What a fabulous way to travel, go to sleep in Paris, wake up call and breakfast on our beds as we pull in to Munich. Then an Austrian train with the most amazing just in time information, maps, speeds etc all the way to Budapest. Another night and I awake to the sun rolling away the mist in the Carpathian hills, some quite poor villages, and at every station a smart station master standing to attention, the same in Bulgaria.
Two half days in Bucharest, masses of pavement repairs and an excellent metro, with interconnecting carriages and a guard, yes that's right, on the train. A really wonderful 'folk' museum and another one like the Ryedale museum, old vernacular buildings. An excellent meal, sitting outside, the heatwave continuing. The next day we arrive at the only station to truly disappoint, Sofia, a Soviet era, concrete edifice. However Sofia, despite more pavement re-building, enchants with very old churches, a mosque and a Presidential palace only guarded by two low keys soldiers. A wonderful lunch at an Armenian restaurant. Still the heatwave continues as we wait at Sofia station for the delayed train from Belgrade that is going to take us on to Istanbul. At every station until the border the wheels are tapped, why is it only in Bulgaria that this happens with such solemnity?
Even getting up at 3am to get our Turkish visas couldn't spoil the magic. It is light as we travel from the border through woodland and farm land, then massive new developments into the city, along the coast of the Sea of Marmara and then through the ancient, crumbling city walls and along still standing sections of the sea walls. As we pull into the station we realise that alongside the platform is The Orient Express Restaurant, the first of many cups of Turkish coffee.
Would we do it again, maybe; as long as we could have a sleeper not the final couchette, and if we could be a little more confident about being able to get a meal, not just a filled roll, at all the stations.
It was also a reminder of the past having to change money at the last few borders and having our passports checked in Europe, roll on the Euro and Schengen I say.
Istanbul? it was wonderful, a magical city to rival Venice, whose rival it was so many centuries ago.