Thousands have already booked their seats for popular Eastern Express

Thousands have already booked their seats for popular Eastern Express

Thousands have already booked their seats for popular Eastern Express

With the winter approaching, the demand for seats on the Eastern Express, a train service that links the capital Ankara with the eastern province of Kars, has surged again, as the number of tickets sold so far for the winter months reached 10,000.

The line’s success has been driven in recent years thanks to Turkey’s high number of Instagram users, who have made the journey a social media phenomenon. The demand for the scenic journey has doubled this year compared to last year, local media has said.

The 24-hour sleeper service has been running for decades, but with surge in popularity recently and extra carriages have been added.

The line sets off from the Ankara Train Station every day for Kars via provinces such as Kayseri, Sivas, Erzincan and Erzurum and arrives at its destination 24 hours and 30 minutes later.

Nearly 320,000 passengers took the Eastern Express in 2017, a 40 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Turkish State Railways. The train features seated coaches, couchette coaches and sleeping coaches with toilets, a minibar and a table.

Although the service runs all year long, many find the best time to travel with the Eastern Express to be winter or late autumn, as the snow covered landscape makes everything seem scenic. This is why the trains are often fully booked during the wintertime from December through March, prompting thousands to buy their tickets in advance, as was the case this year.

Until a few years ago, taking the 24-hour train ride for a 1,365 kilometer trip—instead of a plane journey a little over an hour—would have been considered madness. Things changed when a group of young Turkish tourists decided to do away with speed and booked sleeping car reservations on the train. Naturally, they shared the experience on social media.

From that point onwards, the train became a venue for fun, adventure, socializing and new experiences.

Nowadays, tickets for the train run out a day after they go on sale, even though the number of cars has more than doubled from five to 11. What has not changed is the leisurely pace of the train through Turkey’s remote eastern hinterland.

On the way, the line passes through farmland, hills and woods, crossing rivers swollen by snow melting in the spring sunshine and passing through long dark tunnels carved through mountains.

Apart from the scenic landscape the train ride offers, the relatively cheap fare is another factor drawing in especially young crowds. One can buy a ticket for a price of 48 Turkish Liras ($8.79) on the Turkish State Railway’s (TCDD) website.