Domestic airline travel has come a long way since Turkish Airlines (tel. 800/874-8875 in the U.S., 207/766-9300 in London, 0212/663-6300 in Istanbul; www.turkishairlines.com) held a corner on the market. With the arrival of a number of new airlines serving popular routes, along with the opening of Istanbul's Sabiha Gökçen Airport, domestic airline service is plentiful. And with fares as low as 49€, if you book early, the cost actually gives (albeit comfy) long-distance bus travel a run for its money. To keep up with the competition, Turkish Airlines instituted its budget airline subsidiary, AnadoluJet (tel. 444-AJET ; www.anadolujet.com), primarily operating flights out of Ankara to countless cities in Turkey. Onur Air (tel. 0212/663-9176 in Istanbul; www.onurair.com.tr) flies from Istanbul to Antalya, Bodrum, Dalaman, and Izmir, while Pegasus Airlines (tel. 0845/084-8980; www.flypgs.com) serves Antalya, Ankara, Bodrum, Dalaman, Izmir, Kayseri, and Konya, among others, from Istanbul's Sabiha Gökçen Airport, and Izmir from Istanbul's Atatürk Airport. Pegasus also flies to a number of cities direct from Ankara and Izmir. Atlas Jet (tel. 444-3387; www.atlasjet.com), the first airline to provide free airport transfers for passengers to destinations in Adana, Antalya, Bodrum, and Izmir, flies from Istanbul to Antalya, Bodrum, and Izmir, as well as direct between Antalya and Bodrum.
Domestic fares can go as low as 39€ one-way, off-season, with advance purchase. These days, with flights consistently full, it's a good idea to plan ahead, particularly if you plan on traveling during one of the major bayrams, or religious holidays. Tickets can be purchased online, at one of the airline offices, or through an officially recognized travel agent.
Driving through Turkey is a great way to travel independently with the utmost of freedom. This is even more the case now that the road conditions have improved dramatically in recent years. Turkey has been pouring investment into road infrastructure, including the establishment of the multilane toll roads around Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir and the widening of major provincial thoroughfares. In fact, except for the road signs (which on the toll collection booths are now also in English), you'll almost think you were driving in Europe. Likewise, petrol stations are ubiquitous along highways, usually offering rest facilities, snacks, drinks, and of course tea, while along more humble back roads, you can find wildly typical mom-and-pop roadside stands willing to whip up some gözleme (salty crepe filled with your choice of cheese, potato, or spinach) and ayran.
But getting to a destination is different than being there. Cities are increasingly implementing one-way traffic systems, and the traffic police are becoming unmistakably enthusiastic over performing their jobs. The shortage of parking makes these one-way roads even more of a challenge; think about arriving, overshooting your destination, and getting ushered all the way back out to the main road into town.
Avis (tel. 800/331-1212, 800/879-2847 in Canada; www.avis.com) has locations in all major cities, at most airports, and at select hotels and resorts. National Car Rental (tel. 877/222-9058; www.nationalcar.com) has outlets pretty much everywhere, too, with rates comparable to those of Avis. Other options are Budget (tel. 800/527-0700, or 800/268-8900 in Canada; www.budget.com), with limited outlets in Turkey; Hertz (tel. 800/654-3001 in the U.S.); and the German-based Sixt (international pay-for-service hotline tel. 49-180/523-2222, or tel. 0232/444-0076 in Turkey; www.sixt.com), with 20 locations throughout Turkey.
A Note on Distances -- The concept of precision is a foreign one in Turkey. "Not far" is a relative term and "just over there" indicates a point in the distance as the crow flies. Similarly, when comparing the travel literature on distances between towns, you'll notice a glaring absence of consistency. Please note that although all distances in this guide have been confirmed using official maps and brochures, you might be looking at a different source than the one I got the mileage from.
