My time in Istanbul was coming to a close. I had booked travel and accommodation for a trip down the coast of Turkey, and Jackson had decided to travel to England before university began. Transport to the Istanbul Otogar (Bus Station) had been organized for 6:30 a.m. and bus tickets to Canakkale had been purchased. Everything was prepared.
I waited patiently in the hotel lobby for the bus to arrive and take me to the Otogar. 6:30 came and went, but I was determined not to be the uptight, rude foreigner giving the locals a hard time. Then it was 6:45, and then 7. I had to say something.
“Ahh sorry,” I apologetically queried, “Could you call the travel agent, my bus to the Otogar was supposed to be here 30 minutes ago”
“Oh shit,” the hotel manager replied. He then made a number of quick phone calls and had some heated discussion with the travel agent (his cousin). He hung up in the middle of what seemed like a critical sentence, and said it was all organized, and the taxi would be here soon.
True to his word a taxi arrived, and the driver spoke great English to boot. I told him there was an extra 30 lira in it for him if I made it to my bus on time.“We don’t have much time, so I take shortcut,” he replied. Great I thought, but I didn’t realize how extreme this shortcut was going to be. He destroyed what was left of the tread on his tires, and we then rocketed around the rally course that is the cramped cobbled backstreets of the old city. Both my bags and myself were in perpetual flight as the driver continually launched the taxi off small bumps in the road (think a Turkish version of the Italian Job). At one point he missed a turn, slammed on the breaks and reversed down one of the streets backwards.
Somehow we made it onto the open highway, but not to safety. Turkish road rules are a bit different on two key points:
1) Road lines are optional not mandatory, and
2) Use of indicators appears to be discouraged.
The result is a kind of high-stakes dodge-em cars that’s both thrilling and terrifying. Fortunately the driver was both skilled and speedy and we made it to the Otogar with 5 minutes to spare. I decided to spend the time people watching from the safety of the bus.
From there I observed the many different faces of Istanbul. I saw a group of women get off a bus, all in full religious attire. Next to them were two Turkish men joking together, as they bid their Burberry Clad, Converse wearing daughters’ farewell. A group of young men played soccer nearby, as conductors yelled at each other. That scene is a microcosm of what Istanbul, and indeed all of Turkey is to me; a bustling patchwork of the secular and the sectarian. Nowhere was that more evident than at the chaotic transportation hub, which is the Otogar.
I’d highly recommend a trip to Istanbul. It’s a great city to party in, but it’s also interesting from both a cultural and historical standpoint. Istanbul is anything you want it to be. I’m giving it 4 rollercoaster cab rides out of 5.