Travelling in Turkey
The easiest and most convenient method of getting around in Turkey is to hire a car. Prices are not too expensive, though the best deals are arranged from outside Turkey. If you try to hire your car after you arrive the price will be higher and the class of car you want may not be available. (This latter point applies to most countries: if you turn up at the airport and ask for the cheapest car you will be told that none are available and you will have to take a car two or three grades more expensive. If you order the cheapest car in advance, however, it will still not be available but you will be informed that you are being "upgraded" free of charge, which can't be a bad thing!)
The disadvantage to driving your own car is Turkish drivers. Traffic rules have not exactly taken a firm hold on Turkish consciousness and minor considerations such as red lights, give way signs and turning onto major roads in front of cars approaching at high speed, are viewed as challenges rather than obstacles to progress. It can be quite a shock to the system when the driver in front of you on the motorway suddenly jams on his brakes and swerves over to the hard shoulder to buy fruit from a roadside vendor!
Being overtaken, in particular, is an affront to a Turk's manhood. If you can approach at high speed and immediately pass the car in front, all will be well; the driver is unlikely to have noticed you until it is too late to take avoiding action. If, however, you are prevented from overtaking by oncoming traffic or blind corners, you will give the driver in front time to become aware of your presence. He will instantly accelerate frantically and move out into the middle of the road in a desperate attempt to preserve his honour. When, despite his best endeavours, you do manage to pass him, he will throw up his hands in despair at this manifestation of Allah's displeasure and resume his former snail's pace.
An additional hazard faced by the motorist is the Turkish police, who have recently been equipped with radar guns and are using them with enthusiasm. A policeman equipped with the gun will hide behind a tree or lie down in an unmarked car parked by the roadside. He radios the numbers of offenders to a roadblock a mile or so further on, where you are pulled over and have to pay the on-the-spot fine of 20-30 million lire. The speed limit on the open road is 90kph.
The distances involved mean that it does not make sense to drive between Istanbul and Ankara - particularly at 90kph! If you wish to visit the Hittite capital and Cappadocia, it is best to fly to Ankara and hire a car there. However it is worthwhile driving from Istanbul to the Seven Churches. On the outward journey cross the Bosphorus and head for Izmit. Turn south there and take the road to Iznik. The coastal plain there is the area where the crusaders led by Peter the Hermit were attacked and massacred by the Turks. Iznik is the ancient Nicea, and the church in which the Council of Nicea took place (which decided on the Nicene Creed) is still standing, together with the complete circuit of the city walls.
On the way back travel up the coast past Edremit and look out for signs to Assos. From there you can drive along poor roads to Alexandria Troas, thus following in reverse the route that St Paul walked after raising Eutychus to life. A little bit further is Troy, after which you can take the ferry over the Dardanelles at Canakkale and visit the battlefields of the ANZAC expedition before returning to Istanbul.
The distance from Istanbul to the first of the seven churches, combined with the moderate state of Turkish roads, is such that you should allow at least a day for the journey each way. Although petrol is relatively cheap, the strain of driving for eight hours, together with the cost of the fuel, means that you may prefer to travel to Izmir by public transport and hire your car there, omitting Troy and Nicea. If you have not booked your car in advance and are planning on looking for the cheapest deal - perhaps using local car hire firms rather than international ones such as Avis and Hertz - Izmir is supposed to be marginally cheaper than Istanbul.
To do the seven churches thoroughly you should allow four days. Your itinerary will be as follows:
Day 1 Ephesus
Day 2 Smyrna and Pergamon
Day 3 Thyatira and Sardis
Day 4 Philadelphia and Laodicea
If you hire your car in Izmir you will not need a car during the day in Ephesus, so start the hire on day 2 with Smyrna - you can catch a bus or take a taxi from Izmir to Ephesus; if you hire in Istanbul, however, you will need the car for two extra days - the travelling time - and you will probably start with Thyatira and end with Pergamon.
