Turkish buses versus Greyhound

Planes are fast and popular. Trains are often cheaper and romanticized. Buses, however, get a bad rap. In the States, that’s probably deserved. With the exception of some modern, swanky buses servicing the Northeast Corridor and the Midwest, the bus options throughout the United States are pretty shoddy. Yet, bus travel doesn’t have to be all about steerage class, sweat boxy hellholes. Sadly, you just have to leave the United States to find the Shangri-La of bus service. One place to do so is in Turkey.

Yes, Turkey has amazing long-haul bus service. How is it better than the typical Greyhound service that you find in the States? Let’s break it down.


For the sake of this comparison, we’ll be looking at Greyhound and the Turkish bus line Kamil Koç (pronounced Camel Coach), which I rode from Bursa to Selçuk.

Sure, this is far from scientific. And Greyhound is introducing some new, modern buses to their fleet. But only in certain pockets of North America. The vast majority of Americans have limited bus options, most of which make overpaying for regional flights and dealing with the hassles of airports actually seem like good ideas.

Turkey has wi-fi enabled, tea-serving buses with personal televisions zipping all over the country! Why can’t we have buses that would encourage people to view ground transportation as a viable (and comfortable) option for travel?

Have you ridden a particularly luxurious bus outside of the United States? Have a funny story about Greyhound? Share your bus experiences in the comments.

Mike Barish’s trip to Turkey was sponsored by Intrepid Travel. While everyone should agree that İskender kebab is amazing, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are strictly his own. You can read more about his trip to Turkey here.

An open love letter to Ä°skender kebab

Dear İskender kebab,

I know we only recently met, but, well, I love you. Whoa, whoa, don’t freak out. I’m sure you get this a lot. I mean, you’re pretty lovable. Turkish Delight might be more famous (and have better PR people), but you’re my own personal Turkish treasure. Don’t get freaked out. I just really enjoyed our time together and wanted to let you know why I think you’re the best-tasting, least-known Turkish food out there.Sure, almost everyone knows your cousin, the simple döner kebab. But, you were the first kebab made of vertical meat. That makes you special. An innovator. But, much like Melle Mel and Kurtis Blow in hip hop, you don’t get the credit you deserve amongst the mainstream.

Made of shaved lamb basted and covered in a tomato broth, you’re served over pide bread with a heaping helping of yogurt. That alone would merit this declaration of my love. However, you add one more sensual ingredient that lubes things up perfectly: a luxurious amount of hot, melted butter is poured over your meat and bread immediately after you have been placed on the table. At that moment, as you glisten and sizzle, you look more desirable than anyone else in the room. That was when I fell in love with you…at first sight.

You originated in Bursa, the fourth-largest city in Turkey. That makes Bursa the Houston of Turkey. Houston is a town known for meat and you certainly do not lack for meat, İskender kebab. Bursa has some interesting sister cities (Houston is not one of them). Tiffin, Ohio, USA. Oulu, Finland. Two towns in Bulgaria! I haven’t been to any of your “twin towns,” but I don’t see my own sister that often, either, so don’t worry.

Bursa was a key center in the ancient silk trade because of its location on the Silk Road. To this day, it is Turkey’s silk capital and perhaps the best place in the country to buy both raw and handmade silk items. It’s fitting, then, that you, İskender kebab, with your silky smooth buttery coating, were created in the city the known for silk.

Bursa’s futbol team, Bursaspor, won the Süper Lig in 2010. How exciting! They were the first team not based in Istanbul to win the Süper Lig championship since 1984. Istanbul, of course, is Turkey’s tourist hub, but is not the only place worth visiting in Turkey. Heck, it’s not even the capital! Bursa’s champions are called the Green Crocodiles, but İskender kebab most certainly should be made with lamb.

Your name comes from İskender Efendi, who created you. How I wish I could have asked for his approval before I professed my love to you. Alas, he lived in Bursa in the late 19th Century and must be presumed dead.

Baklava is sweeter. Köfte is healthier. Döner kebab is more widely available. But, dear, succulent İskender kebab, you are unique. You are an innovator. You are my own personal Turkish delight.

