As the lady behind the glass window bent over to slide the window open, I could see she was tired. Was she as tired as me? I just spend nearly 24 hours on the train to Romania and finally arrived in Bucharest. I followed the epic Orient Express route from my hometown in the Netherlands to Istanbul. And the Bosphorus Express was the last leg. The final leg on the Orient Express route with the Bucharest to Istanbul train. And this lady held the key to that train journey.
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I asked her if I could get a ticket for the Bucharest to Istanbul train tomorrow. She shrugged her massive body and sighed loudly. She shook her head. I panicked a bit. I made reservations in the poshest Orient Express hotel in Istanbul and I didn’t have plans to stay long in Bucharest. Therefor I wanted to leave tomorrow.
She explained that the first train to go from Bucharest to Istanbul since years would leave the day after tomorrow. She said nobody had bought a ticket to the Bosphorus Express yet and she would be happy to sell the first ever ticket of her career for this historic train journey.
I must say, she sold it with grandeur to me. I quickly changed my reservation at the hotel in Istanbul, handed over my credit card and within minutes I was the owner of the first ticket since a long time for the Bucharest to Istanbul train. For more information about Romanian Rail, visit their website.
Train from Bucharest to Istanbul
Let me clarify that for a bit. There have been trains running from Bucharest to Istanbul for centuries. This historic train journey, the Orient Express train route was serviced continuously but due to maintenance it was disrupted and alternated. Until the day of my arrival, the only way to travel by train from Bucharest to Istanbul was by train, bus, train, bus, bus, bus. It would involve numerous changes and only part of this Orient Express route was services by rail.
On 2 June 2017, the new train line from Bucharest to Istanbul was finally serviced again and I had the first ticket for the Bosphorus Express!
First journey of the Bosphorus Express Train
When I arrived that day at Bucharest Nord Train Station, there was a buzz going around in the main hall. It was busy on any given day, but when I entered the platform where my train to Istanbul would leave from, people gathered to see the train.
I passed a couple of photographers and camera men. In my naive mind, I thought to myself: mhhh what is all the fuss about? Is something going on?
I had no idea that the first train to run from Bucharest to Istanbul created such a big hype. I mean, I get excited about trains and it was my dream to travel by train on the Orient Express train route but all the media attention caught me a bit off guard.
Then I asked a friendly gentlemen holding a camera what all the fuss was about. He looked at me like I was an alien and a complete ignorant moron. Maybe I was. At least the ignorant part was correct.
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Train carriage on the Orient Express to Istanbul
Finally, the train pulled into the station. The members of the media rushed forward, not to miss a single moment of this historic event. The train itself was nothing special, just an old diesel engine. But the carriages of the Bosphorus Express train to Istanbul looked swanky and posh. Tinted glass and each carriage had a sign displaying the final destinations and stops.
On the same train, the carriage for the first ever direct connection to Athens was attached, and together we’d travel for a good part through Romania and Bulgaria.
I searched for my carriage that would bring me to Istanbul and looked around. I felt a bit self-conscious. Whenever I get on a train like this, I want to take a picture of me and the train, but with all the cameras and people around me, I felt weird.
I lingered around a bit and decided I was not going to let this moment get away from me just by a bunch of people. As everyone around me was holding a film camera or microphone, I approached the only lady that didn’t. She looked neat and I figured she might speak English.
I asked her if she wanted to take a picture of me with the train. She said she was happy to. In the reflection of the windows, you see the paparazzi capturing this moment for national TV.
Getting interviewed for Romania TV about the Bosphorus Express from Bucharest
The lady snapped a couple of pictures of me and then handed my phone back to me. Immediately, she signaled to a reporter and camera man who swooped in for an interview. As I started talking (or more babbling nonsense) more media rushed towards me. When I glanced down I saw 5 microphones under my nose. Oh-ohhhh….
I don’t even recall what they asked me or what I answered. I think it was something about why I took the train from Bucharest to Istanbul when flying was quicker. Or if I brought any food on the Orient Express as there wasn’t any restaurant carriage attached.
See a short part of my interview on Romanian TV
There is a small recap in English if you go to the website of Digi24.ro. The main focus of the story is about the train to Thessalonike Greece, but it also covers part of the Bucharest to Istanbul train with a quote and video footage of my talking nonsense.
Despite the 17 hours spent on the road, some passengers see the trip as an adventure. This is also the case for a tourist who tours Europe.
“It is a very interesting way to travel, you can meet locals. You do not have to do anything, there is no customs control, I can take water with me, do not fly, I do not worry, “she says.
I completely forget about this little video. See me babble about how great train travel is from 0.53
Boarding the train to Istanbul
When all the babbling was over, or they lost interest, the microphones and cameras disappeared from under my nose. I wanted to go check out the carriage and find my coupe for my train journey from Bucharest to Istanbul.
The lady who started the interview said she and her camera men would follow me and I should check out the Bosphorus Express and act natural. Uh-huh. Sure. Of course. Act natural when you’re excited to board a new train on a historic train route and you’re being filmed for Romanian national TV all the while carrying a backpack and sweating like a maniac as I always tend to do.
