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February 4th 2012
Published: February 10th 2012
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Weekends on Istiklal

This is the route I would take to cultural events at the Institute de Francais, next to the French consulate. It usually takes one and a half to two hours. The first leg of the journey, from the green dot on the right to the first blue dot, is on the bus. I cross the Bosphorus on a ferry then walk the next short bit. The section of the trip that goes straight north is on the underground Tunel. The last leg up Istiklal to Taksim Square by the French consulate I do on foot.


This is the ticket to the only city in the world that spans two continents.
Istanbul is a fascinating city and so is its transportation. It didn’t take me too long to figure out how to get around the area I live in, but I honestly think it would take a lifetime to learn the entire transportation system here. For this blog, I’m going to stick to what I know.

To get from where I live to the ferry landings in Kadıköy I can take a taxi, which is expensive, a dolmuş, which is always so crowded there’s only standing room, or the 8A bus. Since I’m at the end of the line I always get a seat on the 8A. Even better is that I can use my Istanbulkart.

The Istanbulkart works for all city transportation and gives you a reduction on each leg of a journey after the first fill fare. For example, if I take the 8A to Kadıköy I swipe my card when I get on the bus, then again when I catch the ferry from Kadıköy to Karaköy on the European side. The ferry only charges me half price. Once in Karaköy I walk about two blocks to Tünel and swipe my card a third time for another discount
Haydarpaşa GarıHaydarpaşa GarıHaydarpaşa Garı

Built in 1908 this train station is the first stop in Asia and the counterpart to the end of the Orient Express. If you come from Europe by train you have to get off at the Istanbul Gar and take a ferry across the Bosphorus to Haydarpaşa.
to take the funicular up to Istiklal. On holidays everything is half price. It’s like having the whole city on sale!

The Tünel is a very interesting bit of Istanbul transport. First built in 1875 it is the second oldest in the world, with only London taking the prize. The story of its creation and various changes throughout the decades is proudly displayed in the stations at the top and bottom of the line. It links the waterfront and transportation hub of Galata, which is now called Karaköy with the hilltop business and banking centers of Pera, now Beyoğlu. It takes 90 seconds and only has one stop on each end. It feels half-metro and half-escalator.

Ferries are by far my favorite way to get around. They might be slow, but the comfort and entertainment is so worth it. Outside you get perfect views of Sultanhamet, the Aya Sofya, Topkapı Palace, Galata Tower, and the Princes Islands. That’s just on the Kadıköy – Karaköy route. If you take the ferry from Üsküdar or to Beşiktaş you can also see Dolmabahçe Palace, the Maiden’s Tower and the light shows on the bridge across the Bosphorus. Seagulls fly alongside hoping
Orient ExpressOrient ExpressOrient Express

The Istanbul Gar is the end of the Orient Express, on the western, European side of the city. I haven't planned a trip to France by train yet, but this would be my starting point.
for people to throw bread to them. They’re great catchers and it’s like watching dogs catch Frisbees at the park – only better. Tankers and giant ships loaded with containers cruise up from the Mediterranean or down from the Black Sea. On my first ferry ride (in August) I saw dolphins and thought it must be a common sighting. I haven’t seen any since, but I’m still looking. Maybe they’ll come back when it warms up in summer.

Inside the ferry there is always great people watching. You can sit back with a hot glass of tea or sahlep and look at the families going across to spend the day in the city or the office workers with briefcases, their faces buried in newspapers. Half the people under 30 are listening to ipods and the others are talking on their cell phones. Most of the areas I’ve seen on the European side of Istanbul are very modern (read: liberal and Western) but on the Asian side there is a mix of modern and traditional neighborhoods, which means on the ferry you can see a woman in high heels and a miniskirt sitting next to another fully covered in robe
Istanbul MetroIstanbul MetroIstanbul Metro

It can't be easy designing a modern transportation system in such an historic city, but I think they're doing pretty good.
and scarf. Tourists don’t usually come to Kadıköy, since there is little of interest on the Asian side of Istanbul, but sometimes you can watch people along the railing outside taking pictures of their kids throwing bread to the seagulls, with the Princes Islands in the background.

As fabulous as it is to have everything linked with the Istanbulkart, it still takes a long time to get anywhere. In my previous example I was going to Istiklal Avenue, which not only has great restaurants (like where I went for my birthday in November) and shopping, but also art galleries and consulates with cultural centers. The French consulate has all sorts of concerts, events and art expositions. It’s the sort of neighborhood I want to go for dinner or to hang out in the evening after work or on the weekends. Unfortunately it takes so long to get there that it usually turns into an all-day expedition.

