just before WWI. However, the history of TCDD class G8 is confusing due to turmoils of war, so only few engines feature a complete data sheet.

In Turkey propelled axles and total number of axles indicated the first two digits of the steam engine numbering scheme. Various subclasses could stand for completely different types of locomotives.

Steamer and volcano Mount Erciyes still is possible today, sadly the new hospital was in the way.

Kayseri station seemed rather provincial compared to other Turkish cities, but you have to consider the immense growth of urban populations over the past decades. Not too long ago this building stood alone in the wide steppe. Most TCDD-stations have one thing in common: they are being kept in top condition right down to the most loving details.

My preferred mode of transport to Divrigi was of course "Dogu Ekspresi" Ankara - Kars, which featured a scheduled departure at 0:48 and would arrive at Divrigi at 7:09. With calculated delay it could be a comfortable sleeper ride. Dogu Ekspresi, meaning "Eastern Express", is of course the logical Asian extension of the Orient-Express, so we remain faithful to the original report title!
I accessed the ticket and waiting hall at half past seven, it was completely deserted and just being cleaned - no wonder in a city of a million people where all important trains with one exception stop around midnight. I had written down all relevant data on a sheet of paper and gave it to the friendly ticket clerk. He quickly entered something into his computer and wrote on the paper that only "kusetli", so couchette berths, were available anymore. It was OK for me, especially if I had known how short the night actually was about to be. So I paid just 26.75 TL (9.92 Euro) for this 250 mile ride plus couchette reservation. Everything had been handled, no additional accomodation would be needed - on we continue with the daytime program!

At the station-cay-salon I stocked up on provisions for the day, it would have cost 6 TL, but the vendor only asked for 5 - really amazing this Kayseri and its inhabitants!

Drivers were getting their water from here.

GM licensed loco parade with DE22037 (EMD G26CW-2 / built 1985) and DE22047 (built 1987) in front of the station building.

I laid down a bit and showered with the goal to leave the hotel around 9:30. I was able to leave the big backpack at the reception, they seemed to be used to TCDD-personnel and late express departures. At the hotel parking lot a man waited with his handcart, somehow this reminded me of my first morning in Mumbai.

I had asked the hotel staff to call a taxi. It arrived within two minutes and we drove westwards out of town to the bus station (Otogar). For a while we followed the tram line, but it terminated significantly away from the Otogar, so it was no use for me. I reached the large, modern terminal at 9:48, you had to enter it through a security barrier. No departure board could be found here, only a plethora of bus companies and their counters. In Turkey informal information still is being held high, and if the system works it does so perfectly. Just approach any counter, name your destination - in my case: "Göreme" - , and you will be immediately transferred to the bus company with the next departure. I booked Süha, departure in just ten minutes: 10:00! I bought a ticket for 15 TL and already took my seat in the correct bus. The departure was delayed for a few minutes as they waited for tardy passengers, but I was in no hurry now. Even on the road in front of the bus station latecomers were still picked up twice. My bus operated a long distance service to Antalya, all intercity busses in Turkey were quite luxuriously equipped featuring monitors in the seat rest in front of you, even wifi internet was available. On each journey a stewart serves you at least a cookie, tea or coffee and water included in the ticket price. Originally I had planned to avoid bus journeys, but this one would only take an hour, and the long distance was booked on the overnight train anyway now.

Right after leaving Kayseri we passed Bogazköprü track triangle. On the road D300 we shortly followed the southbound railway line to Adana, which had to traverse the Taurus Mountains on its path. In the background you can once more spot the volcano which had gathered a cap of clouds again.

Next the road turned east, after about 45 minutes the pottery town of Avanos was reached, I was not convinced by its flair while passing through. But soon the first amazing rock formations appeared, we had arrived at the dreamscape of Cappadocia! The bus dropped me off at Göreme, this central village had been terribly modernized for tourism. Right away I bought a ticket for my return, at 16:30 an airport shuttle would take me the 40 miles back to Kayseri for 20 TL.

Suddenly my phone rang, I talked to one of the tour members who already had arrived at Sivas and helped with the organization. I learnt that the tour would be delayed and that everyone should meet at Sivas next day in the afternoon. Mmmmmmmmmmmmh...

I had a few hours time and did not want to drive around but explore the area on foot - as it turned out absolutely the correct choice! I walked along the main street and turned onto a side road where the open air museum was announced 1 km away.
At every turn you came across the "fairy chimneys" or whatever you want to call them. Almost into every tuff formation - which, by the way, we have to thank our good old friend Erciyes for - caves had been cut.

