Driving to Istanbul

Get out of your comfort zone.I was in my forties before embracing this philosophy.”Shall we go to Istanbul” I said.Nobody disagreed so we drove from Bulgaria to Istanbul in five hours.Now you probably don’t know if this is fast or “Sunday afternoon” speed.It’s fast ,very fast.Dave is a terrible driver,a boy racer who isn’t a boy and I had only just bought the jeep in Spain.It was black with smoke glass windows,cruise control and felt like being in an aircraft cockpit.I loved it .It was the best car I’d ever owned.However, Dave drove and I was bullied into navigating and Colin came along for the ride.

When we got to the frontier Dave rushed off for the temporary visas abandoning the jeep between the Turkish customs and passport control.I asked Colin to watch the vehicle and went to see about temporary car insurance.It cost just over one hundred euros and was a pretty worthless document Colin said,despite the stamps and flourishes applied by the charming Turkish official.I smiled back and duly handed over my credit card.Dave reappeared wanting euros for the visa.Afer paying we were on our way.The new autovia snaked ahead for hundreds of kilometres across a barren featureless landscape.A long way before the city limits the traffic began to build up and we pulled into the first services we had passed and filled up the tank.Colin and I got out too and the three of us began squabbling over the cost of three thousand Turkish lira and the current exchange rate.Colin and Dave began smoking dangerously near the pumps.I went off to hand over my credit card again knowing it was expensive fuel.In fact Turkey has the most expensive carburant in Europe.

The two lane highway swooped down dizzily between new residential complexes stacked like giant Lego pieces tumbling down the hillside.I kept saying”look at those flats” or “is that the bridge over there?”Dave was now grimly focused on the switch back road ahead.This was not his habitual driving position.He usually had one arm on the window frame and the other resting lightly on the bottom of the steering wheel.I had given up saying “ten to Twi,quarter to three “because it made him angry.Instead I turned around to get Coin’s attention but he was sat with his legs pulled up and gripping them with white knuckles and appeared to be in a sort of trance.

We had left the house in Bulgaria unprepared and didn’t have a map.In fact I have always prided myself on my sense of direction but now I was becoming more anxious not to miss the sign for the Blue Mosque as there were no other directions to the “centrum” and instead for us to be carried along in the flow of traffic that was hurtling along seemingly intent on leaping the Bosphorus and for us to be lost in Asia.Cars were being funnelled off to into exit routes to Levant, Byrampasha and other sprawling suburbs with hotchpotch skylines.Some of these e areas of the city were originally makeshift slums that grew into permanent structures which accounts for the random skyline and lack of any urban planning.These jerry built areas would be the first to collapse in the event of an earthquake and Istanbul is very near the north Anatolian  fault line.

Everytime Dave tersely called out “this one?” as the sign was obscured by another juggernaut.”I don’t know” I wailed willing a familiar name to appear on the next sign.Among the three of us our total knowledge of the city was:It’s a city on the Bosphorus between Europe and Asia with a Blue Mosque.Colin who had come back to life at this stage said knowingly There’s the Topkapi Palace.I vaguely remembered seeing an old film in Technicolor.

Dave was getting more and more impatient with my lack of clear navigating instructions as he huffed and puffed and swore softly.I was torn between holing my nerve and taking the correct exit or giving in and leaving the carriageway which had now metamorphosed into a different beast of a road.It was equally fast with moving carriages packed with people who had appeared above ground.They stopped abruptly at stations first on the les and then on the right of the highway.This was my first site of the metro, a bus which looks like a train but behaves more like a tram.It was also my first introduction to the swaying mass of humanity that is Istanbul’s commuters.

Colin pointed to the next sign and chuckling read”Eyup” in a yorkshire accent.Dave was practising his “Eyup vicar” impersonation as I saw the road sign for the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.”Look” I shouted as the road crested another ridge of endless vistas of urban sprawl treeless and depressing in the early afternoon monochrome light.Ahead in the distance a brief ray of sunlight glistened on the bridge spanning the densely packed city on this side that dropped away to the waters of the Bosphorus.The land on the Asian side rose up to low hills crowned with radio masts.Jostling in the valley and crawling up the hillside were block after block of new uniform flats.”How big is this place?” Dave said.”Bigger than London “Colin replied.”Do you think it’s bigger than New York?” I chipped in.”Yes” was Colin’s pithy reply.”So do I”I said gazing with awe at such a vast urban view.

Suddenly with a rush Dave swung the jeep off the carriageway and onto the slip road which came to an abrupt stop.as too much traffic tried to join a broad tree-lined avenue.On the inside vehicles impatient to get past pushed inch by inch alongside.Dave tried to edge them out but in the high stakes game of who can occupy a space too small for a car he was a novice.By now Colin was sitting forward excited at seeing the city close up.The boulevard dropped steeply with broad pavements on both sides .The sun had come out and students were sauntering down the hill.I could see the entrance to Yildiz technical University and a large green area with trees the first I had seen.As the traffic moved slowly it felt like being in Madrid until the Bosphorus came into view ahead.I said to Dave we took the right exit and he turned to me and smiling said” I knew it was the right one”.I let it go just happy to be here.

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