Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday, May 31, 2015 - No comments

Roadside Türkiye: Top Ten Reasons to Drive Instead of Fly

The first couple times I visited Turkey, long-distance buses were pretty much the only way we got around.  Only the biggest cities had airports, and airfare was spendy.  We never really knew where we were going next until the day before we left, so being able to buy last-minute tickets at the local bus station worked with our spontaneous travel style.  The seats weren’t always comfy, and eight hours sitting behind a chain-smoking driver was enough to make me want to hijack the bus.  But a full day of headphones and a book always helped this introvert like her travel companions more when we got where we were going.  It was fun to try to guess what was happening in the (badly dubbed) movies they’d show.  (I swear they use the same male and female voice for every character in every film...)  And I could always look forward to a Nescafe and a Pop Kek when the snack cart made the rounds...

By the time I moved here, more airports had sprung up and several budget airlines had appeared on the scene, making it usually more economical to fly than to take the bus.  Nowadays, pretty much the only time I choose land over air is when I’m leaving the country and my luggage weighs more than the kilos allotted for a domestic flight.  And while I love the convenience and time saved by flying, there’s something I miss about my bussing days...

The view outside the window.

I love soaring over puffy white clouds and miniature mountains as much as the next person, but there’s just no way you can know a country by looking at it from 30,000 feet.  You can’t read its billboards, see what’s growing in its fields, observe what its people are wearing, or discover what houses look like from one town to the next.  To really see a place, you...even if just from the have to be at eye-level.

While a bus window makes for a great way to see the countryside, obviously the combination of "view" and "freedom to stop when you want to" makes a car the ideal choice for a Turkish roadtrip.  And so, fuel prices aside (I don’t wanna hear any complaining from across the ocean - we’re currently paying $2.20 CDN a litre over here!), here are ten reasons you should drive instead of fly this summer.

Top Ten Roadside Reasons to Drive Instead of Fly

1.  Fantastic Statuary

No town square is complete without at least a bust of our nation's founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.  That's a given.  But the other statues gracing roadsides and roundabouts give the traveler insight into the "favourite sons" of a city as well as herald the goodies the town is famous for.  

A whirling dervish near the Mevlevi Lodge in Kütahya.

A glance at the past:  Nasrettin Hoca, the most famous Anatolian storyteller,
in his trademark pose near his hometown of Akhisar.  (If you happen to be passing through, Akhisar hosts its Nasrettin Hoca Festival from July 5-10 every summer.  Pull up a cushion and settle in for a tale or two...)
"The famous Trabzon bread that never rots."
(It's also dense as a brick - you definitely don't
want that thing falling on your head!)

The "Rose Intersection" in Isparta, renowned for its fragrant blooms
and rose-scented creams, soaps and Turkish delight.

Swing through Amasya in early fall and stock
up on its crisp, juicy apples.

If you're in the market for a new garden gnome, Turkey's got you covered.

A friendly wave to send you on your way....

2.  Colourful Companions

Half the run of a road trip is checking out the people in the lane beside you.

A twenty foot high stack of soccer balls certainly breaks up the monotony
of an endless highway.  (And if the netting happened to burst, now THAT
would be something to write home about!)

"Don't come to the taxi stand,
we'll bring the stand to you!"

Make way for tractors and teyzes in tow.

Goat and sheep-induced traffic jams are a
  common occurrence on Anatolian roads.

Here's someone you really DON'T want to have to
share the road with.  Get stuck at a red light with a musical
Election-Mobile and you'll have a headache for hours.
June 7th can't come soon enough....

3.  History Lessons on the Fly

Find yourself driving through a place you've only ever read about in your kids' school books?  Turks are fiercely proud of their history and the countryside is thick with monuments and markers of famous battles and events.  Road trips are a great way to connect the dots and see history come to life.

Sign at Duatepe, just west of Ankara:  "You are on the soil where the
Republic was won."  During the War of Independence, the Greek army
advanced almost as far as the capital before being driven back to the sea.
This legendary site, where the tides of the battle turned, is hallowed
ground in the Turkish heart.

"May 19th - Population 24,500."  An entire town named after
the day Atatürk landed at Samsun and launched the war
for the Anatolian heartland.

Get to know the Father of the Turks.
Atatürk's likeness and his immortal words adorn buildings,
monuments and overpasses from İstanbul to Antalya,
İzmir to Van.  This one reads, "Happy is he who calls himself a Turk."

4.  Impromptu Dance Parties

The Turks are a nation of dancers.  It's in their blood.  And when their feet feel the rhythm, they are not above pulling the car over and starting up a halay.  Could be that their football team just scored a goal.  Could be that they've just caught sight of their hometown after a long absence.  Or it could simply be that a good song came on the radio and the spirit moved them.  So, hop on out and join the chain!

A roadside halay in the province of Gümüşhane.

5.  Pit Stops That Beat a Bag of Peanuts By a Mile

Domestic airlines that serve actual food (unless you're willing to cash in your gold) are down to a precious few.  And even then, the standard fare is a cheese and tomato sandwich and a bit of eggplant salad and some olives if you're lucky.  But a car gives you the freedom to follow the LED signs to whatever you might be craving.  Pide (flatbread "pizza"), kebap and köfte (spiced meatballs) are available countrywide, but roadside restaurants are a fun way to sample local specialties without having to go all the way into town.

