From Istanbul to Selçuk, the hard way

Remember my recent post about flying by the seat of my pants? And how it sometimes bites me in the ass? Well, I totally did it again.

I had been thinking about heading south to see the ancient city of Ephesus, so after about a week in Istanbul I decided to do just that. I had read that taking the IDO ferry across the Sea of Marmara to Bursa was a good start before the long bus journey, but then I was completely overwhelmed by bus info online and rather than try to pre-book something, I decided to just take the ferry, show up at the otogar (bus terminal), and buy whatever was available in person. [This has been a recurring problem — there are literally dozens, maybe hundreds, of competing bus companies in Turkey and it can be difficult to navigate their websites, which are mostly all in Turkish. To my knowledge there isn’t yet a website that compares all the different brands’ timetables and fares, but someone should really get on that.]

In any case, I woke up early one morning, checked out of my hostel, and hailed a cab to Yenikapı Port, where I boarded the 10 AM ferry. There is also a 7 AM ferry but I definitely didn’t feel like waking up that early, as well as an evening one at 6 PM. In retrospect, I should have taken the later ferry and just had a whole night bus situation, but you’ll see why later. I had no idea how long of a day it would end up being at the time.

The IDO ferry was actually much nicer than I was expecting! It was huge, the size of a small cruise ship, with fairly luxurious seating (far more leg room than a plane!) and even a business class section. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to stand outside on the deck, but it was very nice and air-conditioned inside, with comfy upholstered seats (assigned, like the buses here are) and great views out the windows. There were at least 3 different snack bars and newsstands on board and they also came around with a little cart selling sandwiches and drinks for those who didn’t want to get up. There was even WiFi!

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I actually napped through most of the nearly two-hour ride. It was that comfortable.

The boat docked in Bursa and that’s where the confusion began. There were so many buses in the parking lot that I thought maybe I was already at the otogar for a moment, but no. I asked a young Turkish guy who struck up a conversation with me for help, and he told me I should take the local bus to the city center, then another bus from there to the terminal, and pointed me to the kiosk where I could buy my a ticket — apparently all the buses in Bursa are pre-pay and you can’t just pay your fare when you board. I checked in with the guy in the kiosk before buying, and while his English wasn’t very good, he said something about taking the yellow bus to the Metro. Okay!

Got on the bus with practically no idea where I was going, but when all else fails, get off where everybody else does, and the bus emptied out significantly when we got to a train station. Turns out when the guy said Metro, he meant actual Metro and not just metropolitan center or the name of some stop, which I hadn’t been sure about since I was initially told two buses.

I checked with the guard next to the turnstile before going through. “Otogar?” He seemed fairly confused but then told me to take the train to the last stop and then there would be a minibus. Actually what he said was “Metro finish… [mimed walking] …minibus”, but I got the gist and ran to catch the train, which was just about to pull out.

The last stop was sooner than I thought, but once again everyone got off so I did too. Asked another guard: “Minibus to otogar?” He pointed up a set of stairs.

Of course, once I got up to street level there were about a million buses whizzing by, both mini and otherwise. I had to ask half a dozen people before finding one who spoke enough English to help, and she pointed to a sign and told me I wanted bus #91, which actually turned out to be a full-size yellow city bus, not the dolmuş I was expecting. Of course, only then did I realize I needed to buy another ticket, so I had to go back down into the metro station to do that. I hoped the bus wouldn’t come in my absence since the schedule seemed to indicate it only came once every hour or so.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, bus 91 came. The destination lit up on the front says “Terminal” rather than “Otogar”, which further confused things for me, but it was the right one. It was a long, uncomfortable, crowded ride, but finally we got to the station and I saw the dozens of bus companies with my own eyes. The man at the information desk didn’t think there was a direct bus to Selçuk (everyone told me I would need to connect in Izmir) but I decided to check with a couple of the bigger companies just to be sure, and I’m glad I did. Pamukkale Turizm and Kâmil Koç both in fact had direct buses, but I ended up going with Kâmil Koç because they were 5 lira cheaper (55 vs. 60) and scheduled to leave an hour and a half earlier (5:35 vs. 7 PM), since I already had several hours to kill at the station.

Incidentally, the Bursa Otogar is located right across the street from IKEA. I seriously considered going there to have some Swedish meatballs, but I didn’t feel up to navigating the maze of showrooms with my backpack on.

The bus finally arrived in Selçuk at about half past midnight — not my favorite time to be arriving in a strange new town. Luckily I had booked a guesthouse that was almost directly across from the bus station, though of course I missed it the first time and ended up going the long way around. Navigating deserted back alleys in the middle of the night… fun! It seemed like a pretty safe area, though. Luckily they had saved my bed for me even though I hadn’t been able to contact them and tell them I’d be so late, so I immediately collapsed in preparation for an early morning exploring Ephesus the next day.

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