Driving through Turkey:
what we liked and did not like

Josephine Ris & David Hielkema

16 November 2016

Turkey’s tourism industry has been severely impacted by recent political developments, such as the attempted coup, the war in Syria and several terrorist attacks. All of these events have been thoroughly covered by the media, so when we told people of our plans to go there, some where a bit concerned. We were less worried and our experience proved us all the more right. In the following we will explain to you why we liked Turkey. We’ll also tell you about some things we liked less.

What we liked

The people
Let’s start with the most important thing: the people. The people in Turkey are really friendly. Though we have to watch out here, because; is there a country in the world where the people are unfriendly?

We have discussed this quite often with each other: What makes people friendly? How can you ‘categorize’ friendly? If we ask for directions or so, people in Turkey were usually glad to help, but isn’t it the same everywhere in the world? From our own experience, in countries such as Venezuela or Senegal, but also in The Netherlands, most people are willing to help when asked.

But still, we are left with the feeling that the people in Turkey are very friendly and warm and the çay offers are plenty and sincere.

There is little tourism
Or to be precise, at the moment there are less tourists than there were in the past few years. The previously mentioned incidents have had a significant impact on tourism. For us this was actually an advantage, although we feel a bit guilty saying that.

We would not want to claim that Turkey is not a touristic country. Cappadocia, for instance, consists of several tourist villages. In these places hardly any building in the main streets are used for any other purpose than tourism. Market guys and waiters in the cities are fully trained to get foreigners to their shops and in the bazaars souvenir shops are ubiquitous. You will however find yourself to be walking through the Asian side of Istanbul with hardly any other foreigners in sight.

About two years ago David visited Istanbul as well. It was busy, every hostel was fully booked and the prices where high. This time it was different: few tourists, no lines for the touristic attractions and the hostel was cheap. For us it was perfect: we paid 7 euro per person for a bed in a dorm, we had free parking and breakfast, all of this in the centre of the old city. Okay, driving a car in Istanbul is not so much fun, but once it is parked, it is perfect way to explore a city. And a great and cheap alternative for camping in Istanbul!

And it was not just in Istanbul where there was little tourism. We noticed it everywhere and often discussed the matter with locals. The drop is significant and problematic for the country.

For you, this may be the perfect time to go, so you can see Turkey unbothered by tour busses filled with those kind of tourists you do not want to be associated with.

One of the many beautiful sunsets we  enjoyed in Turkey!

Amazing coastal roads and private hidden beaches
“Forget about Great Ocean Road!”, David exclaimed happily while we were cruising along the South-West coast, “this road is just as nice, possibly even better”. And when it is coming from this experienced traveller, you better believe it! Swindling turn after swindling turn the road offered us new, amazing views of the aqua coloured sea, green bays and photogenic islands.

One of Josephine’s great grievances is that we did not bring a pair of diving goggles from the start, as we encountered a lot of coral reefs, interesting sea life and very clear waters. When we finally bought a pair, we of course left the coast line and we have not been able to use them since…

Often we found small bays or beaches practically deserted. Although quite a few of them were pebble beaches, the view more than made up for this. One of our favourite discoveries was the Butterfly Valley. Later we will upload our video diary of this place!

The roads along the cost are often mountainous, meaning you will automatically be taken to some great view points. The Turkish government probably likes you to enjoy them, because there are plenty of strategically placed parking spots along the way.

Visit “uninteresting” villages
Visit uninteresting villages, preferably ones that are not on your map to get an “off the beaten track experience”. Drink çay for 1 Turkish lira or even get it offered for free in these villages. The people here are still happily surprised to see you! It is a great advantage that we had our own car.

Good roads in general
Infrastructure was one of the priorities on the Turkish political agenda the past few years and it shows. We mostly drove on smooth asphalt and often had several options for getting from one point to another. Road signs are clear and traffic rules are mostly obliged to, all of which made driving through Turkey easy and pleasant. We of course also like a challenge and a dose of adventure, but if everyone drove like the Tehrani’s, road tripping would be very tiring.

Safe wild camping
Besides the great roads and the beautiful views everywhere, it is also very easy to go wild camping in Turkey.

One day we slept next to Pamukkale (check that story here), another day really close to the sea (as showed in this video) and the day after we were high on a mountain where we had the best coastal sunset of our trip so far.

Sometimes it took us a bit of time to find the right spot to camp, but mostly it worked out just fine. And most importantly to know; we felt amazingly safe all the time. Though, we learned that we had to start looking before sunset to make it easier for ourselves. If we didn’t, we always regretted doing it and ended up camping with mixed feelings.

Çay and the food
It is interesting to see how each of the countries this side of the globe all have their own style of drinking tea. We particularly like the Turkish way, and so do the Turks!

Everywhere you go, you will see a guy carrying a tray of tea glasses around the bazaar or the other shops so the shop keepers do not have to go dry. When you buy anything, the deal is finalized with a cup of the strong, hot brew. Tea houses are the most populated places and each village has at least one.

