To tell the truth, I do not travel well. Rather than enjoying the travel experience, for me, it is more the ‘price you pay’ to arrive at your destination.
Our trip down from the UK via a Turkish budget airline was uneventful. However, once landed, we pass through passport control and retrieved our baggage, the official bit of travelling is done. Then the question of how to get from the airport to our accommodation for the night I could put off no longer.
Of all the various means before us, being met by friends, taking the city bus, the airport service bus or a taxi to our destination, choosing was difficult. The city bus runs an express service to the centre of Kadıköy which is near, but not actually that close to our destination. The Airport Service which is more direct than the city bus, but also does not go genuinely close to our goal. Taxis go the most direct and quickest route, but this is offset by the cost. Maybe it was the time of day, the darkness or just being tired… we opted for a taxi.
We bundled into the conveyance, I got in beside the driver and we headed off. Unlike in London where Black cab drivers must pass the “Knowledge”, here taxi drivers rarely know exactly where you want to go but will figure it out along the way. Our driver first opted to avoid the E5 dual carriageway as it would be the definitive illustration of congested traffic. I observed that as the plane landed and we crossed the E5, it was a panorama of traffic, standing still or creeping along. I did not object to his choice.
From the airport we joined the TEM motorway, which is a road I know and would have used if I were driving. However, our driver, feeling that traffic would be too much, opted instead to turn onto a new motorway which goes to the new third bridge over the Bosphorus. This bridge is on the coast of the Black sea, quite a ways north of where we were and where we intended to go.
I bowed to local knowledge and raised no objections. So we departed the road I knew and headed into terra incognito.
Mind you, I am curious regarding the new bridge and the new motorways connecting it…. I wasn’t wanting to cross back into Europe on our first night in…. This was especially true as our friend’s home is on the Asian side of the city, the same side as the airport and the motorway we were travelling on.
The driver was correct, traffic was light. He was flying along. I must admit I was feeling like we were being driven by a descendant of Jehu the prophet.
Our direction of travel was north, north-west. Our friends live basically westward. Hence, we are travelling in a negative direction, and for every kilometre north there will be a corresponding kilometre south. I am not worried. I trust the driver. But… but… we are going out of our way, and at great speed….
I admit to enjoying the forested hills and travelling over impressive concrete via-ducts. There is something impressive about being transported high over valleys. Then I spot a motorway sign showing an exit for Umraniye. Now, for me Umraniye is meaningless save that is where we could turn south, south-west and be really heading towards our goal.
Our driver is making excellent time, racing along in lane four – the furthest from the exit. The first exit sign has come and gone, and still he continues thundering down lane four, traffic occupying the three lanes to our right.
Now, honestly, I am quietly concerned. I really, really want to see the third bridge, but NOT tonight. I keep quiet… either your trust your driver or you do not….
The exit is nigh, and dare I say at the last moment, the driver begins to ‘power over’ to the exit. Room or no room, cars and such, are all immaterial, he is shooting for the exit…. Which we duly take.
This new road is also a sparsely utilised eight lane motorway. With the road wide open, our driver speeds up and we take up our position, once again, in lane four. I am much happier in myself as we are now heading directly towards our goal. But, naturally, as we draw near Umraniye area, the traffic increases immensely.
Soon we are in a long, never-ending parking lot like experience. Traffic, that is standing traffic, is everywhere. The dual carriageway is no longer eight lane but six; we have road markings for three lanes, but we have four lanes of traffic jostling for position and advancement.
We are near the high hill called “Çamlıca”. Near the top the Turkish state has built a brand new massive mosque which dominates the skyline and is visible from many miles away. It is a glorious testament to power and influence of the government – just like the grandiose buildings that grace so many cities in the UK. Those impressive stone edifices built during the time of the British Empire and are a lasting testament to the power and wealth of that era.
The city of Istanbul is likewise graced with many extraordinary edifices which the Ottoman Empire erected over the course of 600 plus years. They stand as a clear and lasting testament to the power and might of that immense empire.
This latest mosque is on that scale. But it speaks not of the past but the current state of the Republic of Turkey.
Traffic being what it was, we had ample time to appreciate the massive complex.
In contrast, on the back side of the hill and nearer the summit, a massive concrete pillar soars into the sky. Still under construction, it is to be a new communications tower. The goal is to replace the rather ugly cluster of communication and television towers on top of Çamlıca, moving them to the top of the new tower. That will be a marked improvement.
