Those who set out to watch the endless whiteness that flows fast from the window of the warm train, to goose in Kars, to roll in the snow in Sarıkamış, to tour with horse-sleighs in Çıldır Lake, are disappointed in the view they see and there are many complaints about the trip.
Kars was able to get a brand city state with its advances in tourism in recent years, Turkey has become one of the most important winter destinations. Especially the Kars journey, which is made by train, is in great demand. It was a very romantic and popular activity to get to Kars after Ankara, after Kırıkkale, Kayseri, Sivas, Erzincan and Erzurum, and to get lost in the whiteness along the way. The photos reflected on social media are proof of this. However, the tickets of the train journeys are running out as soon as they are on sale. The claim that tour companies have closed the grounds in advance is one of the frequent criticisms of TCDD. Although the Ministry of Tourism has stated that this is not the case with the statements made from time to time, those who try to buy tickets by constantly monitoring the website of TCDD are not satisfied with these statements.
There are two trains to Kars, one is the Eastern Express and the other is the Eastern Tour Express. Train tickets are on sale in theory 30 days before departure. The journey with the Eastern Express takes about 24 hours and tickets are 58 TL. Sleepers are available only on the Touristic East Express. The trip takes approximately 32 hours with the Touristic East Express, which takes a break on three routes. The price of two wagons is 600 TL. If you are going to be a single person, you pay 480 TL. However, accessing these tickets is almost as difficult as winning a lottery bonus. For this reason, those who want to experience this destination necessarily turn to tours. Jolly Tur, Vals Tur, Prontotour, MNG Tourism, Setur, Gezimod, Turistica are some of the tens of companies that organize these tours. Some tours are from Ankara to Kars with the Touristic East Express and return by plane. There are also those who are the opposite, who go to Kars by plane and return by train. The tours that limit the journey to be made with the Touristic Eastern Express between Erzurum and Kars are also… Those who participate in these tours make the part of the journey to Erzurum by plane, take the train from here and go to Kars. The return journey takes place on the same route.
Mystical train travel
These journeys, which are marketed with the slogan “See Anatolia with a mystical train journey”, “Discover the magical world of Kars”, “Experience different beauties in all seasons”, take place for 3-4 days with a night train and the cost, accommodation day and your choice. According to tour companies, it varies between 1700 TL and 2500 TL. Of course, when you participate in boutique tours, the price increases accordingly.
We participated in one of these tours and paid 1.750 TL for half-board Kars tour with four nights accommodation, one on the train. Since the Touristic Eastern Express departed from Ankara, the journey between Istanbul and Ankara took place by High Speed Train (YHT). YHT, who left Söğütlüçeşme at 09.15 in the morning, arrived in Ankara around 14.00. Touristic East Express departed from Old Ankara Station at 16.00. The journey in double bed wagons is quite romantic and fun, as can be seen from the photos shared on social media. As soon as the young people get on the train, they do not neglect to organize a party in the sleeping cars they decorate with Christmas lights. There is no sale of drinks on the train, but of course you can bring it with you. Champagne pops, wines open… Some celebrate their birthday, some celebrate their anniversary. However, it is difficult to say that the journey is comfortable. If you are four or more, you switch to the dining car to chat, as it is not possible to get stuck in a two-seater car. It is forbidden to bring food and drinks from here. The menu of the restaurant is not expensive, but it cannot be claimed as sufficient. For example, breakfast plate is 20 TL and tea is 3 TL. If you want to eat lunch, meatballs are 22, chicken is 17, Turkish coffee is 6 TL. Passengers usually prefer to take food and hot water heaters and eat in their wagons. This means being stuck in two-person wagons.
The main difficult part of the trip is the toilet problem. There are two toilets in each wagon, one in alafranga and one in Turkish, and 50 people use these toilets. You expect hygiene to be observed on a touristic train, but even in some toilets, water does not flow. Especially towards the end of the journey, the toilet problem turns into a torture and the smell becomes unbearable.
The 1360-kilometer-long track is expected to last approximately 32 hours with Ilic, Erzincan and Erzurum breaks. But this is a pretty optimistic figure. Our journey lasted 34,5 hours, we were very lucky according to the train officers.
Extras are not included in the price (November Tirpancı /the Ardahanhaber)