Leaving Goreme at the end of a blissful break enjoying the sights of Cappadocia, we had anticipated a few problems transporting our bikes by bus to Istanbul. We checked three days before we planned to travel with all of the different companies (around eight in total) and found only two companies would accept bicycles.
Both Nevsehir Seyahat and Goreme Tur bus companies said that we could confirm a seat for ourselves at identical prices but Nevsehir explained the cost for the bike was up to the driver on the day, and was usually an extra $10TL – $20TL or it could be free. We finally settled on buying tickets with Nevsehir Seyahat as their sales rep had spoken very good English and we felt he had been honest with us.
On our day of departure after a leisurely morning at the wonderful Kaya Camping and some final goodbyes to fellow cyclists Roger and Catherine, we cycled into Goreme about midday with our first stop being the Nevsehir ticket agent. I checked with him that our tickets for the bus later that day were OK and that the bicycles wouldn’t be a problem. The agent smiled and said in broken English that there would be no problem. I queried how many empty seats were left on the bus to try and get an idea of the available luggage space and found there were twelve seats left. So with our minds set at ease we enjoyed lunch, reading, cups of chai and a final pide dinner returning to the bus station one hour before our bus was due. I again checked with the ticket office that everything was OK with our tickets and bikes and again was told OK no problem.
When our bus arrived there was a mad dash to store bags but we luckily had the attention of the driver and he helped us load and store our fully loaded bikes very safely. With smiles and sighs of relief we boarded the bus only to find our allocated seats were occupied. When I asked what was happening we were told to wait till the next town of Nevsehir around ten kilometres away where we would be changing bus. Feeling a little unsettled I glanced at Emma raising my eyebrows, but with such a good experience of loading the bikes so far we weren’t too worried.
The bus station at Nevsehir was heaving with people and just finding space to stand with our bikes was hard. As we tried to figure out where our connecting bus was and how to best position ourselves and our bikes for loading, a man approached us saying “Bicycles problem, big problem. Where you go?”, “Istanbul” we replied, to which he said “Bikes be broken very busy”. Not really sure who this guy was I shrugged and smiled but was now feeling very nervous about our bikes.
As our Istanbul bus arrived there was a surge of people to the boarding point with bags, sacks of goods, crumpled cardboard boxes and the ever present backpacker rucksacks. The baggage loader took one look at our bikes and buried his head (and arms) in the other passengers luggage. In no time at all the luggage storage was full and he was shaking his head at our repeated requests to load our bikes. Despite a few passing passengers who spoke English trying to help us and my offer to pay “extra fees” he refused to make space.
I went in search of a ticket agent and returned a few minutes later with a very serious looking man who proceeded to inspect all the luggage holds and talk at length with the driver and baggage loader on the bus. After a lot of discussion he started talking to drivers from other companies and my spirits began to sink. I had seen how full their buses were and knew there was no chance of getting on board. Shortly we were engaged in a full scale argument with the ticket officer, driver, baggage loader and strangely the passing man from earlier who had advised us our bikes would get broken. As I threatened to write blog posts about our terrible experiences (score one to me then!) and Emma threw into the mix that she was a journalist from, NEW ZEALAND! they shrugged shoulders and smoked cigarettes. Finally the driver boarded the bus closed the doors and began reversing as our hopes of getting to Istanbul in time for viewing the flats we had been arranging over the previous three weeks sank.
Returning inside with the ticket officer I was offered a chance to change my ticket for the same bus the following day, “but maybe it would be very full as well” the ticket agent said. “No way” I said, “I want my money back and will figure something else out”.
With cash in hand I approached the other bus companies. It was a strange experience where the ticket office seemed totally disconnected from the bus staff. The ticket office would say “Bicycles. Istanbul. Tonight. No problem. Come with me”, followed directly by the driver saying, “Bicycles? Istanbul? Big problem.”
Meanwhile Emma had noticed a new bus arrive from Goreme Tur with a lot of empty seats. She had asked the driver if bicycles were OK to Istanbul and he had said sure and told us to load them in ourselves. With our hopes of reaching Istanbul again soaring we worked against the clock to fit our bikes into the tiny space allocated to them. We removed all wheels from both bikes, pedals from one bike, loosened Emma’s front rack,twisted handlebars and finally levered the bikes into place with big grease covered smiles.
We climbed into the bus to shaking of heads from the other passengers who had watched the whole performance and sank thankfully into a couple of empty seats. A few minutes later the ticket officer for Goreme Tur boarded the bus and started collecting tickets from the other passengers. He stopped at our seats and we explained we had no tickets but had asked the driver and baggage loader about bicycles and had loaded them onto the bus. “But bus is full!” he exclaimed.
I guided him outside to the driver and tried to confirm we could travel on the bus feeling more and more like I was in some kind of Monty Python sketch. After a discussion in Turkish largely consisting of the word “bicyclette” and shrugging shoulders I returned disheartened to the bus to explain to Emma we couldn’t travel.
Emma however was determined to stay on the bus and we both stubbornly sat down again. The ticket officer returned and I held out a $100TL note to him. This was the equivalent fair on the Nevsehir Seyahat bus company, which he promptly took advising us we could sit on the floor at the front of the bus. “No problem!” I said as we finally had a confirmed “seat” with our bikes to Istanbul.
The driver climbed aboard, the doors shut, the engine revved, Emma and I almost cheered and the bus pulled out on its way to Istanbul. The journey was not uneventful with a broken fan belt, midnight truck-stop bathroom visits, us actually getting seats at the back of the bus and some fitful sleeping. Our arrival at Harem bus station in Istanbul was sweet and I held my bike over my head in victory to the amusement of local Istanbul commuters.
If you are thinking of travelling on buses in Turkey with a bicycle (at least on the route from Goreme to Istanbul) you might want to avoid the Nevsehir Seyahat company and maybe consider even catching the train from Konya instead of a bus. Even with punctures and difficult roads this is why we prefer travelling on two wheels.