A cold winter night.. It’s right after midnight. You are travelling on a sleeper of Sofia Express from Sofia to Istanbul.. Only thing you can hear in this silent midnight is the noise of wheels..
Light is coming from a few cabinets most of which are empty.
Then someone knocked the door. It’s in Bulgarian, but “police” is almost the same anywhere in the world.
You ope the door with your pijamas, holding the passports, trying to wake up your wife sleeping in deep. One of the polices stops you while taking the passports: “No need”. After a short glance first at the passports, then at the room, you hear a voice “ok” and they go towards the next room. You shut the door, and lay back again the comfortable bed.
As you almost go to sleep, someone knocks the door once again: “Passport control”. Voice is familiar, it’s the train staff. You open the door again, and staff says “passport control, you need to get off the train”. You are at Kapikule.
Winter is passing hard at Kapikule. You pass through underpass feeling the cold deeply inside, together with the other travelers with sleepy eyes. You take place on the queue going into a small room at the terminal. The queue starts in front of a small window in the room. Window is closed, noone on the other side.
A group is chatting loudly with laughters, no sign of complain: “Ahh, youth they are”. All passengers arrive, enter the queue. Ones in the front side in the room get squeezed, so that everyone can get into the room and avoid the cold. Luckily the train is not full. They all managed to get in.
Then the small window is opened. An officer turns on the pc. Computer must be an old one, because it takes time to turn on. Then the passaport are taken one by one. Passengers who are checked return to train one by one. All are now awake by the help of freezing cold, but there is still 4 hours of travel to Istanbul.
But, why should things happen like this?
Why the officer does not cross the border, and starts the checks while train goes from Svilengrad to Kapikule? Isn’t it better to check the passengers on the train? While a lot is being invested to speed up the trains, is it right taking out all the passengers, putting them in a queue, and keeping the train almost one hour at Kapikule (the official border crossing time is 44-52 minutes according to timetable)?
Cover Photo: Onur Uysal ©
I couldn’t agree more! It’s such a crazy, unnecessary system. As a foreigner, it’s a very strange welcome to a wonderful country.
I sometimes wonder why this train cannot be re-timed to run during the day – as the convenience of a night train is negated by not getting any sleep. A morning departure from Sofia, afternoon border crossing, and an evening arrival in Istanbul would be much more attractive. It would also enhance the service between Edirne and Istanbul.
Just did the crossing. Terrible experience, everything went smoothly on the Bulgarian side but for some reason Turkish police took 2 hours to check passports and requested to check the phones of all non Turkish passengers with a very rude attitude. What a bad welcome into Turkey.
Sorry to hear that.. Hope you’ll have a nice experience in the rest of your journey..
Turkish police don’t have a special right to enter and operate on Bulgarian soil, hence why it’s done at Kapikule. They also don’t have mobile passport readers, hence the need to get off the train (the other option is collecting the passports and then returning them, which is what the Bulgarians do).