It’s not the train that is old fashioned. The train itself is modern and comfortable, and the seats spacious. Nevertheless, travelling by train gives me an old-fashioned feeling. The sound of the wheels on the iron tracks! The noisy and always a little bit scary passages between the wagons! The view of the front of the train when it takes a bend! Last week I made my first train trip ever in Turkey. Enjoying myself intensely, and wondering: why the hell did I not do this before?
You have to know that I am a so-called ‘railroad daughter’. No, I wasn’t conceived or born on a train, but my father worked all his life for the Dutch railroad company. Which means we as a family did all our travelling by train, both inside Holland and on holidays, usually to the French Alps. I have only good memories, especially of course of the long-distance trips. Going to bed in Paris, getting rocked to sleep gently by the movement of the train and the sound of the wheels, and waking up the next morning in the Alps.
In Turkey, the train is usually not the first choice of transport. They go much slower and less frequently than the extensive private bus network, and the whole country is not covered with rails. So when I need to go somewhere, I usually take the bus. I planned to take a train on a few occasions, but in the end the plans were always changed again.
Until now, that is. I want to travel by train a lot in the coming months. Long distances too. Istanbul-Kars, 1,400 kilometres (which will take more than two days), for example, and exciting trips like Gaziantep (southeast Turkey) to Erbil (northern Iraq, the line was re-opened this year). I will cover all regions of the country, at least as much as they are served by railroads. Why? For a project for which I need the train atmoshpere, the train slowness, or, so to say, the train’s old-fashionedness.
On this first train trip last week, from Istanbul to Ankara, the old-fashioned feeling already started in the restaurant at Haydarpasa, the old train station on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. Old Turkish music was playing, the interior is still like in the old days, and the railways are not ‘modernized’ by taking the license to serve alcohol away, like in many state (municipal) restaurants. A detail: the logo of the Turkish railways has been the same forever too, and it all adds to the authentic feeling.
But one of the most important train characteristics I need is the fact that, on trains, people still easily get in touch with each other. I heard from people who travelled by bus decades ago that talking with each other was very common on buses, but that totally changed. True: I hardly ever really strike up a conversation with even the woman sitting right next to me on a bus trip. It’s very individual, opposed to the community feeling that train travel gives. At least, so I’m told by some people who regularly take trains in Turkey. On a train trip, people connect, and that’s exactly what I’ll be looking for over the coming months.
Yes, for a project, that is. And sorry, but one of the main characteristics of projects is that they are top secret. At least, in the beginning, which is where I am now. Later on, I will lift the secrecy and drive you crazy drawing attention to it. But first, dear readers, I dive into the old-fashioned world of train travel!