Kurufasulye (white beans in tomato sauce) is the ultimate in Turkish
comfort food.  They can be found at every rest stop, often being
devoured by truck drivers on their way back from delivering loads
in Europe and college kids counting the miles to Mom's home cooking...

"Tokat Kebabı" - grilled lamb and eggplant served with a side
of the province's famous tomatoes.  (In an episode of the popular
comedy, "Avrupa Yakası", Burhan is trying to figure out what to
offer Queen Elizabeth when she comes to Istanbul, and ends
up presenting "her majesties" with a plump tomato from his hometown
of Tokat because there's nothing more worthy of her in all the land...)

If you're passing through "Hazelnut Country" in Giresun
or Ordu, skip the BP station and grab a Coke from a jumbo
nut-shaped snack counter with a sea view!

That Turkish Airlines food cart definitely doesn't
serve Magnum Bars.  Just sayin'.
6.  Fruit of the Land

When driving a Turkish highway, an empty trunk won't stay empty for long.  There are too many yummy things to buy along the way!  Whether it's snacks for the road or a hostess gift you forgot to buy before leaving, the purchase of a few kilos of fruit will give you a taste of the local flavour as well as make some farmer's day.

Fresh honeydew and melons for sale near Ankara.
The best part?  They take Visa!
Organic honey, fresh from the bee's belly, and
much cheaper than the grocery store.

Antalya is the Florida of Turkey - citrus fruit galore!

7.  Language Lessons a la Billboard

A good language learner always keeps a dictionary in the car.  Getting out of your city and your familiar surroundings often means exposure to new words on signs and billboards and is a great way to build your vocabulary.  (And if you're feeling fiesty, challenge your roadtrip buddies to a friendly game of "How many words can I find that I know and you don't".  :)

"Teveccüh" = "courtesy, kindness, favour."  Who knew?

8.  Hot.  Fresh.  Now.

Forget Krispy Kreme.  Hot fresh roasted chickpeas are where it's at.  And they deserve a category all of their own.  While Çorum is most widely renowned as the Chickpea Capital of Turkey, entire main drags of many towns, like Serinhisar in Denizli, are lined with nothing but chickpea and nut sellers as far as the eye can see.  The signs on the shops selling them inevitably involve the words "world famous" or "so-and-so's Chickpea World" and each one offers a variety of flavours (plain, salted, honey-and-sesame, chocolate covered) as well as an assortment of nuts, dried fruit, and Turkish delight.  Pick some up for your Turkish friends to let them know you thought of them as you traveled - for whatever reason, those little balls of salted chalk have a direct line to their hearts.

"Leblebi Bazaar"

"Hot roasted chickpeas, 10 TL.  We do gift packs."

It seems that where you find chickpeas, you find clay pots,
though no one's really sure why.  It conjures up memories of the
"video and tanning" phenomenon that once infected the South...

9.  Road Trip Games

Let's face it:  cross-country drives can be long and tedious, especially if there are kids in the car.  Fortunately Turkey has no shortage of fun things to count.  (Motorcycles with more than three people on them, life-sized statues of cartoon characters and people driving the wrong direction come to mind....)  So, whether you prefer a scavenger hunt where everyone participates or a competition for who can spot the most of a certain object, make your list and start scanning the road!

The license plate game is always a favourite.  Print off a list of the
license plate codes for Turkey's 81 provinces and see who can
find them all.  (Warning, this could take up to three years.  Some would
swear that certain hard-to-spot provinces have no cars and only use
horse drawn carriages...)

Bonus points for foreign cars with Turkish bumper stickers.  (Germany
must be full of cars owned by homesick Turks sporting slogans like
"Every place is Trabzon to us.")

See how many mescits (mini-mosques or "prayer huts") you can count
in a day.  (Roads leading out of Konya are goldmines for this one!)

Some chiropractor somewhere is making a fortune on his ads telling
drivers to "Call this number if you have a herniated disc."  The highways
around Antalya have a high concentration of his graffiti - see who can find the most.

And then there's the ever popular "Count how many signatures and
likenesses of Atatürk you can find on the back of vehicles..."

10.  Freedom to Detour

Perhaps the best part of traveling by car is the freedom to stop and look at every random thing that tickles your fancy.  If you're not pressed for time, every exit sign is an invitation and every "Hey, what's that over there?" an opportunity to see a snatch of the country you would've otherwise never seen.

There just happens to be a Roman aqueduct on the side of the road?  
Go check it out!

Passing by that sign for St. Nicholas' birthplace for the umpteenth time?  
Maybe today's the day you should pop in and find out what the 
Santa Claus story is REALLY all about.

If you have to stop for lunch anyway, why not veer just slightly
off the 
beaten path and cool your toes in the Med before you 
make the last push towards home?

Keep your eyes open for those brown "Tourist Attraction" signs.
Samsun could be just another mile marker on the Black Sea coast road,
but a tour of the 
Bandırma - the boat from which Atatürk stepped ashore
and started Turkey's War of Independence - makes for a great stretch break.

One of the best parts of overland travel is getting to decide where you'll
spend the night.  A little pre-trip research can mean the difference between
sleeping in "whatever dumpy pansiyon you happen to find" and spending the
night in a restored Ottoman house in Amasya, the city where the sultans' sons were educated and where the Republic of Turkey's "birth certificate" was signed.

So, what are you waiting for?  Load up your HGS Card, fire up your GPS and hit the road!