Turkey round up 🇹🇷

A short dolmuş (minibus) journey from Hopa to the Georgian border at Sarpi marked the end of our 20 day traversal of Turkey. Once again, it feels like a good time to reflect on our journey, and highlight where it differed from Italy and Greece. For a full comparison of our route against Helen & Mick’s, check out our Top Gear race around Turkey ✈️🚄🚘.


Overall, our journey across Turkey emitted 16% more carbon than our route from London to Xanthi in Greece. For the first time, we used a real mix of transport types, with train, car and bus each accounting for roughly a third of our emissions.

For comparison, we travelled nearly as far in Turkey as we did across France, Italy and Greece put together, which really puts into perspective how large Turkey is. But it wasn’t just the large distances involved that explain the total emissions, as we also emitted more carbon per kilometre travelled in Turkey.

Our higher carbon intensity in Turkey was due to our use of a hire car over public transport. However, for the first time this trip, it did allow us to travel further off the beaten track than we could on public transport or on foot, while also spending time with Mick & Helen. For reference, a medium-size diesel car carrying 4 people emits 13% more carbon per person than typical national rail, but 52% more carbon compared to coach travel. So while travelling by car is a good option in specific circumstances, we’ll try to avoid renting a car for just the two of us.


In total, we spent slightly less in Turkey than we did in Italy, despite staying 33% longer, and dropping our single largest expense of our trip to date on a hot air balloon ride. This difference was mostly explained by spending less on transport, due in part to our bargain £6.97 ride on the Doğu Ekspresi, but even more because Mick and Helen kindly funded the car hire that transported us a good distance across western Turkey. Our accommodation and food costs remained similar to Italy and Greece, although it’s worth noting that we got a lot more for our money here, staying in some really comfortable apartments and hotels.


Turkey racked up a grand total of 475 cats, giving the country a leading score of 23.8 cats per day. While the counter ticked up rapidly in Istanbul, it did slow a little as we headed east.

I’m not sure where we heard it, but I really like the quote: “Judge a city on how they treat their cats.” Istanbul did well, with lots of happy and well-fed cats, but we had a few reservations about Selçuk. In particular, we came across a number of award-worthy cats and related infrastructure:

🏅 Most relaxed cat: Antalya

Just look at him! What a legend

🏅 Friendliest cat signage: Sivas

We think this translates as “Cats may come out” (to encourage motorists to slow down). I won’t lie, we loitered in the area for a while but sadly no cats did come out to see us 😢

🏅 Best cat accommodation: Erzurum

We saw barely any cats in the city at all, but perhaps this is because they were all hanging out in their luxury accommodation

We had an excellent time in Turkey, and were blown away by the variety of experiences on offer. These included exploring an underground cistern in Istanbul, getting lost in Izmir’s bazaars, descending Pamukkale’s travertine terraces, hiking the Lycian Way, ballooning above Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys, gawping at Sivas’ architecture and riding the Doğu Ekspresi. I have to admit, I didn’t know much about Turkey before we started researching this trip, so it’s probably the country that’s surprised me the most so far!

The next country on our itinerary is Georgia, with our first stop in the Black Sea resort city of Batumi.

The wild east of Turkey

Our next stop on our journey through the wild east of Turkey was the city of Erzurum. We’d read that it was one of the most conservative cities in Turkey, and it certainly had a quieter, more serious atmosphere than anywhere else we’d visited on this leg of the journey. Slightly incongruously (to us at least – we found it quite hard to imagine), it’s also a skiing destination, and we spotted the huge ski jumps that sit on the mountains just outside the city while we were exploring.

Erzurum (and don’t those towers look just like Battersea Power Station?)

After spending a long day on the Doğu Ekspresi with an improvised breakfast and lunch (but snacks galore – no need to feel too sorry for us!), we were in the mood for a proper sit-down meal. So, we decided to pay a visit to Güzelyurt Restaurant, which was supposedly one of the best restaurants in the city but also happened to be the only restaurant in Erzurum that served alcohol. While it didn’t quite deliver on the food, it was worth it for the speakeasy-vibe experience. We entered into a dark corridor, rather than directly into the restaurant (presumably a way of being discreet about who was sitting inside). We’d read that ‘family groups’ (i.e. women) were normally seated on the upper level, so in the absence of anyone to greet us, we headed straight upstairs. This was met with some consternation so we definitely got that wrong – we’re not quite sure what we were walking into! Anyway, once we were seated downstairs we got to peek at who else was in there – a mix of foreign visitors (well, one other table – we bumped into them again elsewhere and we suspect they were the only other anglophones in town) and affluent local people. There were curtains across the windows and it probably sums up the muted atmosphere pretty well if I say that it didn’t feel at all appropriate to take a photograph. After all that, they didn’t even have wine on the menu so I drank water. Even so, the whole visit felt pretty illicit and we enjoyed it thoroughly!

We had a much more lively restaurant experience the next day when I started a small fire. We’d ordered a pot of tea and, continuing a recent trend of things being delivered to our table on fire, we received pots of hot water and strong tea (this is normal in Turkey, you mix the two to achieve your preferred strength), along with a small stove burning solid fuel and producing a very healthy flame. This was supposed to be used to keep the pots warm, but we looked away for a moment and then very quickly realised we were out of our depth. One of the pots was violently boiling over and the flames were a bit wild. I grabbed a tissue so that I could hold the hot handle to move the pot, but instead set the tissue (and very nearly the tablecloth) on fire just as Oli called a waiter over for help. He took in the whole scene and calmly moved the pot off the flame as if we were absolute idiots. Later in the meal, a sudden gust of wind picked up a piece of flat bread and it slapped Oli right round the face, so all in all it was a successful meal and we left the restaurant staff in no doubt about how well we were coping with life.

