Sorry guys, this is not a very exciting post full of wild adventures from the road but a rather boring, informative one. It is also devoid of pictures as taking photos of infrastructure, including the railways, in Iran is forbidden. This is a country where you don`t accidentally want to be mistaken for a spy so for once I stuck to the rules…
Rather than plowing through snowy mountain passes and freezing to death (well…) at the high altitudes in Eastern Turkey we decided to take the train from Tabriz. There is an international train that connects Tehran to Ankara with a crossing by ferry over Lake Van in Eastern Turkey. It is called the Trans-Asia Express.
Iniıtially we planned to go only as far as Van but after doing some route planning and checking the weather forecast decided it would be better to ride a bit further and getting off in Kayseri in Central Anatolia (the closest stop to the tourist hotspot of Cappadocia).
Where to buy tickets in Tabriz
Save yourself a pointless ride to the trainstation 8km West from the town center to buy your tickets (like we did), because you will be directed back to a travel agency in the city center. You can apparently only buy your tickets from them. The agency is called Iran Seir and they are located on the main road that runs from east to west in the center, not far from the Blue Mosque. If you walk away from the Bazar they are located on your left hand side. The name is not clearly written at the entrance but it is a typical travel agency with logos of airliners etc.
Buying the tickets is straightforward as there are a bunch of lovely helpful ladies manning the desk. You will probably be offered complementary tea (it is Iran after all). We paid 2.2 million rials per ticket which is much more expensive than we thought, and I am not sure if that is the price of the stretch we did (Tabriz-Kayseri) or if you can only buy tickets for the whole journey (Tehran-Ankara). Our tickets stated the latter even though it was very clear to everyone that we would get on in Tabriz. Still, the journey we did took over 40 hours and 2 nights so it is not that expensive when you think about it…
Taking the bikes
As assured by the lovely ladies from the travel agency, it wouldn`t be a problem to bring the bikes on the train, and it wasn`t. It was also free of charge, which is always a bonus.
We were told to be in the train station at 8am even though the train was only scheduled to depart at 11am. When we showed up there – too early of course – there was no train in sight and we were told that it would only arrive at 10.30ish. Could have slept a few more hours! Until the arrival of the train not much happened, only the station slowly filling up with people. Luckily there was a small shop that sold tea and sweets and there were plugs to charge our electronics.
Once the train arrived we got our bikes checked in (just in front of the entrance to the platform) and they got a label with the point of origin and destination: TAB – KAY. Other people were carrying huge boxes which were put on a scale, but for the bikes this wasn`t necessary. After this Antonio`s luggage got inspected (mine wasn`t) (perhaps it`s the beard?) except for his hand luggage which was just as well as that`s the one that contained two decks of highly illegal playing cards…phew! Next we wheeled our bikes onto the platform where they were put, rather unceremoniously, in the luggage wagon. You won`t have acces to your bike during the ride so take whatever you need with you.
The journey itself is fantastic. I love train travel and think it is (almost) as nice as bicycle touring, so I would highly recommend it.
The ride is split up in two. Up to Van there is an Iranian train which is modern but has cozy 4-berth compartments with a lot of space. We shared ours with a sweet Iranian couple that lived in Turkey and that were going home. Meals are included I think but we weren’t sure about this so we ended up paying for chicken and rice which was tasty.
To cross lake Van everyone will be transferred onto a ferry. The train is left behind except for the luggage wagon. Unfortunately the crossing is at night so there is no view to be enjoyed and it makes for a broken night…
On the other side of the lake a Turkish train will be waiting for you. It looked more modern but had smaller compartments, still with 4 berths.
Both trains have restaurants on board with decent food. The Iranian one only accepts rials (and maybe Euro’s?) and the Turkish one Lira and Euros at a poor exchange rate. In the Turkish train they also serve beer so it was the social hub with a festive atmosphere, singing, dancing and drinking.
Customs & passport control
Customs happens at the last station in Iran before crossing the border where the train stops for about 2 hours. Your passport will be collected and given back to you with your Iranian exit stamp. Then you board the train again and get off again at Kapiköy on the Turkish side of the border. This is where you get your entry stamp for Turkey (make sure your visa is in order!). The luggage will also go through a scanner but our bikes were ignored.
We arrived in Kayseri early in the morning around 5.30am, which was 3 hours later than scheduled. A small delay for such a long journey, they can be much longer. We had a nap in the station of Kayseri before setting off for the day in good company.