Sunday, September 22, 2013

Buses and Taksis

After reading about driving in Turkey and the hassle and expense of registering a car here, I decided to rely on public transportation during my year-long assignment.  I was pretty anxious about riding the trains and buses.  I'm not a fan of people - smelly, germy, impatient people - and I don't read the language, which makes timetables and instructions fairly useless.  Nevertheless, my anxiety about driving here overrode my anxiety about taking public transport.

Public transportation is extensive, cheap, and very easy in Izmir.  One magnetic card - the Kent Kart, which I can reload pretty much anywhere - will get me on any train, subway, bus, or ferry.  One trip costs 1.85 TL (Turkish Lira), and I can transfer anywhere for free within 90 minutes.  I've actually taken the bus from my apartment to the city center, completed my business there, and caught the train home all for 1.85 TL.  On the whole, I don't mind taking the public transport - plus it's a very ecofriendly thing to do - but it can be...interesting.

I woke up this morning at 0715, after going to bed at 0300 (I finished Graceling, very good book), read until 1000 (Raven Boys - I recommend it) while drinking a Starbucks mocha frappuccino, goofed around for a bit, and finally set out around 1200 for free brunch at the All-Ranks Club and shopping at the Commissary.

I decide to give the bus another chance, although I prefer the train, because the trip generally takes less time and involves less walking.  The bus stop down the street from my apartment is empty, suggesting I've just missed a bus, so I settle on the bench to wait.  A young woman soon arrives, examines the electronic board displaying when the next bus is due, and turns to me:  "Blah blah blah, yetmish blah blah?"  Oh, I know this one - I'm quite good with my numbers, and I'm waiting for otobus 70 too!  "Avet" I say, with an authoritative smile and nod, and point to the board, which has helpfully changed to show that bus number 70 is indeed on its way.  She seems satisfied by our exchange and thanks me.

Our bus arrives a few minutes later, and the woman jumps on first - and then the bus driver closes the doors and starts to pull away.  Like a true Turk, I jump in front of the bus and wave at the driver, who stops again to let me on.  The bus is packed and standing room only.  The sign shows the bus can carry 54 seated passengers and 114 standing passengers, and I assure you, that's how many people were already on this bus.  After threading my arm around one guy's waist and under a woman's arm to scan my Kent Kart, I am standing at the very front of the bus, nothing between me and the broad windshield.  It's awesome.  We're at my favorite spot on the bus ride:  the top of a hill with an incredible view of the Gulf of Izmir.  The bus is swaying and bouncing as it speeds along, and I have the urge to throw my arms wide and cry, "I'm king of the world!"  Okay, no I don't.  But you get the picture.  Then the bus stops and the doors open, pinching my heel; the pain quickly subsides to total numbness, I limp back a few paces, and 10 more people get on the bus.  None get off. 

And we set off down the road, and stop, and more people get on the bus, and none get off, and the bus driver yells something and we all shuffle around, and the people who got on at the middle-of-the-bus-doors pass up their Kent Karts and someone scans them and passes them all back.  (This is extraordinary to me.  Everyone trusts they'll get their own card back, and the bus driver trusts everyone to pay for the ride.)

At this point, we are packed into this bus with every inch of everyone mashed into every inch of everyone else.  And some of us stink.  Not me; I don't stink. Other people do.  And this is when I realize I've been up for hours, I'm bouncing along on a bus mashed against stinky people and I haven't had anything but a Starbucks Frappuccino.  I'm feeling a little green...and I don't mean ecofriendly.  I break out into a cold sweat, followed by a hot flash, and I'm desperately planning my exit strategy - my bus stop is in sight, but I'm still crushed in the middle of the bus.  "Lutfen, lutfen!"  Please, please, let me off this damn bus NOW.  A couple of kind women realize the situation and call something out to the driver.  Maybe, "Let her off here, before she pukes on us."  Once on the street, my head clears and I feel a wet warmth in my heel and realize the pinched spot is now bleeding freely - I'm leaving bloody footprints.  Fortunately, I'm a Girl Scout, and I have wipes, Neosporin, and Band-Aids in my purse.

My visit to the American center in Izmir is tasty, brief, and easy.  I'm not about to tackle a bus or a train with eight bottles of Starbucks, a bottle of wine, and a bottle of Grey Goose - not to mention the various canned goods and cleaning products - so I catch a taksi home. 

Taksis are plentiful in Izmir; you can't cross a street without nearly being hit by one.  Like any elementary school kid, I have proudly memorized my address, so I recite it to the taksi driver.  He repeats it back to me correctly and takes off at break-neck speed, honking at every other vehicle and living thing on the road...while entering my address into the GPSr because he doesn't know where it is.  Unfortunately, my street doesn't exist in the digital world - it's not on Google maps, nor is it in the driver's GPSr.  I'm able to point him in the right direction by asking for him to take me to Nah-to.  Once Nah-to is in sight, I tell him to turn left, turn right, left again, go straight, stop here. 

And this, this, is the highlight of my day.  I was pleased to learn "Hello, how are you, my name is, what's your name..."  but I'm just tickled pink that I can give directions to my apartment in my rudimentary Turkish.  My pleasure is only slightly dimmed when this taksi driver doesn't offer to help me carry my groceries to my door (most of them do), but hey, I made it home, and that's what really matters.

This post brought to you by the children laughing and screaming at the park, who I can hear because I don't have my A/C on; it's finally starting to cool off.


  1. I love reading about your adventures! Riding a bus does not sound fun at all. Do the trains get crowded like that?

    1. The trains can be crowded, but not usually. And the trains are very, very clean. The station guards stop people from littering or eating/drinking on the platforms, although I have seen people eat on the trains.

  2. Girl Scout Motto: Be Prepared!!
    If there is a next time at the top of the hill on a bus yell "Made it Ma, Top of the World!" I bet you will get more breathing room ;)
    Chris =]

  3. Love it! You always make me laugh. Keep posting your adventures. They are so much fun.