Want a breathtaking little adventure during your next vacation? Sure, you could do BASE-jump in Kuala Lumpur, or yak skiing in Manali (yes, that’s one thing now), or you could just drink a cup of cement and head to Istanbul for an hour trans-continental peak crossing with 15 million inhabitants as well as the strange tourist.
Istanbul has regularly surpassed countless “worst trafficking in the world” lists in the past decade, and getting around this gargantuan city is not for the faint of heart.
But with a little skill, you can move between two points of interest without having to endure a trip worthy of a country and western song. Here’s how:
1. Catching a Dolmus
Shared taxi that travels on fixed routes in the city, dolmuşes are an inexpensive way to get around, but foreigners should avoid sitting in the middle seats behind the driver and opt instead for one in the rear row. Not only will this help you protect your eyes from the heart in your throat, the chaotic conduct of each dolmuş driver worthy of his salt, but you will not have to play the counter between the driver and other passengers bombarding you with change and restitution information.
2. Catching a Taxi
Want to spend time with someone whose dedication to smoking is matched only by his blatant disregard for road markings? Turkish taxi drivers are a cultural gem, and indeed taxis are relatively inexpensive, unless you are stuck at rush hour on one of the three bridges in Istanbul.
Always ask if they have a GPS before getting into the vehicle (otherwise you could spend a lot of time at the roadside while your driver gets off the other taxis to get directions) and insist on taking the Avyrasya tunnel which crosses under the Bosphorus Strait.
3. Booking an Uber
This peer-to-peer car sharing app has become very popular across Turkey, but if you are thinking of booking one to take you to the airport, think again. A recent crackdown (courtesy of the force of the local taxi drivers’ union) has seen huge drivers face heavy fines at airports, which means your request will likely be ignored.
4. Riding a ferry
With ports established on both sides of the Bosphorus, ferry lines run regularly between Asia and Europe, helping commuters and travelers to avoid traffic entirely. There is no trick to catching one, though the experience is helped by buying a tea and simit (a ring of baked bread) to share with the seagulls that track the ferry.
Mealtime cruise? Stopping for a “balık ekmek” (fresh fish sandwich) in one of the ports is considered an essential activity in Istanbul, but never buy one on a stand with the locals in the queue.
5. Catching a Bus
Unless you are ambivalent about oxygen supply, just say no.
6. Jumping on the Metro
In full expansion in recent times, the Istanbul metro system works with German precision, trains are available every few minutes to key destinations in the city. Best used when traveling to a particular neighborhood, such as the suburb of Kadıkőy, rather than attempting complicated crossings from Asia to Europe, which can lead to several changes.