Travelling around Turkey – a few handy hints

Turkey is a vast country with thousands of historical and scenic attractions.  Kalkan, where we live when in Turkey, has more than its fair share of places to visit in the locality but to start to understand the sheer size and variety of Turkey a two or three day trip makes for an excellent start and will introduce you to places that you will definitely want to visit again.

All the trips can be accomplished by car but, to get a real feel for the country and its people (and sometimes its livestock who are welcomed onto buses !!!), there is no better way than to use Turkey’s extensive network of long distance coaches, intercity buses and local mini-buses or dolmus’s.  The Kalkan Otogar (bus station) is your gateway to adventure.

To help you plan journeys, KTLN (http://kalkan.turkishlocalnews.com/portal/) has an fairly comprehensive guide to the bus companies and their timetables.  The websites of the individual companies are mostly in Turkish and can take a bit of real effort to understand.  A number of the national carriers have offices at the Kalkan Otogar and they will help you to plan.  Note that if you don’t know which carrier goes to the place you want to visit, it is worthwhile visiting more than one carrier’s office as they are not good at telling you about a rival’s network.

Before you start, here are a few useful points about bus travel.

Booking

For the long distance coaches, for example travelling to Izmir or Istanbul, you are best to buy tickets in advance.  These can be bought at the Otogar.  For all other journeys advanced booking is not necessary although you may choose to do so for a little peace of mind.  You can’t book dolmus tickets.

Seating

If you have a pre booked ticket for travel, you will almost certainly have pre-assigned seats.  If you are buying tickets on the bus the driver may assign you a seat or may let you sit wherever you like.  Note there is a golden rule that an unrelated male and female may not sit together unless they are close friends.  So do not sit next to a person of the opposite sex that you do not know even if there are no other empty seats.  If such a situation arises you will often find that the driver or one of the passengers will try to re-arrange the seating to get everyone an appropriate seat.  If you have a choice, get a seat on the shady side of the bus and remember to apply plenty of sun blocker.

Luggage

The first rule of travel is to keep luggage light and as compact as possible.  On a dolmus it is not unusual to be sharing space with live-stock, sacks of vegetables en route to market or assorted rugs.  Most dolmus’s do not have specific luggage space so spare seats, aisles and door-wells can be brought into service.   Luggage space inside the buses and coaches  is very limited.  There are overhead racks but they are designed for coats etc, not for bags.  Be prepared for the driver to put your bags into storage spaces under the bus or at the back.  You should only take on board a very small bag that can comfortably sit on your knee.   A word of re-assurance, you may be concerned about the security of your bags whilst they are out of your sight, but in my experience, having made a hundred or more journeys, you are always re-united with your luggage at journey’s end.

Water

An essential for travel on all forms of bus is a plentiful supply of water.  On long-distance coaches this is provided free of charge by the on-board steward.  On intercity buses there is often a chilled chest containing small plastic cups of water.  Help yourself.  The dolmus’s do not provide water.

Refreshments 

The coaches will stop every two hours or so at a service station where you can usually get a wide range of food and drinks.  The quality is often surprisingly high for a roadside service station.  The intercity buses will stop in towns along the route and there will usually be time to buy something or even sit in the bus station cafe.  If you’re leaving the bus do check with the driver when the bus will be leaving and, if possible, show him where you are going to be.  The drivers are very good at herding up their passengers before setting off on the next stage of the journey.

Bus Stops

Apart from the bus stations and in towns and cities along the way, there are generally no actual bus stops.  All forms of bus from dolmus to long-distance coach will stop wherever you want.  If you want to catch a bus, stand at the roadside, ideally on the side for the direction you want to go but not essentially, and wave at the driver of the bus as it approaches.  If the driver of an approaching bus sees you at the roadside he will often blow the horn to draw your attention.  If this is not the bus you want to catch just wave him on.  To get off the bus away from city/town centres, ideally let the driver know in advance but 5 seconds warning is enough.  They will literally let you off anywhere – even on busy dual carriageways with no lay-bys.

If you decide to travel by car here is some guidance.

Documentation

Roadblocks and speed checks are commonplace in Turkey.  It is essential that all passengers carry their passports and any drivers have their driving licences.  If you do get stopped for speeding – see info on Turkish speed limits on KTLN – you will be issued with a fixed penalty ticket.  Your car hire company will help you to sort it out on your return to Kalkan.

Maps and Directions

A bit of preparation will pay dividends.  Road signs are often few and far between and Turkish maps are distinctly lacking in detail.  If you don’t already have one, do invest in as detailed a map as you can find.  Desti in Kalkan has a good selection.   If you have access to the internet then Google Maps is fairly reliable for routes and directions for travel between the towns and cities.  Most historical sites are sign-posted – the site name on a brown background.

Parking

Apart from in large town and in cities, parking is generally free and uncontrolled.  If you are staying in a hotel or pension, ask at reception for the best place to park overnight.  Do remember that what looks like a quite side street at night may become a bustling street market by day so that when you get up you find that your car is blocked in for the day.  Seek advice.

Fuel

Petrol and diesel are readily available on main roads and in towns.  Elsewhere it can be an entirely different story.  The only answer is to make sure you have sufficient in the tank to get you comfortably to the next sizeable town.  Petrol stations stay open late and on main roads may be open 24 hours a day.  As a side note, petrol stations often have good, basic restaurants attached and prices are excellent.  Similarly in their shops, apart from souvenirs etc, drinks, sweets and crisps are normally at supermarket prices.

Whichever way you travel the experience will be fantastic and memorable.

Accommodation

A final note on accommodation.  It is usually a good idea to book ahead if you want to stay in a particular hotel or near a famous site, but otherwise for casual overnight stays finding a room is usually easy and inexpensive.  Once you are away from the coastal resorts it is unlikely that a hotel or pension (pansion) will be unable to accommodate you or to suggest somewhere nearby that will meet your needs.

Happy travelling.

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About Clashgour

With my wife Margaret I am spending a happy retirement divided between our flat in Richmond, London, our villa in Kalkan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast and travelling mostly in the UK, Turkey and the US. When travelling we use public transport where possible, resorting to a car when it is the only viable option. This blog is an occasional diary of our travels.
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