Getting Around in Turkey

Getting Around in Turkey

Private car ownership in Turkey is much lower than in many other advanced countries. Whether this is because of or the reason for its highly developed public transport system, I don't know. Turkey is a big country: the distance from İstanbul to the Syrian border is greater than that from London to Berlin, but no journey is more than around 90 minutes' flying time from İstanbul and there are many domestic airlines competing for customers by providing frequent flights between the major cities, making flying a very inexpensive form of long distance travel.

For those who wish to see more of the countryside during their journey, the trains are comfortable and fast but, unfortunately, the network is not extensive. However there is an amazing network of coach services, usually with several operators competing on the same route. The coaches are very comfortable, mostly equipped with seat back consoles with music, movies, games and even live TV and internet. The stewards serve free hot and cold drinks and snacks every hour or so and the coaches stop at coach stations every two or three hours. The coach stations in the major cities are more like airports with restaurants, shops, hairdressers and even dentists.

Some travellers may wish to be independent and drive themselves. Car hire is inexpensive and most major international franchises are well-represented in addition to excellent local operators. The vehicles are maintained to a very high standard. Driving between towns is a joy. The roads are wide, normally at least dual carriageway, well-maintained and relatively deserted. Apart from within major cities, traffic congestion is almost unknown. The motorways are superb but on occasion subject to a very small toll. Driving within towns can be another story at rush hour and driving on ''autopilot'' is impossible, for drivers in a hurry will often ignore traffic lights and one-way systems. Scooters may be driven by Dad, with one child up front between his arms and another one or two squashed between him and Mum, all enjoying the ride and grinning broadly. You may find even ladders being transported by scooter, straddling the road, a wave of the driver's hand and his cheeky grin inviting forgiveness.

Car drivers on rural roads can find they are sharing the road with horses, donkeys carts and even camels; and tractors pulling trailers and parked in side streets are quite common in towns. Motor scooters too can be hired, though this is not to be recommended.

For shorter journeys the dolmuş or shared minibus is very convenient and inexpensive. Routes cover most areas of every town and connect the smaller towns and villages. Dolmuş are frequent, often every five minutes, and the drivers will often go off route to oblige their passengers. In rural areas some of your fellow passengers may have wings or four legs, and I've known large soba (cast iron stoves) to be transported by dolmuş, passengers obligingly climbing over the obstruction as they board and leave. Some very large cities also have tram and light railway systems too.

Finally there are taxis, usually so many around that it is difficult to imagine how they can all earn a living. They too are inexpensive and the drivers very helpful - and the subject of an earlier story.

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