View above Göreme - I hid the modern village, where you can currently get cave rooms in about every B&B, behind the rocks.

West of Göreme you can find the imposing town hill of Uchisar.

Incredible views into the distance at ever different rock formations were also fascinating. If you hike around here you will find fresh perspectives all the time, simply amazing!

At an extremely surreal hotel complex I left the main road into the next valley, I did not have a map, but it would turn out to be Baglidere Valley also called Love Valley. The dirt road led along a waist-high hedge, behind it a large swimming pool, completely calm reflecting the dry-as-dirt landscape, next to it empty loungers and not a single human being!

Sadly I had to follow a tourist group, but after we passed two souvenir stalls, each managed by an old, bickering couple, I was completely alone and would not see another soul for hours. The paths were signposted, you also came across little Google Earth maps printed out where private property was marked red. Single problem: noone could have ever understood them. And it was a significant effort for those three pumpkin patches to find in the landscape over here.

At first I explored the rock formations in the valley, then walked around the edge.

Some rocks reminded me of modern puzzles.

I climbed the ridge west of the valley to be able to see into the next one. Here the landscape changed again completely, due to the tuff everything seemed soft and rounded. In the background you can once more spot mighty Uchisar.

This location featured a wonderful view across the landscape, more clouds had shown up but this turned things only more exciting. The spotlight constantly accentuated different scenic details.



Panoramic Cappadocia.


I rested for a while in the shade of a rock giant. From close up I noticed that the brittle tuff had been mended at some spots.

Somehow these stone formations reminded me of Easter Island Moai.

While returning to the village I met riders, one of the main tourist activities next to ballooning.

I reached the bus station around 16:15, the employees at the office told me the shuttle would only arrive at 16:45. Oh well, I sat down on a bench in the shade outside. In the meantime a few Japanese tourists passed by, Japanese flags were also hoisted up on stores. A few youngsters had rented some scooters, while a couple was riding a quad extremely slowly. A horse-drawn carriage for a wedding party trotted through the streets carrying an oversized Turkish flag. At 16:45 I learnt: five more minutes. I knew this game from Bosnia, five minutes easily could mean half an hour or more. Meanwhile one bus company clerk rode away on his motorcycle, while another unloaded a massive box full of grapes from a station wagon. As consolation he gave me a bunch - still very friendly, these people. At 17:10 he told me the shuttle was here, and really, I was picked up five minutes later. The driver proved to be of older Turkish type, nervous, fast and ignoring lanes. Yet with more recent driving school graduates and due to draconic traffic laws the situation on the roads has significantly improved in recent times. This minibus was full of already impatient tourists from all over the world, among them Americans and Portuguese, desperately wanting to reach the airport. But we still had to pick someone up at Ürgüp in the far eastern corner of Cappadocia, driving there on incredibly steep cobbled roads. A Russian couple waited for us at the top of the old town centre, beautiful vistas, cave rooms and all - but the streets took the cake regarding steepness, additionally we had to negatiated nostalgic cobblestones as well. I could not believe a bus - even our minibus - could make it up and down that hill in one piece! Subsequently we raced along four-lane highways - as nowadays about everywhere - towards Kayseri. Only one part turned out to be a curiosity I had not noticed out of the big bus: A section of D300 had been built as a three-lane highway - yes, three-lane! This meant that the centre lane was open to overtaking vehicles going both directions. No problem without much traffic, but if you are following another car overtaking and the view ahead is blocked, not knowing what is heading towards you produces a very uneasy feeling. I wonder if that concept will prove itself?

I got off next to the bus station together with a bus company employee. About a hundred metres from the terminal the railway line to Kayseri centre lead past... I looked at sky, then mood, then thought: wouldn't it be great if something came by? And it did! ;-)

Near Kayseri you could at least rely on single loco movements, DE22022 und a class DE24000 chugged past me.

Next I took a taxi to the hotel, in evening rush hour traffic we followed the boulevard. Centre strips were green and well groomed everywhere in Turkey, I spotted a gardener who must have watered the lawn since morning time. As traffic noise protection he wore earphones. We met a particularly overloaded, probably agrarian lorry. My driver tried to evade its path, yet at a traffic light it came to a halt right next to us. We noticed to late that the sideway exhaust was aimed exactly at our opened window - within seconds the taxi filled with stinking fumes! My driver put his foot down and we escaped the beast.
At the hotel it was already completely dark outside. I relaxed for the next few hours in the lounge, wifi was working there. The staff offered me tea once.

