Correspondence between Greece and Turkey has never before been easier, friendlier and more comfortable. The train line Filia/Dostluk Express travels from Thessalonica to Istanbul in approximately twelve hours in –experience has proved to me– a safe, luxurious and friendly atmosphere.

Waiting in Thessalonica train station, for the train that would take me to Istanbul, was nonetheless a weird experience. Having never before in my life travelled all alone, especially for such a long, international journey, I was experiencing mixed feelings of excitement, anxiety and worry. Having an intimate acquaintance with Balkan trains, I admittedly was dreading to see in what extraordinary adventure I had thrown myself into again. Fearful, standing there, with my huge uncomfortable suitcase and my 96.48-euros-worth-round-trip-tickets I watched the dreadful machine approaching the platform.

When one decides to take the Filia/Dostluk Express one ought to know about it, for this is not an ordinary railway line. Filia/Dostluk Express was launched on July 2005 as part of the Greek-Turkish Friendship building efforts, in order to create a steady terrestrial transportation link between the two countries. The travelling conditions are of the best quality, the ticket price extremely reasonable and the helpful, kind and willing staff very efficient. This train line has mainly to do with politics, and that is obvious in every aspect of the trip. Back in the date of the inauguration of the line the Greek delegation arrived in Istanbul, with the then Greek Transport Minister Michalis Liapis, by train, and was welcomed by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself and the Turkish Transport Minister. Words like “reinforcing infrastructure and boosting cooperation” were distinctly heard coming out of the politicians’ mouths.

The trains on this route are either Turkish or Greek, and the passengers have a fifty-fifty chance of landing with either. Both trains –the Turkish admittedly more luxurious– are only equipped with sleeping cars and there are no normal passenger ones. The train departing daily at eight o’ clock in the evening both from Thessalonica and Istanbul, reaches its destination approximately at eight o’ clock next morning. The cabins are divided into first (more expensive) and second class, single in the first case and double in the second. But, I’m getting ahead of myself… Lets go back to me standing on the train platform, at Thessalonica train station late that evening.

So, the train approaches with huffs and puffs and finally stops. I look at it doubtfully, get the wad of the tickets out of my purse and approach the porter hoping that he’d show me my way. His first few words in broken English indicated that I was about to get on the Turkish train. The man helped me with my unreasonably heavy luggage and showed me to a most delightful little, air-conditioned room with a sofa, washbasin and everything arranged comfortably. I must admit that I wasn’t expecting it, thus I was rather taken aback. Relaxing for the first time after hours of stress I watched at Thessalonica getting smaller and smaller through my window, and eventually vanishing from view. Filia/Dostluk Express’s exact route is Thessalonica-Kilkis-Rodopolis-Serres- Drama- Xanthi- Komotini- Alexandroupolis- Pythion- Uzunköprü- Pehlivanköy- Alpullu- Istanbul.

Before the introduction of the Filia/Dostluk Express line there had been a train line with a transfer at Pythion station that was fifteen hours long.  The Thessalonica-Istanbul journey can currently also be done by bus, it is cheaper and faster but much more uncomfortable. Another matter is that there is at this stage no straight connection between Istanbul and Athens, one must change trains at Thessalonica. However, the moment I found myself aboard I knew that this was the right choice of transportation to reach my destination. The journey was as charming as Istanbul itself.

The Turkish conductors where more than helpful and kind, always smiling and doing their best to show hospitality. My uneasiness and ambiguity about travelling alone where all erased while receiving their care during the trip. I was put in a double room by myself, though I had paid for second class fair, and as I later found out this is a common happening since there are never that many passengers, so when one is travelling alone, they usually stay alone in the cabin. Also when a wild bushranger came into the train at the border to search in my –very big as already stated– suitcase, the porter seemed truly protective of the little, innocent, lonely me. The next morning the arrival at Istanbul was only beautiful.

Five days later, after saluting the dear friends who hosted me, at the Istanbul train station, my valise and me where aboard the –Greek this time– train to Thessalonica. The same care was shown to me from my compatriots –again I travelled alone in the cabin and again I received special care at the borders­. The room was equally comfortable and beautiful in a more old-fashioned way that brought images of Orient Express and gave a romantic flavour to the journey till Thessalonica. Anyone who experienced the same as me during their journey couldn’t help but recommend this unique Friendship Express line for the trip between Greece and Turkey and vice versa.

Useful Links:

Hellenic Railways Organisation

Turkish State Railways

More Information:

«Filia Express» Arrived in Istanbul

Friendship (Dostluk/Filia) Ekspresi

Δημοσιεύτηκε το 2006

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