When buying my train ticket, I was assigned wagon 1, seat 1, but when I arrived at the international train terminal in Tehran, every passenger was assigned a new seat. The journey would first go through Tabriz (in Iran) to Van (in Turkey), where a ferry service would take us to Tatvan, on the other side of Lake Van, where it would be a slow zigzagging trip through Sivas, Keyseri and Ankara before reaching Istanbul.
Research had strongly suggested the ferry was a train ferry, but only the luggage cars were actually put on the boat. We had to get off the train, on the ferry, for five hours, before embarking the Turkish train on the other side of the lake.
The adjusted seating arrangements I had gotten upon departure had different seating for the Iranian and Turkish trains, but although this worked fine on the Iranian train, it was complete chaos on the second train. Although my little group stayed together, we had to hunt for an empty carriage in the middle of the night.
Interestingly, my little group consisted of four young Iranian males travelling independently and for some reason, all similar travellers seemed to have ended up in the same coupe. I was one of the few passengers on the train with a significant amount of luggage, as I was unaware of the luggage train. Very convenient, because with my luggage and the four guys, our coupe was completely full.
On the Turkish Iranian border, everyone had to get out of the train, when all passports were reviewed in a relatively slow manner, before, with a stack of reviewed passports on hand, one by one, names were called off for individuals to retrieve their passes.
On the Iranian side, after everyone had received his passport, I was called into an empty room and violently gang raped. Well, not really. It turned out that upon my arrival one month before, I should have filled in a form. A friendly man filled in in for me and I was on my way.
On the Turkish side, the procedure was similar, but now using my Dutch passport, I was the first to receive my pass back. Here, upon spotting I was Dutch, an Iranian started talking to me in broken Dutch, saying he was going to try to get back to his family in Rotterdam, even though he didn't have the right papers to do so.
There was a clear relief when the train started moving after Turkish border controls. The younger girls threw off their scarves and started wearing more fashionable clothes, people started smoking cigarettes and relaxed and everyone seemed to be smiling.
Several of the travellers had confined in me that they'd rather leave the country behind forever.
On the Iranian train and on the ferry, what seemed like half an orchestra was constantly playing classical Iranian music. Much better than the crying baby I had to endure from Tatvan to Istanbul. 36 hours.
The whole ride took 70 hours, the single longest journey I've ever done. And I think I'm cured from every wanting to do this one again.