Forget about desserts, because in Turkey a meal is concluded with a cup of sweet tea. That may also be the only downside of this tea culture, as the tea is often so strong, that adding a cube of sugar is necessary.

We can also get very enthusiastic about the Turkish cuisine. Köfte, chickpeas, meaty stews and most importantly eggplants! Eggplant was already one of Josephine’s favourite vegetables, but the Turkish take eggplant to a new level. You will be sure to find this purple guy on most menu’s, filled with minced meat, or just slowly smothered in tomato sauce, but always softer and tastier than you would have thought possible. Or maybe Josephine is just not that good at cooking as she thinks, because to her great frustration she has not been able to recreate it, yet. The dish is appropriately named “Imam Bayildi”, meaning “The Imam liked it”. So do we!

Istanbul & Izmir
Turkey has a few very nice mundane cities, where you can sense influences from both the Asian and the European continents. The two best examples of this are, in our opinion, Istanbul & Izmir.

Walk through the old streets, visit it the great historical attractions (Topkapı Palace is by far our favourite), watch the the people go by, eat great food at the corner of every street, enjoy the nightlife at Taksim square and hang out with the youth and the artists on the Asian side while watching the sunset. It is an amazingly big city where you can feel that it has it all!

For both of us it is one of the nicest cities we have been in the world, and probably we are not the first people to say that!

For David it was the second time to visit Izmir. He was there when he was 16 years with a school project, called Solving problems at my school without (verbal) violence and war. But all David experienced then was peace and friendship. And it was still like that. Izmir is just great because it is. Not because of the history, or because of the beauty of the coast, or because of the crazy huge bazaar, or because of the architecture, but just because it is! It is nice and tranquil, few tourists and the people make this city.

Tavla is backgammon. If you know it and you love it too, then we invite you as soon as we are back for a cup of tea while playing tavla. If you don’t know the game, learn it quickly, so we can play it!

In Turkey you will see in every teahouse young and old men playing the game. They play it very actively with their cup of tea and they are happy to share their enthusiasm!

When we had gotten tired of all the walking in Izmir, we decided to go to a teahouse to play the game. We asked for a set and we started the game. We were by then still quite inexperienced and moved the pieces very slow. Soon some old men joined our game and after a while it was actually them playing and we only throwing the dices. Great fun and a good way to get in contact with the locals. Probably it was also one of the few times David “won” a game.

Not to forget
There are many other things that we liked in Turkey, for instance the extraordinary beauty of Cappadocia or the fact that there are so many places with great histories and the remains of those times. You will probably have read or read about those places in many other books or on other websites, so we do not feel the need to discuss them separately.

What we did not like 

Turkey is not cheap-cheap. Not like Southeast-Asia or South-America cheap. Turkey is cheap-ish, if compared to Europe. But for us, as true backpackers, (although with a big Land Rover Defender underneath our asses…) every euro counts. So we need the cheap-cheap stuff!

On the other side, we do not want to complain about that. Seeing as we would like to see the world be more equal, it is only OK that Turkey gets to be a bit more expensive!

 However, what we didn’t like was the gasoil, diesel, price. In general, we paid 1,25 euro for a litre! This makes Turkey, together with The Netherlands, one of the most expensive places to fuel up. Oh boy!

Though we just made a whole argument about the country not being touristic, the Turks do know what tourism is. And that is annoying sometimes. We don’t want to be shouted at everywhere we go. We don’t want to say “Good, thank you” all the time when being asked “How we are?”, because they are trying to sell us something. We don’t want to be followed by motors, asking us if we want to stay in their hotel.

But it makes sense that it happens and that there are touristic places. Because, and that is very easy and hard at the same time, these touristic places are touristic places for a reason. Quite often there are beautiful things to see or to do.

And as said earlier, there are still plenty of places where the people haven’t seen too many tourists yet, which are great for getting in touch with the locals.

Political controversies
We met a lot of people who were unhappy with the current political situation. The economy is not doing so well and Turkey has not made many political friends lately. Some governmental decisions are disputable to say the least, but then again, this goes for many other countries. It was a shame, however, to hear so many people be dissatisfied with their countries politics.

Men dominated area’s
Çay houses and some other public places are meant for men only. Although tourists are exempted from this custom, enabling us both to enjoy their cosy and lively atmosphere, it would be nicer to see some women playing a game of tavla in these meeting places. Perhaps Turkish women do not even want to go there, so we should not judge to easily, but Josephine being the only woman in a room filled with men can sometimes be a bit uncomfortable. But again, we have never heard a single person object to our presence!

Broken camera
Our camera stopped working. So we didn’t take as many photos as we would have liked and the ones we took were by our phones. Also moneywise not so nice!

So, what are you saying?
As you see, our plus and minus points bring up a lot of contradictions. Tourism is good, but we don’t like to be confronted with it too much. But that is just us, wanting to feel special. Turkey is beautiful and especially when visiting this country by car, you will be sure to see much more than the places developed for the large number of tourist visitors.