The Trans-European Race from London to Istanbul, organized by Lupine Travel of Wigan, recently concluded with an incredibly close finish. Nearly 100 participants, who paid £99 each, set off from Trafalgar Square in central London. The racetrack involved navigating through multiple checkpoints to reach Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. Although the direct distance is 1,560 miles, participants had to travel even further due to the waypoints along the journey.
The first checkpoint was in Paris, which many participants reached via Eurostar trains. The second checkpoint offered a choice between Venice, Munich, and Prague, with Munich being the most direct route. From there, the mandatory stops were in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, and Plovdiv, the Bulgarian city.
Bram Houtenbos, a 38-year-old financial services executive, and Eleanor Parker, a 32-year-old humanitarian worker, emerged as the leading contenders 48 hours into their journeys. Bram relied on an Interrail pass and had taken fast trains, including a sleeper segment from Salzburg to Budapest, while Eleanor took a budget approach and traveled by bus after an express train ticket from Paris to Geneva.
After two sleepless nights, Bram and Eleanor both arrived at Plovdiv bus station to board the same coach to Istanbul. Bram had a 15kg backpack, while Eleanor traveled light with just a day pack. During the journey, Bram was unable to find someone from his hotel to take his backpack, giving Eleanor a slight advantage.
Upon reaching Istanbul bus station, they both took the same Metro train and transferred to the tram that led to the finish line in Sultanahmet Square. Eleanor decided to disembark at Cemberlitas, a tram stop 500m from the finish point, while Bram stayed on until the Sultanahmet stop, 300m away.
The race then came down to their strategies. Eleanor believed that sprinting through backstreets would be faster than waiting for the tram to reach the next stop, while Bram thought the traffic-free square gave him a better chance. However, Bram’s hopes were dashed when a police officer stopped him to check the contents of his backpack, costing him precious seconds.
In the end, Eleanor crossed the finish line just 60 seconds ahead of Bram. Despite the close loss, Bram graciously acknowledged Eleanor’s victory. While Bram continued his journey to Moldova, Ukraine, and Poland, Eleanor took some time to rest after an intense couple of days traveling long distances by coach.
Eleanor expressed her admiration for Bram and credited him with giving her the motivation to keep pushing. As the winner of the race, Eleanor earned £2,000-worth of expeditions with Lupine Travel, thanks to her rival on the Orient Express run.
Overall, the Trans-European Race showcased the challenges and excitement of traveling across Europe using only public transport. Participants faced obstacles, made strategic decisions, and experienced the thrill of a close finish, making for an unforgettable adventure.