It’s 8:30 pm and bus drivers, driver’s mates, crew, desk staff, travellers and those who have come to wave off the travellers are milling around the various buses, lined up in Fethiye otogar. Most buses to Istanbul set off at 9 pm so tickets are being checked, bags are being loaded, cigarettes are being smoked.
At 8:50, the engines start and we climb onto the bus to find our seat. This is the exciting part – tomorrow morning, we’ll wake up in a new city. Hugs for those who are leaving family and friends behind and everyone begins to board.
These days, the intercity buses have wireless internet and tv/radio. It’s the same every time – people find their seat, put on the headphones and start to flick through the channels. In 20 minutes time, the novelty wears off, boredom sets in and the monitors are turned off.
9 pm on the dot and the bus pulls out of the otogar. We head towards the D400, take a right towards Antalya and the tea boy makes his way along the bus to check tickets again. “Alibeyköy,” he says to us and moves on. We know the drill by now. Alibeyköy is where we’ll get off the bus in Istanbul.
He makes his way back along the bus, this time with his snack trolley. Fruit juice, fizzy drinks, hot drinks – all included in the price of the journey – are on offer. We opt for the Nescafe and once again wince as we take a sip. It’s a 3-in-1 sachet; coffee, powdered milk and a ridiculous amount of sugar for such a small cup. It’s part of the journey, though. We forget about this every time. It’s dark outside. Nothing much to see as the bus climbs through the mountains. We recline our chairs and begin the process of bus-sleep.
2:20 am. We’ve had fitful sleep. Head against the window, head against the chair, leaning on each other, improvising by using my fleece jacket as a pillow (it works), shuffling and repositioning and then the bus sweeps into the service area for our first stop of the journey. Bright, fluorescent lighting stings our sleepy eyes and we take a minute to adjust before getting off to stretch our legs. We’ve got 30 minutes here.
Welcome to Afyon. The 9pm Fethiye to Istanbul Pamukkale bus stops here every time. At 2:20 am, it’s a dream-like, surreal world of gift shops, gözleme stands producing the frothiest ayran we’ve ever seen, lokantas churning out hot meals, queues for the WC…and it’s also a world of sucuk.
There’s always a sense of guilt with Afyon. We’ve lost count of the amount of times we’ve been here – but it’s always been a silly hour of the morning, en route to elsewhere in Turkey. What do we know about Afyon? Not a lot. It’s cold, icy cold in winter, and it must be famous for sucuk. Everywhere in this service area, sucuk is for sale and people queue to buy it. Oh how we want to try that sucuk döner. We promise ourselves we’ll try it every time we pass through Afyon – but, every time, it’s the middle of the night, we’re half asleep and we have no appetite at all. A can of Ice Tea is all we can face, right now.
We board the bus once more and drift off to sleep to the sound of gentle snoring. At around 4am, we pull into a service area in Kütahya. We don’t get off here. Apart from the smokers, most people prefer to remain on the bus to get more sleep. Sleepy heads loll from side to side as the bus heads northwards and the next time we open our eyes…
…it’s 6:30am and it’s a bright, sunny, new morning as we cruise towards Izmit. As more of the passengers wake up, the tea boy once more inches along the bus with his trolley. Tea, coffee and breakfast buns are handed out and, despite still feeling sleepy, it’s daylight and there’s Northwest Turkish scenery to be taken in. We’re getting close to Istanbul and within a couple of hours, the clues are all too obvious.
Early-morning Istanbul rush hour traffic. A jolt to the system when we’re so used to the relative calm of Fethiye but for us, we’re not in the daily gridlock, trying to get to the office. We’re here to once again soak up all that is Istanbul. We’re happy. We’re never sure how much further we have to go until we see the bridge in the distance.
Early morning on the Bosphorus Strait as we cross the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. Forget the traffic. We’re back in Istanbul!
It’s 9:30am. At Alibeyköy, we and remaining passengers alight the bus, pick up our bags and wander along the line of complimentary service buses. These guys are heading to various districts in the city. We look for a sign that says Taksim, find our bus, throw our bags on and head off to enjoy Istanbul.
Have you used the intercity buses in Turkey? We love them but some people don’t. What was your experience? Would you much rather fly to Istanbul?