Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Driving in Turkey

The Lonely Planet describe driving in Turkey like this:

“Driving around Turkey gives you unparalleled freedom to enjoy the marvellous countryside and coastline ... Road surfaces and signage are generally good on the main roads at least ...”

Doesn't sound too bad, eh? But then:

“The bad news is that Turkey has one of the world's highest motor-vehicle accident rates. Turkish drivers are not particularly discourteous, but they are impatient and incautious. They like to drive at high speed and have an irrepressible urge to overtake. To survive on Turkey's highways, drive cautiously and very defensively, and never let emotions affect what you do. Avoid driving at night, when you won't be able to see potholes, animals or even vehicles driving with their lights off.”

So, we entered Turkey super excited but prepared for the worst. A visa was purchased, we got a few more stamps in our passports, even Fred had to be registered – and finally we were on our way.

We chose to avoid the toll road, aiming for a smaller city to the west of Istanbul to spend the night. And despite this road being mostly single carriageway, and having the odd soft edge or pothole, we successfully navigated through Edirne and onwards – and found that none of the evils of driving in Turkey seemed to apply. Drivers were not that fast or incautious, seemed to know how to use an indicator and even pulled over if they were going slow up a hill for us to overtake. Perhaps the writers should go to Italy sometime - or was it too early to feel confident?

We arrived in the harbour city of Tekirdag, in time for their speciality, spicy kofte, for dinner (yum!) before finding a roadside stop to get some sleep. We needed all our faculties to deal with the morning's challenge – driving into Istanbul.

The Lonely Planet says: “Driving in Istanbul is a nightmare.” We can verify that this statement is 100% completely true. Particularly at peak hour in the morning (when we arrived) and in the afternoon (a few days later when we left). We had planned to park Fred at the long term parking at the airport in order to avoid all this, but their parking is only for vehicles up to 2m high – Fred is 2.05metres. So we got sucked closer and closer to the centre, desperately trying to find somewhere to park before Fred was hit (or hit something) – or Jen, behind the wheel, had a meltdown.

This should also be about the time to let you know that we didn't have a road map. Or a TomTom. We just had the small black-and-white tourist diagram from the Lonely Planet; we could read all about the horrors of driving, and the difficulty in finding parking, but other than that, we relied mainly on roadsigns. Oh, and we didn't speak a word of Turkish – we now at least know “otopark” (car park)!

Writing this far away from Istanbul, we can confirm that our initial impressions of Turkish roads and drivers were correct – not our impressions from driving in Istanbul. We haven't seen any reckless driving and have enjoyed roads of good quality, as well as endless cups of free cay when we fill up with diesel. Can't wait to see more of this country!

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