Practical Turkey 1
We crossed the border from Bulgaria into Turkey September 25, 2010 at Malko. From what we have read the procedure is very similar at every border. This is a very quiet crossing so we did not have to wait in line. First you check out of Bulgaria and then a guard in Turkey examines your passports and your vehicle registration which is entered in a computer. You drive on, park, enter a large building. First step is you must buy your visa (good for 90 days). You must pay in US cash $20 or Euros 15. Next go to the window marked passport control. After that you go to customs window for car registration. You must have original title, original registration, and green insurance card. All numbers, vin's, etc. must match on all the papers. Someone we know had a typo on one of his papers and had to wait in Greece a week for new papers before he could enter Turkey. After that, you return to your camper and a man looks inside, asks if you only have personal items, and the purpose of your visit. Then you drive through one more gate where they again check passports and car registration against computer. You're in!
The road improved immediately to a new 3/4 lane highway all the way to the motorway to Istanbul. We stopped in Kirkiareli at the Kipa Market right on the highway to use an ATM to get Turkish money. Turkey does not use a vignette system and no longer takes cash on the tollway to Istanbul. You have to have a prepaid card. Can't tell you where to get one. Mark backed up out of toll gateway to the side of the entrance and walked over to the large highway building and was able to purchase one there for 50 lire—about $36. However, when he inserted it it didn't work properly. When we exited at Istanbul the gate wouldn't go up, but since it was a new system there were about 10 men running around at the gates trying to help people so the traffice wouldn't back up and while they were yelling at us to go, the gate went up. Can't wait to do this again! (Have done it successfully several times now. Orange side up, insert end with the two tiny words.) We have gotten all the way to Ankara and still have money left on it.
So now it is about 5 pm on a Saturday and we need to drive downtown to camp. It was exactly like driving into Manhattan at rush hour. We only had vague directions that I had gotten from the English website MagBiz. Everywhere else I had looked on line or elsewhere had said that all the campgrounds anywhere close to Istanbul had closed. After several close calls we stopped a couple of parking lots too soon (but we could have stayed there for same 25 lire--$17). The attendant told us to keep going and we saw all the campers on the right. We were shoehorned into our spot right on the Marmara seawall directly in front of the Golden Horn inlet. The GPS is N 44 00'04”, E 28 58' 38”. As you come into Istanbul from the West follow signs to Sultanahmet. When you see the Blue Mosque on the left you are almost there as the parking is directly in line with it on the sea side off the Kennedy Caddesi Highway. If you think you will be too late getting there, there are several rest areas on the motorway where I assume you could spend the night. I have not heard anything one way or another about how safe they are. We saw no campground signs on the motorway. The Camping Club of Turkey has a website where you can copy a list of campgrounds in different regions. We used Google translate to get the lists into English. So that might be a help. The parking lot campground in Istanbul does have an attendant, water, dump and one Turkish toilet. The mosque also calls the prayer 6 times a day over loud speakers, but they do make it short. We spent 9 nights and 8 days in Istanbul.
We enjoyed it immensely and took our time seeing the sights. We were using Steve's Istanbul and LP Turkey. We did the all day Bosphorus Cruise on the ferry but I wouldn't really recommend it. I thought it fairly boring, especially since the highlight was seeing the Black Sea and going to an Asian Turkey village. We had already spent many days on the Black Sea and would be spending 6 more weeks in Asian Turkey. The best restaurant we went to was the Daruzziyafe across from the Suleyman Mosque. Beautiful setting in what was once the soup kitchen for the mosque, wonderful food. We split the Mixed Grill Platter at 26TL ($18) and got to savor six different main dishes with plenty to eat. Don't miss it.
A little more about the camping parking lot needs to be said. It is noisy. A few young Turks thought it amusing to drive by the campers at 3 am with speakers blazing. Also there were several dog fights with the inevitable stray dogs milling about. Good ear plugs are essential. You can fish right there if you like. While we were there 4 different tour groups of Dutch and German camping caravans came through. Several were headed to Syria and Jordan. One German one was going on across Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, ending in Morocco. It was led by Seabridge of Germany—the same people who do the Roll On, Roll Off camper shipping. The guide gave us a copy of their brochure. They lead amazing trips including one across Russia to China and another around South America that lasts 180 days.
Though noisy the convenience of the camper parking lot was wonderful. It is about a 15 minute walk to the Blue Mosque, though uphill. If you follow the seawall towards the Golden Horn you come to a walk light after about 3 blocks. Go through the opening in the wall (not the small underpass) and keep bearing right. You will pass 2 laundries. 4 TL per kilo to wash and dry. At the top of the hill you come to Topkapi Palace with Hagia Sophia dead ahead and Blue Mosque on your left. Also on the way up the hill, there are stairs under the train underpass to the station that will take you to the Galatin Bridge area for $1—they sell the tokens right there. From the Galatin Bridge area it is easy to catch the Bosphorus Ferry, walk the bridge to the New Town, hop the tram, or take a bus(give money to driver and he uses his pass for you) to the Chora Church. (The Chora Church is absolutely worth the trip.)
Since we were going to be in Turkey for 6-8 weeks we went to the TurkCell store across from the Burnt Column (not all stores have the USB modem) and spent 90TL to get one. We bought our first month service with 4 G for 29TL.
Leaving Istanbul on Tuesday, mid morning was much easier than our arrival. We spent the night at the last rest stop before leaving the expressway for the road north to Safranbolu. Beautiful little town of Ottoman Houses. We only toured the main one but were very impressed. Souvenirs much less expensive than in Istanbul. Parking is a problem. We parked right by mosque in the Carsi section where the minibuses park. Lots of no parking signs and lots of vehicles parked there. It was off season so we asked two men on a bench and they signed to us that it would be okay. We were only there about two hours. On the way out of town we stopped at an overlook parking area at It would be less than a 1k walk to the old section of town from there and it looked like you could probably even spend the night there. We pressed on towards Ankara and spent the night at another rest stop about 1 hr from Ankara. By the way, diesel in Istanbul and European Turkey was 2.56 TL a liter (about $1.80); it jumped to 2.99TL in Asian Turkey. We found one filling station selling diesel only about an hour from Safranbolu for 2.56 TL so we filled up there on our way out. Gasoline is about 3.65 TL a liter. Ouch!!!
In Ankara our main objective was to see the museum. We tried to drive to it and set Tom for open parking near it. Big mistake. The street he tried to take us down was a closed market street! We did find parking close by at . This is actually adjacent to the traffice police impoundment lot. Cost was 10 TL and attendant said we could sleep there. Great and very safe though again traffic noise and mosque prayer calls. About ¾ k walk, uphill to museum. We really like the museum and spent about 3 hrs there. There is a video running in the basement with a good introduction to the exhibits so you might check that out first. We then walked up behind the museum following the LP guidebook to see part of the Citadel. Most interesting part was all the reused Roman ruins in the wall and buildings. It was pouring rain so we didn't stay long but enjoyed walking back a different way through all the bridal/gown shops and the gold stores. By the way if you are here in early October it is much colder in the interior than in Istanbul. Lows at night have been so far between 36 and 45 with highs in upper 50s and lower 60s.