Thursday, June 06, 2013

Turkey Day 1: Traveling There

Turkey in 10 Days
1. General Remarks
2. What to Bring

3. Day 1: Traveling There
We flew from Chicago to Istanbul. Like I said, we traveled lightly.  None of us had checked baggage, although you are allowed one free checked bag on an international flight.  We used Turkish airlines, which was wonderful. They give you a travel kit for the flight that even includes a throw away toothbrush and toothpaste.

Transcontinental flights are a challenge. Window seats can be very uncomfortable, especially if you are tall. You should get up every once and a while. A person can get thrombosis from sitting too long in one place, especially as you get older.

You want to get at least a couple hours of sleep or else you'll likely be toasted longer from jet lag. I change my watch as soon as we're on the plane and turning our cell phones off. There are more movies to watch than ever and some people just can't sleep on planes (e.g., Dave Ward). Most of those who can get three or four hours on this long 11-12 hour flight will do better. When I used to fly to England regularly it was death to get started on movies because then I couldn't stop myself.  On the return flight I watched three whole movies but still managed to slip in a couple hours of sleep.

We left for the Chicago airport from Marion at about 2pm on a Wednesday.  Ross Hoffman had found a service that would keep your car and drive you to the terminal.  It cost about 80 dollars I think for the 10 days of parking. Wilbur Williams used to make an arrangement with a Wesleyan Church in the area to park the IWU vans there while the group was in Israel or Greece.

Our plane left around 10:15pm and arrived around 5:00pm. There's an 8 hour time difference from Chicago, 7 hour difference from Indiana. We bought the tickets several months in advance and it was about $1300. I have seen deals around 700.

As always, customs is the first stop, after the restroom of course. As I said, you have to buy a visa, but a handy 20 dollar bill makes short order of this on the ground.  Then you go through customs and it may be the first time you find yourself in the "other nationalities" category. You're here for pleasure.

I personally would try not to look like military. There is a US military base in Turkey and I did have someone salute me once. I only shaved once when I was in Turkey.

Money is next.  Hopefully, you have a bank that will let you withdraw money in Turkey and at least one credit card that works.  ATMs may charge a fee for international withdrawal but you get the straight market exchange (around 1.8). Beware that your bank may only allow you to take out so much per day, so I would come with some cash in hand also.  Twenties are a nice denomination.

Two things to watch on exchange. There is of course the exchange rate. But watch for a commission. This is a fee just for exchanging. So you can have a good exchange rate and pay a higher commission. Airports in general aren't the best place to exchange money. If you're going to have to pay a high commission, you may as well exchange a larger amount of money.

You might have one of those "under your clothes" pouches that hang around your neck. Don't keep a bulky wallet in your back pocket, unless you can button it tight.  Beware of tight spaces, especially if you ride public transport to high tourist sites.  I often keep my hands in my pocket on my wallet in such cases. Of course we had no trouble whatsoever along these lines in Turkey.

I always keep a much emptied wallet in my front pocket when I'm traveling overseas with a smaller amount of money, then keep a larger amount under my clothes in a hanging travel pouch. I'm always paranoid about luggage even in hotel rooms.  Your passport is especially something whose location you will want to keep good track of.

If you can't get money out of an ATM, you'll want to exchange a little cash at the airport. The best places in Turkey we found to exchange were the post offices (PTT signs in yellow). Many banks there won't exchange money, even in big cities.  I would have at least $1000 available to you, although it can clearly be done on less.

We rented our car from Thrifty for a little over a $650 for ten days (1200 lira), including taxes, insurance, an extra driver, and the Garman (thanks Ross for the details).  Given the extensive driving we did it was good to have two drivers. The Garman GPS we rented was like 10 lira a day.  It was very frustrating when it came to finding hotels and when the road infrastructure had changed things (there is massive road construction going on right now all over Turkey, maybe in preparation for the 2020 Olympics or maybe in hopes of joining the EU). On the other hand, it was helpful with entering the longitude and latitude of undeveloped sites.

An iPad with downloaded maps might be the best.  Or perhaps buy a new Garman in the States and download maps before you go.  A good old paper map is also a good back up, if you can read those sorts of things. :-)

When I say a 10 day trip, I'm not including this travel day. We arrived after 5pm their time and it was no doubt well after 6 before we left the Istanbul airport. We headed a couple hours west down the peninsula to Corlu the first night. Although this direction may seem counter-intuitive, I think it was a good decision.

First, the airport is on the southwest side of Istanbul, so going this direction saves you the traffic and confusion of the city. Also, travel on the east side of Istanbul is considerably more congested in general. Don't expect the interstates in Turkey always to be as good as the interstates in the US. The solid yellow roads are often quite adequate, although it varies.

I would recommend the D-100 out of Istanbul to Corlu, a yellow road.  Don't expect the signs to tell you the numbers of the roads clearly. It's better to steer by the stars of cities in the direction you are going.  In other words, if you don't have a GPS device, you follow the signs that say Corlu or some big city beyond Corlu rather than by the number of the road.

We had prearranged a hotel in Corlu, but our language skills were so deficient it was very hard to find one. If you are a small adventuresome group, better just to ask people on the street for "otel nereda" (hotel, where?) than to try to negotiate unfamiliar streets. If you are taking a larger group, be sure to use Google maps to figure out how to get to your hotels before you go.

One of our favorite memories of the trip was Ross trying to ask for our hotel but only getting out "nereda" to passers-by.  In other words, he was saying to strangers, "Where? Where?" out of the blue.

Finding hotels was a constant tension on the trip.  If you're a "P" personality, you don't really mind winging it.  If you're a "J," you'll want to have hotels planned.  But planning means you're locked into a schedule and probably will end up paying more.

If you have trouble with smoky rooms, brace yourself.  This was a never ending struggle to try to find hotel rooms without a smoky smell. We stayed at a place called the Kayra hotel and paid 240 lira for two rooms. Because we had booked it from the states, that was one of the more expensive hotels we stayed in and a smoky room was an issue.  Breakfast comes with the room, as did Wi-fi.

In the end, taxi drivers and other hotel owners helped us find it after dark. It was quite a challenge to find--we should have figured out directions on Google maps before we went. We got there after dark but didn't feel in danger at all.  The Istanbul area and the west in general felt safe.

Best to get on their schedule as quickly as possible. Dave Ward didn't even want to hear talk of what time it was in the US.  We were now on Turkish time.


Anonymous said...

The car rental was actually about $650 US dollars for the 10 days. That included all of the taxes, the garmin, an extra driver, and insurance coverage for the vehicle. (It came to about 1200 turkish lira). The gas was an equally big expense. I'm sure Ken will talk about that in future posts.

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks Ross... I've updated it!

Keith Drury said...

very helpful description.... one item I thought of... the money exchange sometimes has a "commission" which is a percentage AND a "fee" ...such as at the airport, while the Post Office folds their "profit" into the RATE of exchange... like usual the airport was the worst place to exchange but usually you have to exchange some money before you leave the airport so even exchanging $100 meant not only the commission but also the flat fee.

Maybe also to remember in Turkey the custom is to give you a car with an empty gas tank meaning you have to buy gas pretty fast after leaving the airport...though virtually all gas stations took a credit card (but one time I visited Turkey was having a battle with MasterCard and none worked in the whole country--hence the wisdom of taking backup)

great advice here!

Amelia said...

This is cool!