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So. On I went. I boarded the train, trying to act all natural. Natural would have been taking selfies, hopping from one leg to the other while giddy clapping my hands together saying in a childish voice: I iz having happies.
Anyways, I tried to board the train. I got on and then wanted to walk into the corridor, carrying my backpack and shoulder bag stuffed with food and drinks. Yea, not gonna work. My bags were stuck behind the door frame while I was attempting to look all natural and continue to walk while I thought: I am not that fat, am I? I was. Or at least too bulky to walk through the corridor.
Sideways gliding, holding my bags in front of me, I managed to move forward across the corridor of the train. I glanced inside the different coupes and looked at my ticket to triple-check the number on my ticket.
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See the video of Romanian TV with me scooping out the coupe at 1.28
For everyone who wants to see me checking out the train on Romanian Tv : http://m.stirileprotv.ro/lbin/mobile/index.php?article_id=3752287
Coupes on the Istanbul to Bucharest Train
Almost at the end of the carriage, I arrived at my coupe. It was a 2-person coupe and I just hoped no one else would join me. As I inspected the coupe and candidly opened all the doors and looked everywhere for the camera, I tried to act natural. Guess what happens when I try to act natural and not self-conscious at all? Yea, it ends up totally awkward and weird.
The crew from Romanian Television had all the footage they needed and left me alone. And there I was. Sitting on the first train from Bucharest to Istanbul since years. The carriage of the Bosphorus Express was brand new and rolled right of the factory line. My coupe was neat and tidy. No signs of wear and tear. I had a small wash basin and at the end was a clean toilet. There even was a shower! Wow!
I’ve travelled a lot on different trains, among them the Trans Mongolian Express and the Himalayan Express to Tibet, but this train was swanky and provided all you’d need for a multi-day train journey. Except for the diner carriage.
On board the Bosphorus Express to Istanbul
As the train whistle blew to signal the departure, I settled in my coupe. I installed myself to look out of the window and soon we were moving through the Romanian countryside. I was day dreaming away when another camera crew and reporter asked me for an interview! Wait? What? I was already up in stitches of the crazy events surrounding the first journey of the Orient Express train to Istanbul, now I had another TV-crew at my door.
The guy was very friendly, wanting to know all about why on earth I’d travel all the way from the Netherlands to Turkey by train and asking me what I thought of the Bosphorus Express. By now, I had the whole ‘act natural’ part down a bit better. (I learn quickly apparently). I even managed to mention my blog too! But maybe that’s why it never aired. Well, can’t win them all.
After they left, I occupied myself with typical long train journey behavior. Sit, look out of the window, day dream, walk and just let the view outside pass us by.
Crossing boarders on the Bucharest to Istanbul train
To be completely honest, after the first excitement of the interviews for Romanian TV faded, it was just a long train journey. We just passed the landscape. It took an hour to reach the Romanian-Bulgarian border and then it took 2 hours to cross that border. We passed Bulgarian hills, small villages and then stood still for another 2 hours in a small Bulgarian town to get new carriages and new trains to continue our journey to Istanbul.
Crossing the border to Turkey on the Orient Express Train
Once we got to the Bulgarian-Turkish border, it was almost midnight. I wanted to get ready to get some sleep but numerous border officials of the Bulgarian side and Turkish side kept us up for a couple of hours. First they entered the carriage, then we needed to get off at the Turkish border to get our passports stamped. I already had pre-applied for my Turkish Visa online and this was a complete surprise for the border patrol officers.
Because it was the first time the Bosphorus Express train from Bucharest passed the border, the border patrol was not 100% prepared. After another 2 hours, we finally continued by rails on to our last and final stretch of the Orient Express train route to Istanbul.
At 7 am, when the sun peeked through the windows of my coupe, I felt the train slowing down. I checked my location app on my phone to see where we would be (more or less) and I saw we approached the outer limits of Istanbul.
Arriving in Istanbul on the Orient Express train
And then the train stopped. I looked out the window and saw we arrived at a modern train station. The first Bosphorus Express from Bucharest to Istanbul arrived at Halkalı train station. We deboarded the train and together with the other 2 passengers from Bucharest we looked around baffled. We were directed to a small bus and the driver confirmed he would bring us to Sirkeci train station near the Bosporus in Istanbul. Maybe I expected a camera crew in Istanbul too, but the city welcomed me with open arms (no cameras were present though).
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Craziest travel adventure of the year
Looking back, the whole train journey from the Netherlands, via Budapest to Istanbul was one crazy adventure. And to top it off, the final stretch of the Orient Express route was on the Bosphorus Express to Istanbul and I got interviewed for Romanian National TV. 3 times!
Being the first passenger on the Bosphorus Express train to Istanbul will always be special to me and I have great memories of the whole endeavour by train. Have you ever been interviewed on your travels? What was it about? Would you travel by train across Europe? Let me know in the comment section below. I’d love to hear!
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