Full Tour Conclusion
It’s time to sum up and give a score for Section 1 of this Turkish tour. The principal yardstick for success is always the achievement of objectives but I also consider the manner in which the objectives were achieved without a tour guide which it was suggested we needed. A combination of an excellent historical map and guide book, GPS navigation and most helpful onsite information enabled us to piece together quite dramatically the events that unfolded in the different landing zones during the Gallipoii Campaign. The four days on tour were adequate. While I’m sure there were some stones left unturned, these could have been turned up within the timescale bearing in mind that this expedition was the first one here. On the fifth day we visited the Troy Archaeological Site and Museum, a real bonus and amazing insight into the pre-history of Anatolia.
These five days were incredible but made up only half of the time on Section 1 of this tour. Unfortunately, while there were two more days of travelling to and from Istanbul, the remaining time was uneventful, probably wasteful, and positively frustrating. If the remaining days were bereft of interesting things to do then surely we should have been able to relax or ‘chill out’ as Dave put it. As mentioned in my blog there were issues that caused inconvenience to put it mildly. Some of these issues could have been avoided with hindsight but others were the result of Turkish culture itself. Smoking for example is uncontrolled and a major irritation. Licencing laws are another but at the end of the day I just felt there was not enough value for money, that you needed to check prices carefully in order to avoid going over budget. In saying that, of course, I am somewhat biased. Turkey is the only country now outside Southeast Asia that I have covered for inclusion on my website. The cost of travel in Turkey is not as high as the UK but only Singapore in the countries I visited in the last ten years can compare, noting I only spent 2 nights there. Of the others. Malaysia is very competitive and at least you can get a decent drink there. Of the rest, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, the cost of living is half at least compared with Turkey. OK it’s obvious that with over 3 weeks to spend in Turkey I would have to compromise somehow and I just know that this limited me in the selection of sites I could visit.
To sum up then, I arrive at an overall score of 7/10, obviously dragged down during the time spent in Istanbul. As this conclusion covers only section 1 of this tour then I must delay deciding on the question of whether a return visit to Turkey could happen. At this stage the jury is out, although I’m certain I could make improvements with the benefit of my experiences. On to Section 2.
As I have written a conclusion for both sections of this tour, I can now generalise about my overall experience in Turkey. While the decision to hire a car during Section 1 of the tour was correct, I didn’t see that necessary in Section 2 due to the distances involved. However, Turkish roads outside the main cities are excellent and traffic light. All major towns have bypasses. I therefore regret that we did not hire a car for at least some parts of Section 2. There would have been some important advantages; more options for visiting attractions, more flexibility with accommodation and better options in selection of where to eat. It would have surely lead to a more enjoyable experience too.
At the time I found it hard to reconcile some of the difficulties to the extent that I felt another visit to Turkey unlikely. Since then I have reconsidered and feel a resort holiday coupled with historical site visits would work. I could overcome some of the inconveniences of the recent tour. Most importantly, I would have to be independant and that would mean hiring a car and self catering. We shall see.
As mentioned earlier, I was not able to plaster my coverage of this first visit to Turkey with masses of site reviews in the way I would prefer except for the Gallipoli tour. For the remainder of the time I only managed to cover a few select locations for visit and study. However, I can generalise about the tour in a way that will be useful to those who like me, plan to visit Turkey for the first time. So here are my findings:
The general transport infrastructure in Turkey is very good and the cost for travellers much cheaper than in the UK.
Internal flights are affordable and convenient in Turkey. A return ticket from Istanbul to Dalaman or example is £124. However, overland routes are still the most popular and you would not have to pay more than £20 for a full day’s travel by coach. These are modern, spacious and comfortable and offers the advantage of just turn up and go. Trains are also inexpensive. That even applies the the high speed train Istanbul to Ankara: The fare set at 110 Turkish lira.
Within the larger cities the yellow taxis are metred and a typical journey would cost just £3 for shorter journeys. Public transport a really cheap. In Istanbul you need to buy an Istanbul Card for use on the trains, the metro, busses and trams. Most journeys are 2-3 lira. This card costs 6 lira and can be topped up at any ticket machine. The card can also be used for the coaches to and from the airport at the cost of 18 lira.
Car hire in Turkey is available at competitive rates for as little as £100/week. Fuel is less than £1/litre.
Accommodation varies widely from hostels to 5 star hotels starting from around £20/night but you should consider very carefully where you plan to stay. In the old quarter of Istanbul around Sultanamet for example you may find yourself hauling your luggage some distance as I did, through the narrow cobbled streets. For a first time traveller I would recommend the area around Taksim Square as more convenient. My only other comment is the fact that in general the descriptions and reviews offered on some booking sites leave a lot to be desired. For this combined tour, the accommodation used ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. I appreciate that convenience and peace of mind is key to advance booking of accommodation without which, I would prefer just to turn up and check first. There are so many options to do just that.
I don’t plan to say too much about Turkish food as for me it is not one of the experiences I crave for. Again there is a wide range of choice and expect shish and doner kebabs as standard. A simple wrap or roll would be less that 10 lira while in restaurants expect to pay 20 lira up. Lamb, beef and chicken are common but not pork of course. Fish is a good option especially near the coast. Sea bass or sea bream is available everywhere for about 40 lira. With any meal expect free bread which is ridiculously cheap. The variety of flatbreads, pizzas, baguettes, naans, rotees etc. will astound you. For international food, e.g. McDonalds, expect these only in larger towns.
While water and soft drinks are relatively cheap, alcohol is certainly not. Even one beer can be as much as the meal itself typically 25 lira. Licencing laws are very strict. Drinking in restaurants is tolerated only due to heavy taxes levied. Pubs are few and far between but where they exist, they can be cheaper than eating in restaurants. Off licences sell beer for 10 lira or less. The normal Effes beer is around 12 lira. Cheaper quality wine is 20-25 lira.
My conclusion is that if you are able to find accommodation for self-catering you will save shed loads of money.
If you plan to visit Turkey, don’t go out and buy your footwear or clothing first. Almost everything you need is much cheaper in Turkey. Do visit the bazaars. In Istanbul you have to visit the Grand and Spice Bazaars. These will not only meet your personal needs but allow shopping for souvenirs too. Be prepared to haggle although many traders are using fixed prices in the bazaars now.
Shopping tips: Turkish carpet and rugs, Turkish delight, Turkish tea and glasses, nargile pipes, the blue evil eye of Turkey, gold, Turkish mosaic lamps, ceramic souvenirs, copper, Turkish spices, Turkish coffee, souvenir onyx ideas, leather, lemon cologne.
Some issues you may not find pleasant include smoking in public. I understand that 85% of Turkish people don’t drink but instead they sit around smoking in cafes. On more than one occasion we had to change tables in a restaurant when someone sat at the next table and lit up a cigarette. Following on from that, it’s sad to see so many cigarette buts ending up littering the cobled streets.
Finally, although I was slow to accept the fact, it was clear that the Turkish public are generally friendly and helpful. Nothing seems too much trouble for them. Many have some English to aid communication.