I’m on the way to Tblisi, Georgia in the Caucasus and stopped in Istanbul for three days mostly because as a Turkish Airlines passenger the stopover was free.
The flight from Dulles was smooth (I flew business class on an A-330) and took about ten hours. Istanbul has a brand-spanking new airport located about 45 minutes outside the city on the Black Sea.
Too frugal or cheap to take a taxi downtown, it took about 5 minutes to figure out the bus system which delivered me close to my hotel for $3.28. I got off the bus and tried to follow my smartphone directions to the hotel, taking left after left as I circumnavigated Taksim Square; I finally arrived.
Later, I went out to grab dinner and decided that I should try and find the bus drop-off as I would need it for the return to the airport. I made a left out of the hotel and discovered the drop-off about 500 feet from the entrance so I certainly took the long way round.
Istanbul has 15 million people, twice the number of New York and is strategically located on the Bosphorus between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.
The Russians and others have historically lusted after the area as control of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles can control ship traffic between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, bottling up the Russian Navy.
I stayed near Taksim Square and mostly just kicked around the neighborhood as I have been here several times before. Turks are friendly but the culture is dominated by men with women relegated to second tier positions, or so it seems to me.
I asked the concierge where to catch a ferry to the Asian side and of course, he suggested an over-priced sightseeing cruise. I ambled down the hill to the water and found a ferry terminal where I purchased a ticket and rode Kabatas-Uskudar-Eminonu, which took me to Asia and back for $1.81.
These ferry captains are dealing with some treacherous currents; they also come into the dock quite nearly full-speed ahead, reversing at the last moment. Our helmsman steered with his knee, smartphone in hand; so much for a sharp lookout.
Taksim Square on a Saturday afternoon makes New York’s Times Square look a bit like Mayberry, minus Andy, of course.
The lack of police and security was quite noticeable given the relatively recent history of serious unrest in the country.
Luckily for them, they have a new progressive mayor and they seem to have turned the corner at last.