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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

From London to Tbilisi by Train... (For Travellers and Railway Enthusiasts only)

If you are fed up with flying and keen to trade your time and your money for real travel and adventure, here is how to get from London to Tbilisi without leaving the ground!:

Day 1

c. 1,150km

Go to St. Pancras International in London (picture), and catch a Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord. The sleeper toMunich leaves from Paris Gare de l'Est shortly after 20:00 (GMT+1), and arrives in Munich early in the morning on...

Day 2

c. 1,300km

Time for breakfast and a quick potter in Munich, then return to the Hauptbahnhof (picture) and catch the 09:30 (GMT+1) day train to Budapest, which arrives just before 17:00 (GMT+1). Again, time for a stroll and a quick stop for supplies in Budapest, then board the sleeper to Bucharest, which leaves shortly after 19:00 (GMT+1) and arrives in Bucharest at 10:30 (GMT+2) on...

Day 3

c. 800km

The day train to Istanbul leaves Bucharest at noon (GMT+2) and pulls into Istanbul's Sirkeci station (on the European side) at 08:00 (GMT+2) on...

Day 4

Day 4 will have to be spent in Istanbul - and you will need to find a hotel, as the train to Kars leaves Istanbul'sHaydarpasha station (on the Asian side) at 08:00 (GMT+2) on...

Day 5

c. 1,300km

Day 5 and most of Day 6 will be spent on board the Doğu Ekspresi, which is scheduled to arrive in Kars at about 20:00 (GMT+2) on...

Day 6

As the train arrives in Kars in the evening, you will need to choose a room in Kars' many hotels (the cheaper, the less cheerful). The railway line used to continue all the way to Yerevan, but the border between the two countries has been closed since the war in Karabagh. It might reopen one of these days, and the Turks and Azeris are also building a new railway line to Tbilisi, but for the meantime you will have to continue by bus or minibus toBatumi on...

Day 7

c. 700km

Travelling by bus or minibus (Turkish: otobus or dolmush) via Ardahan, Artvin and Hopa on the Black Sea coast, it should be possible to go from Kars to the Turkish-Georgian border post at Sarp, cross the border, and make your way to Batumi in time to catch the sleeper to Tbilisi, which leaves from Batumi's railway station (which is actually in nearby Makhindjauri) at about 22:00 (GMT+4) and pulls into Tbilisi's central station early in the morning on...

Day 8

For more detailed information on the London-to-Istanbul stretch, please consult this page on the truly amazing"The Man in Seat Sixty-one" website.

For more information on the Istanbul-to-Kars stretch, please go this page on Tom Brosnahan's excellent"Turkey Travel Planner" website.

For the Kars-to-Batumi stretch, you're on your own.

When in Kars, ask someone for directions to the bus station (Turkish: otogar). It might be a good idea to add the words "Ardahan, Artvin, Hopa, Batum, Gürjistan ["Georgia" in Turkish]!" to be more specific, and then repeat the names of those towns to anyone and everyone in the bus station until you strike gold. Turkish uses a latin alphabet, so you will be able to read the bus' or minibus' destinations in the windscreen.

Be wary of people who encourage you to board their vehicle until you have made quite sure that there isn't a more direct alternative (i.e. a bus or minibus that would take you all the way to Artvin rather than just to Ardahan, where you would have to change). Start by saying your final destination ("Hopa"), and work your way down the list ("Artvin", "Ardahan") until you find something.

Finally, go to the bus station early in the morning if you want to stand a chance of going to Batumi in a day! [In fact, go and have breakfast (Turkish: kavalteu) there; it's FAN-TAS-TIC! Boiling tea, fresh butter, hot bread, delicious local honey, &c.] Kars is an interesting town in an interesting part of Turkey, but you wouldn't want to have to spend a second night there just because the bus to Artvin left half an hour before you arrived at the bus station...

Later, having finally arrived in Hopa, you need to make your way to the Turkish-Georgian border post in the coastal village of Sarp, cross the border, go to Batumi, and take the night train to Tbilisi. Please go to this page on my website for detailed information.

Material of this post is from A.J.T. Bainbridge website: