Sunday, July 25: I fall in love with Atatürk today. I read about him in Rick Steves’ Istanbul as I travel to Taksim Square, where I see his statue, and here’s what I find: His name was Mustafa Kemal but the Turks called him Atatürk: literally “father of the Turks” but in the context it stands for “Grand Turk.” He defended Turkey from invaders during WWI and saved Turkey from the chopping block after the war. He was a war hero, but not only that, he had a vision of what he wanted modern-day Turkey to be. He wanted a European-style democracy. In less than 10 years, he aligned Turkey with the West, separated religion and state, adopted the Western calendar, decreed that Turks should have surnames, changed the alphabet to Roman letters from Arabic script, abolished the sultanate and caliphate and polygamy, emancipated women and outlawed the fez and the veil. He died at 9:05 on November 10, 1938 and each year all of Turkey observes a moment of silence on this day.
I am so moved by his story that I actually get all choked up and cry as I read this, while I am riding the crowded tram!
Before my journey to Taksim, I eat my last breakfast on the terrace of the Big Apple with Jessica and her mom. After, I walk up through Sultanahmet Park and stop into the Tomb of Sultan Ahmet the First (1590-1617), who ascended to the imperial throne at age 13. His greatest achievement was the building of the Blue Mosque, completed in 1616. He died of typhoid fever a year later at age 27. He rests here with a dozen or so children.
Walking to the tram I come across a really cool Turkish restaurant called the Han, where I take pictures. I resolve that I will eat here when I return to Istanbul on Saturday, July 31. Tonight I cannot eat here as I will be taking the dreaded overnight bus to Cappadocia.
Taksim in the New District:
Off the tram and on to the funicular, up the hill to Taksim Square. On the funicular I strike up a conversation with a nice Turkish family. I tell them I LOVE Turkey, that I am teaching English in Korea, that I hope to teach in Turkey next year. The husband gives me his email address and tells me he might be able to help me with this quest. I am grateful.
Off the funicular, I am totally confused as streets are branching off in every direction. I ask about Taksim Park, where I wander about for a bit. Then I find the square with the Republic Monument, the statue of Atatürk. On one side of the 1928 statue is the military hero; on the other he is depicted as Turkey’s first president.
As I leave the statue and head toward Istiklal Street, I am shocked to see Tomomi, my Japanese friend who explored Dubai with me!! We give each other a hug. He is rushing to the airport to catch his flight home to Estonia. I say what are the chances in a strange city the size of Istanbul that we would run into each other like this? Sometimes it is such a small world.
I have come to Istiklal Street mainly to shop. I am looking for some white capris; I have never been able to find any in Korea or at home in the U.S. The only thing I buy is a pair of charcoal gray cargo pants. After the long walk down the street, I stop for lunch at a lovely restaurant where I have an eggplant (they call it aubergine) kebab. The restaurant manager and the head waiter talk to me in broken English, asking about my trip, where I am from. They are very sweet. This is just one of many times where I am eating and I think I am going to be lonely, but I’m not. I have great company!
I continue to meander down the steep hill and stop at the Galata Tower. This 205-foot-tall stone tower built by the Genoese dates from the mid-14th century.
It’s been used over the years as a fire tower, a barracks, a dungeon, and a launch pad for testing human flight. I stand in line to go up to the elevator and think I will die of the heat. Sometimes, in these situations, in close quarters where the air is at dead standstill, I have panic attacks. I try to imagine myself somewhere else. The elevator is hot as well. Finally we are released and go out to the balcony of the tower. The view of Istanbul is phenomenal.
I can see everything: the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, Asian Istanbul, the Sea of Marmara. It’s amazing! I enjoy as long as I can, dreading the trip back down (I have seen the lines going back down the elevators!).
The dreaded overnight bus:
I take the tram back to the Big Apple and though I’ve already checked out, they let me use a shower. I change into my comfy “traveling clothes” and head for Turista Travel, where I am to catch a shuttle to the Istanbul bus terminal for my first overnight bus to Cappadocia.
On the shuttle, I meet an Italian girl named Marinella, who is an environmental researcher in Milan. She says you do this kind of work for passion, not for money. I say, oh well, as long as you can afford to travel, that’s what’s important, right? She agrees.
We are in the shuttle heading into the bus terminal and we’re at a dead standstill. There are two lanes of buses, heading up these huge convoluted ramps. There are multitudes of buses! Marinella tells me that according to the Lonely Planet, the Istanbul Bus Terminal is the largest bus terminal in the world, or at least in Europe. I can believe it. I have never seen anything like it. Korea has an extensive bus system, but it is nothing like this! We sit there for nearly an hour, in the queue up the ramps to catch our overnight bus. Luckily Turista has built in enough time.
I have the Lonely Planet Turkey Guide, but I can’t find this information to confirm it. I do a Google search but I find the largest bus terminal is the Preston Bus Station in Lancashire, England, though it’s about to be pulled down. But I read in Tom Brosnahan’s turkeytravelplanner.com that this bus terminal, known as Büyük Otogar, has 168 ticket offices and gates, its own Metro station, shops, restaurants, hotel, police station, clinic and mosque. Anyway. It’s the biggest bus terminal I have ever seen!
In one of the lower parking levels, which we can see as we are going up the ramp, I point out to Marinella a guy in some black bikini briefs, changing his clothes from his bag in the bus cargo hold. He is naked except for these briefs, but he proceeds to get dressed: button up shirt, nice trousers, tie, socks, shoes. We sit on this ramp so long that we see him get dressed start to finish!
When we arrive at the top deck of the terminal, it is mass confusion. We are to get on the Suha bus line. None of us knows how the bus system works. Do they have toilets on board? No, we find out they don’t. How often do they stop? We can’t find out. We all run up to Suha’s shabby and closet-sized office and climb 3 flights of stairs to use the squat toilets. I have no idea what to expect.
The seats are relatively comfortable, though not as large as the seats on the Korean buses. Once I settle in the very front right hand seat, and the bus begins its journey, we are served water, juice or soda by a bus attendant (like a flight attendant) pushing a cart. I’m afraid to drink because I have no idea how long it will be before we stop. It turns out there is no worry, because for the first two hours or so, we make too many stops to count. I guess we are stopping at every bus station on the outskirts of Istanbul for this inland trip. I write in my journal for a while and then settle into an uncomfortable and fitful sleep.
In the two seats directly across the aisle from me are a Muslim mother wearing a colorful headscarf and her three very young children. How will these children do on this bus trip, crammed as the four of them are, on these two seats? It is beyond me….