20-21 August, 2011

I spent quite a few hours on Sunday planning my route through Turkey and programming the GPS. It was another perfect day when I arose after a big day of exploring on Saturday and it was very pleasant on the hotel’s 4th floor terrace, so I parked up for a few hours armed with paper maps, Lonely Planet Guidebook and the most important thing of all …

The advice from a local. And not just any local.

merCAN is a fellow K1600GT rider i.e. he has a Family Truckster just like me. I had seen a post from him on a K16 forum and had sent him a private message asking for advice about where to go in Turkey.

We’d exchanged emails for the past couple of weeks and on my arrival in Istanbul he’d kindly invited me to join him and his wife for dinner.

He lives on the Asian side of town in the outer district of Umraniye.  He’d given me coordinates of where we could meet assuming I’d be on the Truckster. But absent the Truckster this was a much more difficult proposition. Or perhaps not given my experience with the traffic on Friday.

By early Staurday afternoon I thought I’d better start making the journey to Umraniye for our scheduled rendezvous at 5pm. But I had little idea of where it was or how to get there. So I asked someone trying to sell me a Bosphorus River cruise. He was great. He pointed me towards the correct ferry terminal and told me to catch a blue mini bus when I got off.

The ferry was the easy part. And a great way to get move from one continent to another.

When I disembarked there were more buses adjacent to the ferry terminal than at the bus depot in Bris Vegas during a bus drivers strike. How do I find the one going to Umraniye? I just started asking the bus drivers and eventually found the right one. But there was something they were trying to tell me. I couldn’t understand though. Luckily another passenger spoke English and told me I’d have to change buses – he would let me know when to get off.

So the bus set off. The bus driver was unreal. Not only did he have to negotiate Istanbul’s insane traffic but he was also taking fares and giving change back to the passengers. But not while stopped. No this would be far to simple and timetables would not be achieved.

The bus driver would set off as soon as the new passengers were onboard, only taking the fares and giving change whilst weaving in and out of the traffic, AND, the bus was a manual. Seemingly he never took his eyes off the road and never missed a sliver of a gap that he could force the bus into. And all the while a serpent like right arm would reach back, accept money and somehow determine how much he’d been given and how much change was due before reaching back with the always correct change. Eyes forward all the time.

Health and safety in Australia or the UK would surely shut this type of operation down.

The other thing I couldn’t quite work out was bus stops. I couldn’t see anything on the side of the road designating the bus would stop there. People just seemed to get on and off where they felt like it. There was no bell on the bus to alert the driver. It was as though he had a sixth sense. Every now and then he would stop and always people would get on.

But like most things I don’t understand that seem like organised chaos, it worked. It seemed like only I had no idea what was going on. This was probably the case.

It was quite a long journey, close to an hour before I was advised to get off and change buses. But what bus to change to and where to get it from?

I again asked a few bus drivers if they were going to my final destination but unfortunately they weren’t. Pointing from one suggested I needed go in a different direction and after 10 minutes walking I did find the bus that would get me to where I was meeting merCan.  About 15 minutes later we were shaking hands and talking about our experiences.

My paper map was presented together with a highlighter. Roads to ride and towns to visit were soon marked. He knew.  He’d been there on his Family Truckster.

Over dinner I received even more valuable information regarding hotels and restaurants.

Plus I got a lot more.

I got an insight to what people in Istanbul do on a Saturday night. I got to see the most fashionable street in town. I got to spend time with locals and do what they were doing. And learn more about Istanbul and Turkey and its people.

Thanks merCAN. This was a most wonderful and very personal experience – a taster of the generous hospitality I would encounter as I continued on my Turkey motorcycle tour – and I am truly grateful.