It was all going so well at this point

We also saw some great architecture in Erzurum, including more medrese, a citadel and three ancient tombs.

Oli’s favourite part (just because it sounded like something from Indiana Jones) was at Çifte Minareli Medrese, where we thought we understood that through a series of mirrors and light wells, the tomb of Ismail Fakirullah is illuminated in a beam of bright sunlight as it rises over a precise spot on the nearby mountainside twice a year. [Unfortunately, while checking some details in order to write this post, I realised that the below is actually a model of a mausoleum somewhere totally different in eastern Turkey – it seems we did an impressive job on the day of making this model fit the building we were in! Apparently our Turkish comprehension has a little way to go yet.]

Oli spent a good portion of our time in Erzurum trying to decode a mysterious bus timetable that had six weekdays and four weekend days. Determined to make it fit, at one point I saw him googling whether Turkey had a 10-day week. I’m not sure how we’d have got this far through Turkey without noticing this, but stranger things have happened! This was all proved to be a total waste of time when, on the morning we were due to leave and wanted to catch said bus to the intercity bus terminal, the bus arrived at a totally different time that didn’t correspond with any of the days. After a long wait at the intercity bus terminal, our ‘long-distance’ bus came back into the city and terminated, and we had to wait for our actual long distance bus to depart from a stop within spitting distance of our hotel! Several hours after setting out from our hotel, we were finally on our way.

What followed was a truly spectacular and varied journey north towards the Black Sea. First, we passed through the Kaçkar Mountains, where the rocky gorges got steeper and steeper until it really did look like we were driving through the base of the Grand Canyon. Then all of a sudden after we passed the provincial capital of Artvin, the dry landscape gave way to lush hillsides running down to a broad, jade green river. It was stunning and reminded me of the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. Finally, as we reached the Black Sea at Hopa, we unexpectedly came across tea plantations – I never knew Turkey grew tea! The tea terraces were beautiful even in the torrential rain that had arrived by this point. Sadly, the same couldn’t be said about Hopa itself, which was a classic, slightly seedy border town.

Nevermind, we were on our way to Georgia! 🇬🇪

Sunrise to sunset on the Doğu Ekspresi

The Doğu Ekspresi is the daily east-west train route spanning the width of Turkey. It used to run all the way from Istanbul in the west to Kars in the east, although with the arrival of high-speed rail, it now connects only Ankara to Kars via a mere 1,944 km of track (!). I’d seen the railway referred to interchangeably as the Doğu, Orient, and Eastern Express, which confused me until I found out that all three terms mean “East.” Even more confusingly, the ambiguity of the term “East” means that the name also collides with the Orient Express, the direct train from Paris to Istanbul, which is sadly now lost in time.

Doğu Ekspresi arriving at Sivas station

Booking a sleeper carriage on the Doğu Ekspresi is notoriously difficult for a few reasons. First, demand for tickets far exceeds supply, so most are booked as soon as they go on sale (which, unhelpfully, is any time between 15 and 30 days before departure). Second, tour companies tend to block book carriages directly with the train company before they even go on general sale. And third, men and women can’t share a (4 berth) sleeper compartment overnight unless the whole compartment is booked. For these reasons, we opted for spacious pullman style seats and planned a daytime itinerary from Sivas to Erzurum, which rather poetically departed at sunrise and arrived at sunset.

Upright Pullman seats in 2+1 arrangement

With bleary eyes, we checked out of our hotel at 4.20am, and walked through Sivas in darkness. This train route is notorious for long delays, but without a way to track the train, we had no choice but to arrive at the station ahead of its scheduled departure.

Although we’d heard that delays of 4 hours were quite common, our train departed Sivas a mere hour and 20 minutes late. Still, this gave us plenty of time to eat our makeshift yogurt and honey breakfast, and we happily trundled out of the station just as the sun was rising.

Put simply, this was by far the most spectacular train ride I’d ever been on. Over recent years, the route has become so popular that a second “touristic” train was scheduled consisting of only sleeper carriages. However, this train was discontinued earlier in 2022, further adding to the supply and demand problem. Still, it’s hard to appreciate the scenery if you’re asleep, so we were happy in our upright seats and did our best to keep our eyes open despite the early start to our day. Sara even told me off for paying more attention to my laptop than what was outside the window, before promptly nodding off herself.

The train snaked through mountainous terrain (aided by only a handful of tunnels) for the majority of our journey under a huge and cloudless sky. In fact, the track rarely seemed to hold a straight line, and in some areas the rock face came right up to the train window on both sides.

To stretch her legs, Sara took a walk down the train and found the sleeper carriage. It’s only looking at this photo now that I realise that these compartments don’t have a view out of the right hand side of the train. This made me even happier with our “choice” of upright seats.

As the train continued into the late afternoon, the rocky mountains gave way to more fertile plains, with the low sun turning the landscape golden and casting long shadows behind every lone tree.

Finally, we pulled into Erzurum around two and half hours late, although to be honest I’d stopped counting by this point, and was happy to appreciate the journey for what it was. Some of the stops en route had been incredibly brief, so we were waiting at the doors with our bags on, ready to mind the (rather large) gap down from the train to the platform.

In total, our tickets cost the equivalent of £3.49 per person to cover 547 km of track over a period of 12 hours. At an average speed of 46 km/hour (28 mph), there’s plenty of time to gawp at the spectacular scenery.

Although we only travelled a little over a quarter of the Doğu Ekspresi’s full distance, it definitely scratched the itch left by our cancelled Trans-Siberian Railway adventure. It also gave me an appreciation for the importance of covering long distances in multiple short stretches, rather than in one go.

Sadly, this is where we leave Turkey’s rail network behind – after a few days exploring Erzurum, we plan to travel north by bus towards the Georgian border.