Forget everything you’ve ever heard about traffic, everything you’ve experienced in traffic and also everything you’ve read on the radio about traffic, because none of it is applicable to Istanbul. It is indescribable, unfathomable, incredible and absolutely mad in terms of traffic, and while all this is a little over the top coming from two naive 18-yo german dudes starting to explore the world, it definitely is a crazy experience, which we will probably make again at other points of our trip. (Edit from other,later point of trip: You have no idea, young man. Greetings from India, older Vince.)
Istanbul is huge, and we knew that it was, but the actual scale of the city doesn’t get to us until we try to get in by bicycle. If you look at the city on a map and go west from the center (where we are coming from, obv.), along the mediterranean coastline, you’ll notice that you have lots of other, smaller cities all the way before you actual get to the Istanbul city border, leaving no space for rural areas – ist basically on big suburb.
Luckily, we have lots of time to get to the center, as our date in Istanbul, Q‘s (now ex-) girlfriend, arrives in Istanbul in a couple of days still. Accordingly, we’re pretty chill about the last stages, until one flat tire after the other unbalances our Chi to the point of screaming fits and wall-punching. Um, yeah, and also: the traffic. What is it? How? Why? …The closer we get to Istanbul, the worse the shoving and honking gets. Road markings bear as much meaning as cloud formations, resulting in two or more lanes more than the road allows, and if there’s an opening anywhere, it takes 5 seconds at most for it to be impossibly filled with a car defying the laws of space. And then there’s our eternal fight with the busses: They’re all the way to the right, just like us, so we’re technically sharing a „lane“, but they don’t seem okay with that; apparently, the busses are hop-on hop-off, randomly coming to a full stop without any type of warning, and shoving back into traffic the same way. We can’t count on any type of consideration, and the only law out here is the rule of the strongest. Not a good rule if you’re up against a bus, sitting on a bicycle.
The houses get bigger, the streets get wider and we get smaller. Istanbul seems to be unsatisfied with the 17 million inhabitants it has, because there are construction sites everywhere, and the towers sprout in groups. On the top of a hill, we take a break, and we get a Birdseye view of the hillsides around us, all cramped with apartment complexes; It’ll take us quite a while still to get through this man made city jungle on this highway to hell, dust in our lungs and dirt in our eyes, surrounded by the roaring metal beasts moving inch by inch, caged in between one another.
Three days and about twelve flats later we finally arrive at Atatürk Airport and take a cheap and shabby hostel close by, because the action will continue next morning: At 4 AM we’ll take Zara from the airport and then still have nine hours to go before we can check into our AirBnB. Lots of time, you might think, but even with the metro and some bike riding we need about six hours to cut through the hilly city jungle. You can see the struggle on Quentins face, as he looks even worse than usually, the ugly fuck. Me, myself and I are obviously completely fine with the stress, handling everything professionally and with ease while barely breaking a sweat. Kidding aside, after arriving at the AirBnB and settling in, we’re all so done, and the three of us just kind of fall down on the bed and don’t move for a couple hours. A 120km biking day is nothing compared to this.
In the evening Zara and me wake up Q, who is contently drooling into his pillow, to take our first steps as tourists in this moloch of a city, and we realize how spacious even the inner circle of the city is. We also note that our apartment, looking very central on the map, is actual still a good piece of way from the actual center of the city (for us, the area around Ayasofia). Nonetheless, we picked a very nice district, with a good atmosphere and specked with cool Cafés.