At 11 p.m. I carried my full luggage to the nearby station, the steamer in front was illuminated at night, as I had noticed the evening before.

The waiting hall was completely crowded now, some people waited at the ticket counter. A lady probably from a rural area complained loudly at the information counter again and again for at least half an hour. TV was shown on LCD-displays. Later I strolled outside, a train had been announced.

4 Eylül (September) Mavi Treni Malatya - Ankara arrived at 23:45, about half an hour delayed. But even with greater delays passengers were waiting on the platforms unmoved, Europeans would have long rebelled.

I walked ahead to the goods shed, saw two figures crouching in the shade who after closer examination had about the same intentions as me - who was it? Of course DSO-users Karabük and Dg53752 whose historic reports I had enjoyed beforehand and who were still chasing scheduled trains in Turkey with the same youthful vigour as regular TCDD steam 30 years ago! Once more this was kismet, meeting the first rail photographers on the trip, and... we got along very well from the start, and it was nice to be accompanied by likeminded travellers!

After a quick crew change DE22052 thundered away from Kayseri at 23:50.

September 21 2013

We took another look at the station square, but the building illumination had already been turned off at midnight. We looked for a bench in the darkness with our luggage. As matters stood we had to arrive at Sivas after noon, so we planned to take Dogu a little further than Sivas and then return by local Karma Yolcu Divrigi - Sivas. As single reliable halt you could only get off one station behind Sivas at Bostankaya. Next scheduled stop of Dogu was Kangal where the Karma would depart very early, and we did not know if they would meet as a new tunnel line had been built in that section. It was about to be a short night, with a chance to catch some freights in the landscape next morning...

From time to time we listened to announcements, yet they were significantly lacking any discernible words like names of trains or destinations. So, we had no idea when exactly Dogu Express would arrive. At one point this single DE24000 shunted to the traditional provision-taking positions.

Finally Dogu Ekspresi came at 1:30 with only little more than 40 minutes delay. We had to get to the rear of the consist as sleeper and couchette coach were located behind generator and baggage vans as well as a row of pullmans and a restaurant car. The others had reserved Yatakli (sleeper)-berths, as they had booked their tickets a little earlier. These two-berth compartments were quite luxurious, but even my 4-berth couchette compartment offered significantly more space than its European counterparts. We agreed to once more decide on where we would get off depending on our delay near Sivas. The German speaking coach attendant showed me to my compartment. With a nice youngster who als got on at Kayseri I switched my upper berth #45 against a lower one. As soon as we had laid down he said in clearest English: "Hello, my name is Ibrahim! What is you name?" He asked me for my destination, then answered: "This train also stops at Erzincan, Erzurum and Kars. My destination is Kars." in an almost surreal clear voice as if he was doing an official station announcement.
One hour behind Kayseri, at Sultanhani, we met the other Dogu, about 2 hours delayed. Subsequently we proceeded quite fast, only trains had to stop shortly at all TCDD stations as part of safety procedure. We often crossed freight trains, once 4 Eylül Mavi Treni to Malatya running behind us entered a neighbouring track. I followed our progress via GPS on iPhone, shortly before reaching Sivas I walked over to the sleeper. The conductor knew right away who I was looking for and showed me the correct compartment with berths 9 and 10. I knocked, and we decided on Bostankaya.
About 1:45 h delayed we left Sivas at 6 a.m. in morning fog.

Through the nice valley behind Sivas the ride was not too slow, as about everywhere in Turkey tracks had been or were just being renewed. There was not much time, I went ahead inside the train. In the restaurat car the staff still was sleeping on the benches, some across the aisle. With full backpack I stepped over them without waking anyone up. Next I had to traverse the pullman coaches, some with compartments, others open carriages featuring 2+1 seating, all looking quite comfortable. In front of the baggage car a railwayman stopped me from walking further. Soon we reached the junction of the Sivas freight bypass line at Bostankaya, and I jumped onto the platform. I had to hurry as the conductor was already blowing his whistle. With such a delay they did not shilly-shally over here as well.

DE22004 accelerated Dogu Ekspresi towards Kars - we were left behind in the emptiness of the vast steppe on an oversized platform...

Where will our journey lead us next time? Who knows! ;-)

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