The 8A comes by my apartment building every 20 minutes. Let’s suppose that the bus comes more or less on time and I only have to wait for five minutes. The ride takes between 35 and 45 minutes, depending on the time

The dolmuş are everywhere and usually more convenient than the bus, although they don't run on a schedule. Be aware that they are almost always overfull, hence the name dolmuş, which means stuffed.
of day. Let’s say 40. Then I have to walk a few blocks and cross the wharf to catch the ferry, which can be every 10 or 20 minutes, depending on the time of day. I’ll add another 10 minutes for the walk and wait. The ferry itself takes 20 from dock to dock, 30 if it stops at Hyderapaşa train station. We’ll be optimistic and say 20. It takes about 5 minutes to walk to the downhill Tünel station. Let’s pretend I catch the funicular just as it’s leaving and don’t have to wait. Add another 90 seconds for the ride uphill to Istiklal and you have 1 hour, 21 minutes and 30 seconds. In reality, I rarely make all the connections so smoothly and it takes closer to two hours. The French consulate is at the far end of Istiklal and it takes another 15 minutes to walk there if you’re going fast, or 5 if I catch a ride on the tram just as it’s leaving and don’t have to wait. The consulate better have something amazing going on if I’m going to make a four hour round-trip.

I like problem solving and figuring out puzzles,

Istanbul taxis are not as big at their New York counterparts, but they are all very fast. This one is waiting outside the Istanbul Gar, perhaps for a tourist arriving from Europe on the Orient Express.
but I don’t have any good ideas for the city planners around here. It’s clear that they’re trying to preserve what they can of a very historic city. You can’t put an underground metro system through the Byzantine cistern under the Aya Sofya. You can’t plow a four-lane highway through Dolmabahçe Palace. I’ve heard that some cities in China aren’t taking things as slowly as Istanbul, which is understandable but also very sad.

The Bosphorus really makes the city. Everything is built in relation to views of the water and access to the docks. The split down the middle breaks up the monotony of streets and buildings and makes the city feel smaller, or at least not as dense.

The Bosphorus also creates a huge obstacle. Portland, Oregon has eight bridges for a city of just over half a million people. Istanbul has two for 19 million. Take a minute and think about that one. What would you recommend to city planners?

There is talk of a third bridge, but it would be north of the city and there are protests about the environmental impact. Most of the people I have talked to say that they think
Kadıköy bus stationKadıköy bus stationKadıköy bus station

This is the bus station on the Kadıköy waterfront where I switch to a ferry if I'm crossing over to the European side of the city.
another bridge would just encourage more people to drive cars and that the city should focus on ferries, since they cause less damage to the environmental. I see the point and mostly agree, but given the traffic congestion on both bridges I doubt telling people to take ferries is enough.

A tunnel is being dug underneath, which will link both sides by metro. It sounds like a mini-version of the Chunnel that links England and France. However, work is going slowly. I imagine that archeologists have to inspect every shovelful. You wouldn't want to accidentally destroy ancient Ottoman pottery or Byzantine mosaics just for a metro.

There are three bridges that span the Golden Horn, which splits the European side of the city. However, it is a minor body of water, and one you can actually go around. There is no going around the Bosphorus. I live and work on the Asian side of the city, so the ferries and bridges are only important for me on evenings and weekends - thankfully.

As I said in the first paragraph, there is no way I can learn all there is to know about the transportation system here. I

The Üsküdar ferry stop is on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, north of Kadıköy, and my other option for getting across to Europe.
would have more information for you if I spoke Turkish and could travel around the city all day, instead of going to work. That not being the case, this will have to do for now. I recommend you to explore the city with every mode of transportation you can find. All roads lead to the Bosphorus.

Additional photos below
Photos: 13, Displayed: 13



Drinking a hot glass of çay on the ferry is one of the pleasures of not taking a bus over the bridge. Tea is always served in curved glasses with cute little spoons to stir in the sugar.
Beşiktaş ferry stopBeşiktaş ferry stop
Beşiktaş ferry stop

All the ferry terminals have turnstiles where you swipe your Istanbulkart. Beşiktaş is on the European side, in a cool neighborhood, with a park dedicated to the Pirate Barbarossa. You can also visit his tomb, a short walk from the ferry stop.
Istiklal tramIstiklal tram
Istiklal tram

Istiklal is the pedestrian Champs Elysée of Istanbul. If you don't feel like walking you can take the tram, which only runs the length of the avenue. It's a nice walk, but if you'd rather see Istiklal quickly, then the tram is it. It was the foreigner district in Ottoman times and housed all embassies. Now that the capital has been moved to Ankara all that is left is consulates, historic buildings and lots of shopping.

Besides the state-run ferries there are also private ferries. I've been told that they're faster and more convenient, but they don't accept the Istanbulkart and I'm not in such a hurry on the weekends. I imagine that if I commuted across the Bosphorus every day I would use them.
shuttle bussesshuttle busses
shuttle busses

Most companies, and all private schools, have their own vans for the morning and evening commute. Real busses are restricted to the main roads, since neighborhood streets are very narrow with tight corners.

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