In the years leading up to World War I, Turkey's railroads developed thanks to the "generosity" of German and British government-supported ventures sucking up to an as-yet neutral potential ally. These entrepreneurs recognized the value of old stone, making not-so-convenient detours in the track-laying to valuable archaeological sites. The result was a uselessly meandering system highly efficient at carting away priceless archaeological finds, enriching both foreign museums and the pockets of these "part-time engineers." The Pergamum Altar is now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin; King Priam's treasures were whisked out of Troy, passing through Berlin's Hermitage Museum and on to Moscow's Pushkin Museum, while many treasures from the Temple of Artemis are now housed in the British Museum. Recognizing this infrastructural Achilles Heel, the Turkish authorities have instituted major railway upgrades. Keep your eyes peeled for the completion of the high-speed line between Ankara and Istanbul, between Ankara and Konya, and the Marmaray, billed as the "backbone of Istanbul's transportation system." For information on timetables and fares, log on to www.tcdd.gov.tr.
Traveling by bus is the primary mode of ground transportation in Turkey, for both long hauls and short hops. There are several categories of bus travel: municipal buses, the local dolmus, long-distance buses, and short-distance minibuses.
In big cities, such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Antalya, municipal buses provide a cheap way to get around, if you can actually figure out how. Destinations are posted on the windshield, a handy reference for veterans of a city, but virtually useless for any newcomer. That's why it's always a good idea to ask the driver if he's going your way before getting on. Getting on in the middle of a bus route can also be confusing, but there's always the ubiquitous good Samaritan there to steer you in the right direction.
Another popular and economic way of getting around locally is the dolmus, essentially a minivan with passenger seats. The best description of these little group taxis is in the translation: dolmus in English means "stuffed." The dolmus follows a set route, stopping and starting to pick up passengers until no one else will fit in it. The main stops are posted on the windshield, and you pay according to the distance that you go, anywhere from 1.50TL on up to 8TL for longer trips. This system works well in and around small towns; drivers will politely honk as they drive to see if you want to get on, and routes are direct to the places you want to go. Dolmuses do run on Sunday, so don't let those crafty taxi drivers convince you otherwise.
In major metropolitan areas such as Istanbul, the process is a bit more complicated, even for the locals. The best way to avoid an inner-city trip to nowhere is to board at one of the dolmus stands marked by a blue "D" and take it to the final destination (preferably the same destination as yours). Fares are usually posted and rarely exceed 3.50TL per ride. It's also acceptable to pay the driver just before you get off, so you can enjoy a bit of spontaneity as well. Dolmuses stop running in the early evening, so in the outlying areas, make sure you've got a way back to the hotel.
Long-distance buses are an integral part of the Turkish culture because they're cheap (or at least they used to be) and comfortable, and because service is near-comprehensive. The major bus companies in Turkey (Note: Phone numbers beginning with 444 are national toll-free numbers and can be dialed from anywhere in Turkey) are Ulusoy (tel. 444-1888; www.ulusoy.com.tr), Varan (tel. 444-8999; www.varanturizm.com), Kamil Koç (tel. 444-0KOC ; www.kamilkoc.com.tr), Uludag (tel. 444-2222; www.uludagturizm.com.tr), Metro (tel. 444-3455; www.metroturizm.com.tr), and Pamukkale (tel. 444-3535; www.pamukkale.com.tr), with the first two costing nearly double the other companies.
All have counters at the local bus station (otogar) as well as offices conveniently located around town. The better bus companies offer free shuttle service between the ticket office and your bus at the otogar.
If you're on a more relaxed timetable, it's just as easy to show up at the otogar; with competition stiff for your business, the bus companies that provide service to your destination will most certainly find you. Take your time and don't be bullied into buying a ticket from the first guy who hooks you in, because his bus may not be the first one to leave for your destination.
If you're like me, you believe it should take approximately 3 hours to cover 322km (200 miles). Gauge at least 40% more time on the bus than what you figure it would take you to get there by car.
Water and soft drinks are served on the bus; if you're lucky, you'll get a little kid-size breakfast cake to tide you over until the next feeding. A sprinkle of cologne is part of the Turkish culture, but better the brand that smells of baby oil and talcum powder than the one with the potent fragrance of Lemon Pledge. Rest stops are made at erratic intervals, but there's usually enough time at one of the pickup and drop-off points for a quick dash to the Turkish toilet. (Let the man onboard know you'll be right back!)
Except on rare occasions, unacquainted men and women do not sit together on the bus. My grievance with this tradition is more practical than unprogressive: Old Turkish ladies tend to be hefty and spill out onto the adjacent seat, while it is common practice for a Turkish mother to save the cost of a bus fare by seating her 6-year-old son on her lap for the 6-hour trip.