When Emma mentioned the possibility of catching a ferry between Trabzon, Turkey and Sochi, Russia as a unique way of avoiding a longer land based route via Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine the idea immediately appealed. We would spend three weeks cycling the Black Sea coast to Trabzon and then after a short ferry ride arrive in Sochi where we could catch a train to Moscow.
The fabled ferry
Our initial research into the operation of the ferry in early May started in February and was somewhat confusing, We found a lot of threads on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forums which mentioned the ferry but nothing that confirmed year round sailings. We also found a few mentions of tour operators related to the ferry online which provided some contact email addresses. My queries in English about sailings around 01 May were responded to quickly but with a request to contact them again in April for an up to date schedule. I also started a thread “Ferry Trabzon (Turkey) to Sochi (Russia)” on the Thorn Tree forum which generated a lot of replies with suggestions but still no confirmed details.
A month or so after our initial research we were back on the road cycling from Istanbul to Trabzon along the Black Sea coast trying to keep our concerns about the operation of the ferry at the back of our minds. We received an email from a fellow traveller who had caught the ferry in the opposite direction from Sochi raising our hopes that we were not cycling towards an empty port in Trabzon.
A few days out from Trabzon we stopped at a hotel for a night and asked the receptionist to call the numbers of the tour operators we had found online. After a brief conversation we had our first confirmation that the ferry did indeed operate, a sailing date in a few days time and a ticket price of USD$120 for a seat or USD$150 for a shared cabin. Confirmation the ferry operated was a great relief but checking the weather in Moscow we decided to delay heading North by a week with a side trip to Georgia.
Arriving in Trabzon we made our first port of call the port itself to visit the ferry company and confirm the future timetable so we could plan our time in Georgia. Near the port we found a bunch of tour operators all displaying “Trabzon – Sochi” signs in their windows but everybody directed us to a single office. The office staff confirmed the prices for seats and cabins but when we asked about the sailing timetable for the following week they indicated that it could be one of three days.
Talking with the neighbour of our host in Trabzon (a trainee ship’s captain) we discovered that the weather on the Black Sea can be very unpredictable so the schedule is set depending on the weather, rather than a result of a laid back Turkish attitude which is what we had assumed.
One week later, we returned from Georgia and visited the ferry office, this time being greeted with smiles as they remembered us. We handed over the money for seats in exchange for a hand written ticket. We were finally off to a new country – Russia! As we left the office the ticket agent came rushing out asking “Visa? Visa?” With a big smile we replied “Oh yes we have a Russian visa, don’t worry” and showed him our hard earned Russian business visas.
Useful ferry details
Although this information might only be relevant around the time we caught the ferry in March 2011 between Trabzon and Sochi we figured a list of some details might be useful to others considering the same route.
- Ticket price was USD$120 for a Pullman seat or USD$150 for a cabin. We met a backpacker on the ferry who bargained the seat price down to USD$100
- The travel agent we bought our tickets from was called Sari Denizcilik who I think operate the ferry we caught called Erke and another ferry called the Apollonia 2. Their phone number is 0462 326 44 84 or 0462 32 77 97 but no English is spoken by the office staff
- Another traveller booked by phone using these numbers (0462) 321 24 10 or (0462) 321 40 20 and spoke with an English operator but we had no luck with either of these numbers
- The ferry we caught was pretty basic although using our sleeping mats we got a reasonable nights sleep on the floor near the uncomfortable Pullman seats. The cabins looked not bad with bunk beds and windows for a bit of a view
- The sailing time was around 12 hours and was very calm with hardly any noticeable swell
- There was plenty of room for bikes in the hold as there was only foot passenger luggage and a single car but be prepared to secure your bike yourself
- As you would expect food and drink are bit pricey on board so take your own snacks (the bar was pretty smoke-filled as well)
- Apparently the summer schedule starts in May and then there are up to three sailings per week but my guess would be that the exact schedule is still flexible