Taking the Bus in Turkey, and Meeting Adi

22 September 2012 · 5 comments

For me, this trip to Turkey is different from past trips in many ways. The biggest difference is that I can’t communicate. On every past visit to a foreign country, I’ve been able to get by with a bit of the native language (and lots of English).

Yes, there’s some English here, especially in tourist areas. But the deeper we get into Turkey, the less that’s true. Late last night (actually early this morning), we flew into Kayseri, launching point to Göreme in Cappadocia. From the moment we landed, we’ve been going on sign language and trust. (Trust that the other person gets our meaning — and we get theirs.)

So far, it’s worked. We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel. We checked in. We slept, ate breakfast, checked out. We took a taxi to the bus station. And we just bought two kilos of cured meat while waiting for our 11am bus to Göreme.

Nick, shopping for cured meat at the bus station.
Nick, shopping for cured meat at the Kayseri bus station

That’s another big difference on this trip. Here in turkey, the otobüs (bus) is a Big Deal and an otogar (bus station) like this one in Kayseri is usually big and modern, like a U.S. airport. The otogarlar (bus stations) have restaurants, shops, banks, newsstands, and plenty of ways to get you to your destination. Cheap ways to get you to your destination.

For local, in-town transport, you don’t even have to got to the otogar. You can use a dolmuş, a sort of shared taxi. You find the van you want, pay the driver three lira (about $1.50US), and hop on. Once the dolmuş is full, it leaves for its destination.

For longer journeys, you have to purchase tickets on a coach. That’s a little more complicated, but not much — even if you don’t speak Turkish. When I need a ticket, I find the information booth at the otogar and give the name of my destination. The attendant always points me to a bus company that can get me there.

Then I walk up to that company’s ticket counter and repeat my destination. The clerk points to a clock to tell me when the next bus leaves, and is always able to show me the price in Turkish lira. And those prices!

Inside the Kayseri bus station.
Inside the Kayseri bus station.

If you’re traveling on a budget, taking the bus is certainly the way to go. You save big bucks over a taxi or an airplane. (To get from Kayseri to Göreme by taxi would have cost between 180 and 220 lira. By bus, Nick and I were able to get there for 20 lira total. That’s a savings of $100!)

The downside? Buses take time. Often, lots of time. The bus from Istanbul to Izmir took us nine hours, but we coud have flown it in one. (It probably would have taken four hours total counting transfers to and from the airport.)

Here’s a run-down of our bus expenses (in time and money) so far:

  • Istanbul to Izmir: 70 lira each, 7 hours
  • Izmir to Selçuk: 9 lira each, 1 hour
  • Selçuk to Pammukale: 25 lira each, 3.5 hours
  • Selçuk to Antalya: 40 lira each, 6 hours
  • Kayseri to Nevşehir: 10 lira each, 1.5 hours
  • Nevşehir to Göreme: 3 lira each, 20 minutes

There are other upsides to riding the bus:

  • Much more leg room than a plane
  • Free wi-fi on long trips
  • Occasional stops for toilets and food
  • Better air (often air conditioned)
  • Able to move freely about the cabin
  • Free snacks and drinks served by a steward on a rolling cart, just like plane

The bus isn’t for every traveler. Using the bus requires patience. Things go wrong. Buses leave late (or early) and get flat tires. You meet…interesting people, for good and ill.

Getting ready to board the bus to Goreme
Back on the bus, y’all! Getting ready to board the bus to Nevşehir. Yes, I am sunburned.

Nick notes that the bus system here in Turkey is much like the train system in Italy and other parts of Europe. Everything is connected, and it’s very easy to get where you want. (The difference, of course, is that trains are faster.)

“It’s relaxing and scenic,” Nick says. “It’s very different than the United States. When I rode the bus in the U.S. — and I’ll admit this was 25 years ago — it was for people who couldn’t afford to fly, and it was not fun.”

