My first visit to Turkey was in 2010, at that point I was part of a tour group. The tour focused on the Western side of Turkey. During that time, most of my meals was taken cared of by the tour company. I didn’t get to choose the restaurant or budget. There was menus in Turkish and English. The tour company looked after the logistics of hotels and transportation. I just followed the leader and took lots of photos.
This time in 2014, I spent 2 months (cumulatively) in Turkey. I traveled alone, met fellow travelers along the way, some we simply connected in the hostel others we toured the location together. One travel friend met up with me in 5 different cities within Turkey, it was quite the experience of separation and reunion over the span of 2 weeks.
I arrived in Istanbul back on June 1, 2014. Met another traveler and I digressed to Greece for 25 days. I came back to Turkey on a ferry from Rhodes island, traveled East from Fethiye to Antalya. A few of those days were spent on a gulet cruise. Then it got too hot, literally and it was Ramadan or Ramazan in Turkish. Locals and foreigners suggested I delay my visit to Eastern Turkey as many places may be closed during the day for Ramazan. I hopped onto a cheap flight to Germany. From Hamburg, Germany I bounced from city to city, depending on which past travel friend can host me. I visited Frankfurt, Switzerland, Paris, Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona before returning to Antalya, Turkey.
On September 7, 2014 I returned back to Turkey to continue heading East in a counter clockwise direction. Seeing the country change in personality, landscape, customs, language and food was extremely educational. Turkey is a diverse country – hands down. The current events across the border in Syria added another level of complexity to Turkey.
Here are some lessons learned I would like to share with you…
Long Distance Bus Travels
- If you have time on your side and traveling on a budget, Turkey has a very well developed intercity, inter region bus network. To save yourself some money and hassle, remember to ask for Serviş – free shuttle service between bus station and city center.
No need to travel to the bus station (otogar) to buy the ticket. Buy the ticket in town at one of the many agent offices. No need to travel to the bus station on your own dime to catch the bus and risk missing the bus. Typically they schedule the shuttle 30 minutes to 1 hour before departure time. You will be picked up at the office you purchased the bus ticket. Sometimes they’ll also have Serviş at your destination so you don’t have to worry about getting into city center as sometimes that’s another 5 to 10 km. This will also minimize mistake of going to the wrong bus station, as did one of my travel friends. Some cities have more than one bus station!!
- Another thing to note – they will pickup and drop off passengers anywhere along their route. Don’t be surprised if they stop in the middle of a busy highway.
- WiFi is usually available just ask for the password (şifre), if the network requires one. There’s usually no toilet on board but they’ll make rest stops. They serve Turkish tea (çay), coffee (kahve) and other drinks. One company even offered newspapers (Ulusoy).
- Men and women sit separately unless they are traveling together.
- YouTube, Facebook and Twitter work in Turkey so you can watch all the cat videos you want on the bus. Otherwise, you can practice your Turkish by watching the free entertainment provided on your private TV on the back of the seat in front of you.
- Minibus are for shorter travel distances. They’re cheap. They go where the big buses doesn’t go like a Syrian refugee camp.
- They are frequent. Sometimes they only leave the minibus station when it is full. Other times when it is not busy, the driver will depart at the specified time or when he see fits.
- You can further your anthropology studies of the locals – nothing like talking in close quarters. On one trip they packed 30 people into the vehicle. Granted 6 of them were small children – it was still very jam packed what with luggage and parcels.
- Some of them offers a bubble seat which is a small ottoman that is not attached to the floor. Same price but it’ll definitely help you exercise your abs and help you work on your balance.
- Fair warning – Do not watch how they drive. If you have a weak stomach, do not sit in the front – even if you want to take pictures.
- No one really wear seat belts, except for bus drivers.
Cash Withdrawal from Bank Machine
- Bank machines has all the safety features and something you might not see anywhere else – coin dispenser.
- Some dispenses Euros and British pounds in addition to Turkish Lira.
- As mentioned before man and woman who does not know each other will not be seated together.
- Mosques (cami)require men and women to pray separately. Some mosques thewomenprays in a completely different building.
- As I discovered some Turkish men drink a minimum of15çayeach and every day – manyatçaycafes. I have yet to see a woman site at these establishments. When I did with my travel friend, I got LOOKS.
- There was one restaurant I enjoyed delicious Black Sea fish. I discovered they have a separate eating area for women downstairs in the case they do wish to each separately than men outside of their circle of family. I was quite alarmed as I thought I was supposed to eat downstairs – thinking I had offended people – AGAIN. But the owner of the restaurant quickly reassured me that the main floor is open for women as well.
- If you’re a guy you’ll make many friends – if you sodesire tosocialize. If you’re a girl you’ll get lots and lots of different looks. Rarely does girls approach me to converse and they are rarely willing to converse with me when I approach them.
- The Turkish are not used to loud voices. I laugh out loud – I get Looks. I talk a little louder – I get Looks.
- Foreigners get looks – maybe it is because it’s low season while I’m in the east but their curiosity will strike them and the locals often ask me where I am from and if I like Turkey and if I am single.
I have burning questions to ask the locals but the language barrier prevents the interaction. A few times I used the translator on my phone but it gets tedious and the translation doesn’t make much sense.
If you choose to visit Turkey, you will notice the West are much more used to tourists than the East. Though the northeastern corner of Turkey receives many tourists from the Arabic countries.
During this journey, I’ve visited Istanbul, Fethiye, Olympos, Antalya, Termessos, Hatay, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Harran, Mt. Nemrut, Van, Ayder, Rize, Trabzon, Ünye and Safranbolu – if you want to check out these places and have questions, I’ll try my best to help.
Share your experience if you have been to Turkey in the past.