Love always,
Mike Barish

Mike Barish’s trip to Turkey was sponsored by Intrepid Travel. While everyone should agree that İskender kebab is amazing, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are strictly his own. You can read more about his trip to Turkey here.

Intrepid Travel: Not your average tour operator

Tours have a PR problem when it comes to wooing people who define themselves as “travelers.” Tours are crowded. Tours are contrived. Tours are for…well…tourists. But are all tours created equally? I’ve written before about deciding if a tour is right for you, but it had been a while since I actually took one. Since I last wrote about the topic, I had been curious if I could be satisfied on a tour. If it could cater to my needs for interaction with locals, meals consisting of regional cuisines and limited exposure to excruciatingly annoying crowds. That’s why I decided to experience a tour for myself. I recently returned from a trip to Turkey with Intrepid Travel and realized that you can’t make sweeping generalizations about tour operators.

In my previous post on tours, I referenced a conversation that I’d had with Janelle Nanos, Special Projects Editor at National Geographic Traveler and Intelligent Travel. She was fond of Intrepid Travel after her experience in Morocco because they kept their groups small. That was one of the top criteria on my list, as well, and seems to be par for the course in Intrepid’s business plan.

I wasn’t quite used to just showing up at the airport having done no preparation at all for a trip. I hadn’t had to reserve any hotel rooms. For all our planned moving around, I hadn’t looked at a single train schedule or booked any bus tickets. It felt odd at first, but it was also incredibly liberating. All I had to be concerned about was how much döner kebab I could eat in ten days. Perhaps if I was more OCD I would have been troubled by not playing a major role in the planning of the trip. Instead, I rather enjoyed darting away for a while and not having to think too much about it in advance of my departure.

My biggest fear about taking a tour was that the itinerary would be rigid and uncompromising. That I would be forced to go to a bazaar in which I had no interest or dragged somewhere no matter how exhausted I might be. But Intrepid’s guides were accommodating. Tired? Stay at the hotel and catch up on sleep. Not fit enough for the mountain bike ride through Cappidocia’s fairy chimneys? Go to the Open Air Museum and visit the cave churches instead. This flexibility made it feel less like a tour and more like a holiday with my friends in which we often go our separate ways only to meet again for dinner. Perhaps best of all, free time was ample. Rather than having our days planned from sunrise to midnight, we had more than enough time to explore the markets, wander around the towns or simply catch up on emails to friends back home.

In many ways, our methods of transport resembled how I would have gotten around had I planned the trip myself. We traveled from Istanbul to Bursa to Selçuk to Cappidocia and back to Istanbul. We rode on the same buses as Turks (both local public buses and long-distance motor coaches operated by private companies). We took the metro in Istanbul and an overnight sleeper train from from Ankara back to Istanbul. When we did require private transport, a coach bus was never necessary. Minivans sufficed, which kept us from being a spectacle when we arrived at our destinations.

We dined in the homes of three separate families while we were in Turkey. I’m sure many of you hardcore “travelers” are now shaking your heads and reciting the numerous times someone invited you over for supper while you backpacked overseas. But for your average vacationer, such an experience is rare and difficult to come by. Intrepid believes strongly that dialogue with locals helps people connect with their destination. Those three meals were quite possibly the best I had there. Not only because of the human interaction but because home-cooked Turkish food is downright delicious.

The accommodations were far from luxury but by no means hostels, either. Guests shared rooms at middle-of-the-road hotels. Often the group took up most of a hotel’s rooms not because there were so many people but because it was a small, locally-owned accommodation.

You may still think that tours are for tourists or that no tour could satisfy you, but if I learned anything during my time in Turkey with Intrepid Travel it’s that tours can be a good thing. They can make the weeks and months leading up to a trip devoid of the stress that comes with planning all the moving parts of a vacation. They can handle all of the logistics while still allowing you to customize your trip once you are on the ground. And they can immerse you in culture rather than cocooning you in coach buses and chain hotels.

I was pleasantly surprised by my experience with Intrepid Travel. Apparently not all tours are created equally. And that’s a good thing.

Mike Barish’s trip to Turkey was sponsored by Intrepid Travel. While everyone should agree that döner kebabs are amazing, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are strictly his own.