Moving from a small town to a big city is daunting. Moving to one where you don’t speak the language is worse. There are new sights, smells, and interactions to get accustomed to- and you can barely figure out what’s going on!
When I began planning for this trip, I figured I would have to walk to and from everywhere. I knew Istanbul’s metro didn’t quite reach Ortaköy (the neighborhood I call home) or even Beşiktaş (school). However, I forgot that trains aren’t the only way to get around in a big city: Istanbul’s transportation network also includes buses, trams, trolleys, ferries, and funiculars.
It’s a very well-connected system that’s able to ship you to wherever you need to go within or outside Istanbul- though at the mercy of traffic conditions that change by the minute- and usually involves minimal walking and transfers. But how to figure out which buses go where? We were given a rundown of the important ones: DT2 gets us to school, DT1 gets us home again, and 30D goes to school, 2nd campus, and to the bottom of the historic district. But what about the others? 22, U1, 42T, and about seven more pass the stop in Ortaköy center alone.
That’s where this neat app called Trafi comes into play. I can’t remember how I discovered it, but it’s been a lifesaver. It has every bus/train/ferry/etc schedule and route, maps, prices, and directions (hit two places on the map and choose from the results) as well as a complete metro map. It’s been the most amazing thing ever and IT WORKS OFFLINE!
So with problem #1 taken care of, the rest is easy. Istanbul operates like any major city and offers an Akbil (now Istanbulkart) card system to pay for fares. Just walk onto the bus/ferry/etc and wave it in front of the reader and *ding* you’re good. Need to reload? There are kiosks everywhere that involve 2 steps: 1. Put the card on the reader (like literally, no insertion necessary), and 2. Insert money. It’s over in 10 seconds or less. Street vendors can also re-load cards for you, and the money lasts for a while (with the student discount, a bus ride costs 1.5 lira- about 50 cents). Buses and trains are clean and modern, with helpful screens that tell you upcoming stops and plenty of standing space for when they get crowded.
Aside from traffic, the downside to this system is that it stops running early. Ferries shut down at 8pm, and buses/trains switch off at midnight. Thankfully, taxis are everywhere and run 24/7. Though they’re more expensive, they aren’t ridiculous. Ortaköy to the airport (an hour ride) costs 60 lira ($20). If you make it clear you’re not a clueless tourist by noting the taxi number on the door/license plate, it’s unlikely you’ll be taken for a joyride. So far I’ve had a few rides and zero bad experiences.