I wrote a few blog entries over on another blog site while in Istanbul.
If you'd like to see them, you can go to http://giovannaatesh.wordpress.com/ (I attempted to use wordpress for a while, but I've decided I like this Blogger better.)
Here's one of my posts that I particularly liked...
"Welcome to Mustacheland: A Short Commentary on Public Transportation in Istanbul by a Californian"
One month living in Istanbul, and I think I have now seen every sort of mustache that exists.
My Turkish father maintained a commendable bushy black stache for my entire childhood. In fact, when he decided to permanently shave it off 2 years ago, my sister and I thought the world was ending. He didn’t look the same. My baba was not my baba without his signature mustache. And it seems that many a Turk feels the same way.
One month ago I moved to Istanbul to learn Turkish and see where life takes me. Life has taken me to a place where I spend a total of 1.5 hours a day taking public transportation, mostly in the form of the metro from Levent to ITU/Maslak to Taksim and back to Levent. I run around the city going to work in Maslak editing English at my father’s office to Taksim for Turkish class and back home to Ulus, near Levent, at night. I spend lots of time entering and exiting metro stations, going up and down escalators, and of course, last but not least, blatently and rudely staring at the people around me.
And what do I see everywhere? MUSTACHES! Mustaches of all different shapes and sizes. Some large middle-aged men have ones so bushy that they overwhelm the owner’s lip. Some younger men have thin ones with curled up ends that make them look like some sort of strange Ottoman pirate. Some old men have untidy graying ones with the ends drooping down to match a grumpy frown. The other day I saw a neat and tidy little mustache with a man in a bowler hat to match. All of these I see and more while utilizing Istanbul’s giant mess of a public transit system.
Now public transportation in a giant urban setting, especially one in which the language spoken is not your mother tongue, can be a difficult undertaking. Public transportation in Istanbul is no exception. The metro and the trams are relatively easy to handle, aside from the strange little fact that even though there is only one metro line from Taksim to ITU, I still have to get off and get back on at 4.Levent since they haven’t yet made a connection between the older line and the line with the stops that were built later.** The trams and the Kabatas Funicular are pretty simple, with their set schedules and stops clearly marked and announced. The ferries that go to the Golden Horn and Sultanahmed, where all the touristy things are, are relatively easy to tackle as well.
The regular city buses, on the other hand, are a completely different matter. Since I haven’t really been able to communicate well enough to be able to ask my fellow mustached commuters which bus goes where, I am having issues with the buses. The day that I actually did take the only bus I am sure about to the metro stop, it was so full I could barely squeeze on. One rainy day, I tried to take the bus back to my apartment at night and I waited for 30 minutes trying, unsuccessfully might I add, to get on 3 different completely full buses. Finally, I gave up and walked the 30 minutes home in the rain. And the dolmus, oooohhhh the dolmus, how you alude my understanding alltogether! The dolmus are privately owned minibuses that have 2-4 names of places listed on the front windshield and no set price. Good luck trying to get on one of those without much knowledge of Turkish! Even now that I am beginning to be able to function at a rudímentary level in the language, I am still pretty sure that I will not understand anything going on in the dolmus and am still too scared to try it out.
Even if you know which bus to take, it seems like every bus is always overwhelmingly full. And getting on a bus filled with school children and villagers doesn’t exactly make you feel like you’re in the big modern city that Istanbul would like you to think you’re in. Anybody with any money drives to work, making traffic in the city horrendous. Others take a taxi wherever they go. The metro has its fare share of business folk and University students, but the buses, ladies and gentlemen, the buses are filled to the brim with everyone else, the odd people out. They are crowded and smelly and kind of miserable.
In general, I feel that many Turkish Istanbul dwellers have a sort of discrimination for the public transportation of this city. The metro is acceptable, but the buses and the dolmuses are not. “Just take a taxi!” I’m told. Now I do not come from a taxi culture, so the idea of taking a taxi all the time for no reason other than to skip taking a bus kind of disgusts me, even though the buses themselves aren’t my favorite thing either. The taxis here really aren’t that expensive, it’s true, however, I personally believe that this is because you are required to know exactly where you are going and how to get there because your mustached taxi driver is guarenteed to have no clue where the address is, or at least pretend he has no clue, and then proceed drive you around in circles for 15 minutes in the rainy traffic while you figure out the Turkish word to tell him to go straight, which is “düz” by the way in case you’d like to know. (Also, for your information, “sol” means left and “sağ” means right. You are welcome. Now you can take a taxi home!)
My aversion to taxis aside, I do love that I can grab a taxi home from Taksim to Ulus for a mere 15 lira whereas in California that same ride would cost you $30. I mean, at 2am I wouldn’t take a bus anyway. BUT, at 8am, I will be damned if I will get into a taxi. But the buses are too full. And the dolmuses are too scary. So I walk 30 minutes to the metro stop. At least I have lots of mustaches to observe…
**On March 29, 2010, the “two” lines of the single metro that I take were finally combined. The first few days were a little rocky with the metro basically not functioning in the mornings (I waited 30 minutes last Tuesday for the metro only to find out it was not going to be coming…), but now everything is just fine. In fact, my commute time has been cut down by a whole 10 minutes!