Getting around Istanbul
By staying in Sultanahmet, I was hoping we would cut down on transportation costs, spend less time in the backseat of a taxi and more time on our feet exploring the city. For the most part, our theory worked. And when we wanted to explore the other side, we would walk over to the nearest tram station, hop on the tram for 2 Turkish liras each and over the Golden Horn on the Galata Bridge to Kabataş (the last station on the line). We then have the option of taking the funicular (a cable car that runs like a metro) to Taksim or the ferry to the islands.
The public transportation system in Istanbul is quite straightforward and most of the touristy sites fall right next to a station. The trams are clean, fairly new and well-maintained. What we didn’t take into account, however, was the Eid Al-Adha holiday crowd. Middle Easterners swamped Istanbul, the European tourists were aplenty, and because of the public holiday, Turks themselves were out and about. The buses and trams were bursting at the seams. The ferries (a very common mean of transportation between the European and Asian side) looked like they were floating by some miracle; people were packed on that boat like sardines. And how I hate sardines…
On the first day of Eid al-Adha (Kurban Bayramı in Turkish), we set out to the famous Istiklal Street. We thought we would spend the day walking around, exploring the area and avoiding the historical and religious sites which I figured would be crowded. We were disappointed to see Istiklal Street practically empty and most of the shops closed.
When it looked like most of the stores weren’t opening, we hailed a taxi and asked him to take us to Forum Mall, Europe’s largest shopping mall. Let me just say that I’ve had several harrowing taxi experiences before, including cabs in New York City, Saudi Arabia and Cairo. The terror I felt that day, as our middle-aged cab driver zoomed around the highways, surpassed all the other experiences. My sister and I held on to dear life as the man put his foot on the accelerator and soared past buildings, between trucks and maneuvered the car on the edge of a mountain. I felt ill and tried to distract myself by taking out the camera to document the ride of my life – if I survived to blog about it, that is. My pictures were mostly blurry.
The ride of death was totally unnecessary, we soon found out, because the mall was closed. The driver neglected to tell us that everything opens at 1:30 pm on the first day of Eid and he insisted on driving us to another mall. He charged us over 100 TL ($56) and dropped off at Istaniye Park Mall, which was also closed until 1:30! We stood in the cold for almost 2 hours until the mall opened. I still haven’t forgiven that taxi driver.
We had one other transportation incident that left me cursing left and right, but other than that we were able to navigate our way around Istanbul safely and without any major problems. The trams and cable cars felt considerably safer than Paris and London, especially for two young women traveling alone.
And finally, the shoes that were made for walkin’. Can you guess which one’s mine?