It is also possible - and a good deal cheaper - to do the tour by public transport. This will involve a lot of walking and a certain amount of waiting around for buses. (Trains only go to six of the seven churches.) Local buses can be crowded and will certainly not be air-conditioned, a point worth considering if your journey is in summer.
The disadvantages are numerous. If you should be so unfortunate as to fall ill Turkish bus drivers, with a time-table to keep, are not always willing to make unscheduled "rest" stops nor is an audience of interested passengers the ideal accompaniment to intense diorrhea. Turks have not yet learned that smoking is anti-social as well as unhealthy and by the end of your journey you will probably resemble nothing so much as a kipper.
The cost of car hire can be considerably reduced by sharing the car with one or more friends. A second driver can be useful in case you fall ill, a double room is always cheaper per person than a single and a companion can be most useful in crowded tourist places like Ephesus and Pamukkale where importunate beggars and shifty-eyed touts can be a problem.
Accomodation is a personal taste. Five star hotels are few and far between in the backwoods of Asia Minor and the price is likely to be high. Lowest class hotels, while cheap, tend to include extras such as bedbugs and fleas without additional charge. Some hotels allow you to sleep in the grounds or on the roof for a lower cost but this gives you the disadvantages of camping without the security of a hotel room. If you look around, however, you can find quite acceptable accommodation for very reasonable prices (in 2001 I averaged $US10.00 per person per night).
Camping is a new idea to Turkey and sites are even fewer and farther between. When found they invariably consist of a patch of grass at the back of a restaurant or coffee shop where cheerful diners will enjoy refreshments and entertainment until midnight or later. Fortunately Muslims as a rule do not drink alcohol, so proceedings are unlikely to become rowdy but Turkish music is not always euphonious to the Western ear and there are those who find it impossible to sleep in any condition except total quiet.
Food and water are inconvenient necessities. The basic rule is simple: if it is piping hot or can be washed and peeled, it is safe. If not, go hungry.
Wayside sellers in all the towns and villages offer rings of bread coated with sesme seeds, which are delicious. The baker brings these round between 6.00 and 7.00, so buy a day's supply first thing in the morning before the flies and dust have had a chance to settle. Eaten with tomatoes and cucumbers (washed and peeled) they make a filling and nutritious meal. Remember to carry your own salt, however. Not only are saltless tomatoes and cucumbers insipid, but you do need salt to replace your perspiration in the unaccustomed heat of the Mediterranean climate.
Water is more important than food and, fortunately, it is easier to obtain. Tap water in most of the cities is quite safe, but the scrupulous can obtain bottled water in these places. I suspect that it is the same as the tap water, but if it makes you happier, by all means pay for the stuff. In addition you will find wayside taps and springs, usually indicated by a blue roadside sign showing a tap. Some of these are labelled as "Drinking water" and are probably as safe as anything you will find in the country, even if the taste is not always quite what you are accustomed to.
Most Turks are as honest as people in Britain but exceptions are not unknown, particularly in the tourist sites such as Ephesus and Izmir. Your passport and travellers' cheques should be carried in a small bag around your neck and under your shirt, and other possessions should be carefully guarded. It is easier to take a little trouble over security than go to a lot of trouble reporting losses to the police or cutting short your trip because your camera and clothes have been stolen.
Ektachrome and other popular films are readily available, though the price is liable to take your breath away. Kodachrome cannot be bought for love nor money. Take all the film you think you will need with you, and four 36-exposure films per day is not at all unreasonable. Five or six will allow you to take shots of the local colour as well as the archaeological sites.
Of course, in this digital age talk of film is redundant, but make sure you take some means of downloading from your camera. I have seen people almost weeping with frustration because their memory card was full and they had to leave the scene of a lifetime unphotographed.
Finally, Turks are friendly, courteous and helpful, though few in the backwoods speak English. Approach them in the same spirit and your trip will be enjoyable and pleasant.