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December 2010 - January 2011 -- One might not expect it, but Turkey has its cold and wet winter too. Only a narrow strip along the Mediterranean enjoys sunshine and temperatures above 20°C all year. Luckily I have my heating, without which not just me, but also all the liquids on board would freeze.My route takes me from Istanbul around the Sea of Marmara, through the central Anatolian highlands, often called the 'real heart of Turkey', and further south to the coast near Antalya.After a little detour to Cappadocia I follow the Mediterranean shore past Adana, and finally across the Syrian border. A few weeks later, on my way from Syria to Iran, I cross through the very Southeast of Turkey - a mountainous region covered by a thick layer of snow and heavy military presence.
Western AnatoliaHaving left Greater Istanbul behind, the main highway leads up to wide plains at around 1,000 m above sea level, a mostly barren land of steppe and few forests. Even though the time of my visit (December/January) is not ideal for this region, most of Turkey is very relaxed for travelling - except for the Southeast. Petrol, however, remains more expensive here than anywhere else in the world: One litre costs more than two Euros.History, architecture, nature: Turkey offers a wide variety of good reasons to come here. Its people are very hospitable, always happy to help - and they enjoy chatting a little with foreign visitors. There is a well established tourist infrastructure, but most parts of the country rarely see a foreign visitor.Stopping by the opium capital of Afyon, I gaze at sandstone graves that were dug thousands of years ago by the ancient Phrygian civilization. A bunch of Kurdish students invite me in for dinner, and I get a brief introduction to the Kurds' fight for autonomy.Warm thermal waters flow down the mineral travertines of Pamukkale - its a bizarre landscape. The famous pools, stretching over two kilometres along a scenic hillside, have been formed by the constant stream of mineral water. Herds of tourists plod uphill, all barefoot, through the mineral water pools, to visit the impressive relics of Hierapolis, a former Roman settlement.
Eastern AnatoliaThe Wild Kurdistan: For many Turks this stands for terrorism and hatred. For travellers it is actually not problematic to visit, but you pass one military checkpoint after another. Security forces on duty here are scared to death of the PKK, the underground Kurdish liberation army.Luckily this most winterly part of the trip so far does not pose an insurmountable obstacle. Still, at -25°C life in a car starts getting difficult. One ear is always listening to the heating, which now needs to be running non-stop. Carrying a pair of snow chains would feel good - with the locals they are standard equipment. With more than a metre of snow, icy roads and anti-terrorism squads at every corner, this region is not really a winter wellness oasis.In the end everything goes well, and I cross the Esendere/Serou border to Iran without problems - it's a very orderly and well organised border post.Before the crossing I clean up the van a little: Sensitive objects like GPS, laptop or press card temporarily disappear 'somewhere in the attic'...
Motorway (near Körfez)
The country's most important harbours, east of Istanbul(Körfez)
Luckily I can cure a little christmas sickness at my buddy Baris and his family in Istanbul.
Around noon, most Turkish cities disappear behind the smog. Heaters work with wood, oil, coal or rubbish. (Afyon)
Lane in the old town of Afyon
What a scenic and quiet camp spot... this could have been, if not for some guy who spent the night firing around with his gun. (near Korkuteli)
Salt lake on the central Anatolian plains (Lake Tuzla)
'Turkish Riviera'All-inclusive tourism holds a firm grip around the densely populated coastal region near the Mediterranean boom town of Antalya. However, thanks to the fact that I'm here in winter, most of the huge hotels are closed, and I enjoy a few warm and sunny days on the beach.
Tempting bath tub: warm thermal waters drip down the travertine terraces of Pamukkale.
Bad roads and nothing to see: Both very rare in Turkey (Eskisehir)
CappadociaThe highland region of Cappadocia boasts distinctive fairy chimney rock formations. For centuries they have been used as shelters and houses. Apartments, churches and graves have been carved into the rock. But, as they come without doors, heating or running water, I soon return to the cosiness of my mobile home.Following the route of the former Baghdad railway, I cross the Cilician Gates pass towards Syria. The way from Syria to Iran takes me through Turkey again, this time through its very Southeast.