He and I both thought buses would be more difficult. But they’re not. In fact, while I’m flying back to Istanbul in a few days, Nick plans to take the bus just for fun.


This morning, Nick and I took the otobüs from Kayseri to Nevşehir. The trip was unremarkable because I slept most of the way. One thing of note: As we neared Nevşehir, I spent about ten minutes chatting in Spanish with a man from Bilbao, Spain.

When we reached Nevşehir, the bus made several stops. The driver made sure to let me and Nick know when we’d reached ours. “Göreme?” we asked him as we reclaimed our bags from beneath the coach. “Otogar?” He motioned us down a side street. We followed his directions.

We expected to find a dolmuş (or two), but instead found ourselves outside a supermarket. We stopped to ask for directions. A group of schoolboys was gathered nearby, goofing off. “Where from?” asked the smallest of the boys. He stepped to the front of the group. His friends laughed.

“The United States,” I said, but that only confused him.

“America,” Nick said. The boy smiled.

“Oh, America!” he said. His friends laughed. “Where you go now?” he asked.

“Göreme,” I said. “We need the otobüs.”

“Oh,” he said. “Bus station is near. Maybe 100 meters.” He indicated the direction, but then he thought better of it. “Accompany me,” he said, and he started walking. We accompanied him, and so did his three friends.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“My name? My name is Adi. What is your mame?”

“My name is John,” I said. “He is Nick.”

“Nick,” said Adi. “Nick.”

Adi’s three friends repeated after him: “Nick. Nick.” They laughed.

Note: As we walked and talked, Adi’s friends would repeat words in English and laugh. Adi ignored them. So did I. Nick, for his part, was listening to them, trying to pick up words and phrases in Turkish.

“You have Facebook page?” Adi asked me.

“Yes,” I said, a little surprised. “Of course.” We stopped so I could write down my Facebook address on a slip of paper. (I’ll be interested to see if Adi finds me there and asks to be a friend.)

“How long have you been learning English?” I asked.

“Two years,” Adi said. “Are you English teacher?”

I laughed. I thought it would be too complicated to explain that I do tutor one person in English. Instead I said, “No, I’m not a teacher.”

“My teacher is from England,” Adi said. “My teacher is beautiful. How old are you?”

“I am 43,” I said.

“Forty-three,” he repeated.

“Forty-three,” repeated his friends. They laughed.

“That’s very old,” I said. “How old are you?”

“Thirteen,” said Adi. And then he stopped walking. “We are here. Bus to Göreme will be here. Good-bye, John.” He extended his hand, and I shook it. He joined his friends and they left, laughing.

1 Karen September 22, 2012 at 19:19

I never considered the bus as an option. Good tip. I think traveling period requires patience especially when you are in another country.

2 Kylie Ofiu September 22, 2012 at 22:59

It is amazing how much language can be conveyed through gestures and body language. I’ve never been to a non English speaking country, but growing up we often had refugees enrol in school and they did not speak any English, yet we became great friends and learned to communicate.

I have used buses a fair bit when travelling and they can be fun, often much cheaper than flying. We caught a bus once in the US after spending a couple of days in Vegas and I fell asleep on the random guy next to me. I was so tired and had no idea until a flash in my face woke me up. My husband took a pic of it.

Hope your sunburn heals quick!

3 Holly@ClubThrifty September 23, 2012 at 09:22

I have never really traveled by bus but that is a good idea. It is likely that you would see more of area that way vs. flying. Another interesting post!

4 Kingston September 24, 2012 at 05:02

Mexico also has a very extensive and efficient bus system.

5 Ron October 24, 2012 at 08:51

I was in Turkey in the early 90’s. Took a bus from Istanbul to Sinop. I will never forget after we got up in the mountains looking out the window and seeing nothing but the bottom of the mountain. Very narrow highways and no guardrails back then. I know you had a great time. I enjoyed my 18 months in Turkey.

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