However, the tower, in its current unfinished state, looks like a unimaginative phallic symbol thrust impossibly high into the sky. Standing without the communication rigs secured to the pinnacle nor the viewing platforms and restaurants completed, it is merely the carcass upon which the tower will be built. Yet, when it is finished, it will be a wonder to behold, soaring 365.5 metres and this from on top of a hill. It will the tallest building and a landmark in Istanbul.
This dual carriageway, thronged with crawling traffic goes under the skirt of this hill through a tunnel. On emerging from the tunnel, the overhead signs declare a division in the roadway; straight ahead to Üsküdar, our destination, or right to the second bridge and Europe. Traffic is inching along towards Üsküdar; I am happy-ish. At the least, we are travelling toward our goal.
Our driver manoeuvres, with difficulty, to the right. This is the exit that goes, according to the overhead sign, and to the best of my knowledge where I do NOT want to go. I have absolutely no desire to go over the second bridge – none.
Traffic is not moving, it is stop and go with the emphasis on stop. As I observed, our driver has, with difficulty, left the Üsküdar bound lanes and now we are estranged from them, from the lanes going where I want to go…. And by separated I mean with a substantial barrier – there can be no repentance now.
Either you trust the driver or you do not… I sat silently. Inside I was in a roiling turmoil.
We slowly crawl along to a road jutting off to the right – well it couldn’t go left could it, as that is where the standing traffic is. Our driver, with purpose and direction, turns on to this road and leaves the masses behind. The road is much narrower, only a two lane passage. But, there are far fewer who are using it, so our speed has increased immediately.
Down we fly, following the meandering path of this residential street. We come to a sharp turn and it is an acute turn up the hill. We take that and are shortly going over top of the motorway that is going to the second bridge. This driver knows his stuff.
We turn right and I am surprised at the good time we are making considering the time of day. We are now in Üsküdar proper and heading towards the banks of the Bosphoros. The road crested the summit, and we plunged down the narrow road towards the shore below. We come to a ‘Y’ junction and the driver, decisively and with purpose takes the left arm.
Now travelling on a steep, narrow, cobbled road there is just enough room to pass the cars parked on one side. Down we go, the road turns to the left sharply down until we come to a sign strategically placed across the road declaring the road closed. There is nothing for it. With absolutely no room to turn around, the only action is to reverse back up whence we came. I am glad I was not driving.
Now the driver took this in his stride. He did not throw a wobbly, nor curse the city council nor any other emotional diatribe. He put the taxi in reverse and cautiously reversed back up the hill between the parked cars, the edge of the road and back to the curve.
Well, before we got there, another vehicle came down the same, narrow, cobblestone passage. The descending vehicle came to where we were. Naturally we stopped.
After some mutual stopped-ness, our driver energetically gestured to the descended one to reverse up the hill.
He did. We did.
Finally, we arrived back at the ‘Y’ junction and this time took the right arm, quickly descending the last bit of the hill. Once on the sea-side road we passed by the end of the road we had attempted. The workers had not yet laid the final stretch of cobblers, the road was impassible. Added to this was a massive pile of sand blocking the exit.
We travelled along the side of the Bosphoros coming to the major square of Üsküdar. The city council has redesigned this square many times over the years we lived there. Once again they are redeveloping it… the last time for a long while I hope.
Whatever they have done, traffic was manageable, and we made it through the maze expeditiously. There is a one-way road at the bottom of the hill to the south. Sometimes it is a one-way up and sometimes it is a one-way down. It too has changed many times over the years. On that day it was a one-way up, exactly what we needed. Up we went.
Then travelling up Doğancılar street, we passed all the roads to the left which are all posted ‘Do Not Enter’. Then we come to the one we want, a one-way, and going our way.
We power up the road, over the summit down part way on the other side to our destination. We have arrived.
Mind you, going this way and that, up, down and back, it all has a cost. It came to ₺150 which is a lot of money. Shocked me it did. Works out to about £25 or $37 USD.
Through it all, we were at the mercy of a complete stranger. We had to trust him. We had to have faith he would convey us to our stated destination. We encountered difficulties, struggles, barriers, and we were not driving. It very much affected us, but it was not ours to solve. We were to sit there and let the driver handle and sort it. He did.
For me, this speaks of the Christian walk. We must trust and have faith in God. Whatever the barriers, struggles or troubles, letting Him sort it and carry us on to our destination. Importantly, He is not a stranger, He is not ‘sorting it as he goes along’ like our driver. He never makes a misstep nor takes a wrong turn.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, either I trust the driver, or not…