Let's call it a day. (Side)
New Year's Eve underneath the palm trees (near Side)
No land in sight: can't park any closer to the sea, can you? (near Antalya)
Taurus mountains west of Antalya (Phaselis)
Evening by the sea (Phaselis)
No bricks but digs: a troglodyte fortress with 360° panorama views (Üchisar)
Ancient Christian refuge during the East Roman Empire: monastery, dug into the Cappadocian rock (Göreme)
A litre for two Euros: Turkey has the world's highest petrol prices. (Afyon)
Fairy chimneys and earth pyramids (near Göreme)
The desert climate in Syria and Jordan was followed by frosty winter. Turkey's southeast boasts unspoilt mountain scenery hard to find in Europe. (near Hakkari)
A fortress on every hilltop: a region under the military's grip (Yemisli)
A few metres left to the Syrian border (Bab el-Hawa crossing)
Yüksekova is the regional capital for the extreme Southeast. It's only a few miles to the Iraqi or Iranian borders. (Yüksekova)
Frostier than in the freezer: -26,8°C (Yüksekova)
TURKEY (updated 12/2010):Route1. Kapitan Andreevo/Edirne (from Bulgaria) - Istanbul - Izmit - Eskişehir - Afyon - Dinar - Denizli - Pamukkale - Esen - Antalya - Manavgat - Kayseri - Adana - Iskenderum - Reyhanli (to Syria)2. Al Qamishli/Nusaybin (from Syria) - Cizre - Hakkari - Yüksekova (to Iran)RoadsIn town conditions vary, overland routes are mostly good, only in the Southeast are they partly bad. The latter refers especially to the D400 between Sirnak and Köprülü (along the Iraqi border). Many sometimes unmarked speed breakers (anywhere), sometimes extremely steep climbs (secondary roads).High motorway toll charges apply, but foreign cars which don't pay don't seem to get prosecuted: If you just pass through the subscribers lane (no stopping), a siren goes of - and nothing happens. The plate gets photographed but that seems to be it. The official way: Get a toll card (gets linked to your credit card and registration number), then they bill your credit card.FuelUnleaded petrol (95 octane) widely available at EUR 2.05/L, the world's most expensive. Diesel is always available in two qualities, the better one at EUR 1.50/L. Liquid Propane Gas widely available, credit cards widely accepted.CampingCampgrounds exist only in tourist centres (Mediterranean coast, Pamukkale, Cappadocia). Police regard free camping as dangerous and try to move you into towns. So either hide well or stay close to towns (petrol stations). Some locals like to fire guns (for fun), but there's still lots of places where you wont get shot.Istanbul has no campground but some guarded parking lots, for example on the southern side of the Golden Horn (best to arrive at evening or night with less traffic and more empty spaces). For any specific tips and locations check my Camp Spot List.MiscellaneousWater is available at every petrol station in the North. Electricity hook-up might be difficult. Turkey uses German type plugs and 220V. Turkey is not a cheap country.The Southeast... is a bit special. Occasionally Turkish military forces and Kurdish separatists engage in gunfights and surprise attacks. This may affect northern Iraq as well.Route D-400 along the Iraqi border is narrow, partly bad, partly steep and has many military checkpoints. Between Köprülü and the Iranian border at Esendere/Serou the road is good. Bear in mind the altitude (up to 2900m above sea level), especially in winter. According to the Jandarma, main roads (incl. D-400) get cleared all year, but this may take up to two days during/after heavy snow fall. Winter gets very cold, I had up to -27°C. There are no garages. Carrying snow chains is mandatory during winter.When looking for a camp spot, it's probably best to check with Jandarma, as they will come along anyway. I stayed at military posts or check points. All border crossings with Iraq are currently closed. The Esendere/Serou border crossing to Iran is open and working normally.All information subject to change (note time of writing).
A big thanks to Rachelle Clarke for proofreading this translation!