I’m writing– and also, crucially, posting– this while traveling on a Nilufer long-distance bus from Istanbul to Bursa. We were promised wireless on the bus; and yes, here it is. The uniformed attendant just came along the aisle. In addition to giving me the wireless password he was doling out tea, cake, and freshen-up towelettes to all passengers.
Definitely superior service!
Superior by far to dear, grungy old Greyhound, back home in the US. Superior, too, to the service on US domestic airlines (grudging ‘service’, no wi-fi, minimal or no snacks.)
Nilufer seems to be a Bursa-based private company. The friend who booked our tickets told us the bus will at some point board a ferry to take us some of the way across, rather than round, the Black Sea. The company may or may not be one of the many that have been successfully run by piously Islamic families here over the course of several decades. At the company’s terminal in Istanbul, there was a small room designated as “Mascid”.
From what we saw during six days in Istanbul, the city’s own municipal transit systems are fabulous. Earlier this week we took the city tram (sleek, clean, very frequent) from near to our hotel down to the Eminonu stop on the southern bank of the Golden Horn, then took a ferry across to Uskudar on the other (Asian) side of the Bosphorus.
The ferry network that still forms the main arteries of the city’s circulation system is amazing! At any one time, scores of rather large ferries, for both passengers and cars, are at work either determinedly stitching their criss-crossing paths across the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus, or very efficiently loading and unloading their passengers at one of the city’s numerous well-run ferry terminals. I didn’t see a single hitch in the in the system: no mechanical breakdowns, no accidents, no glitches…
(While I’ve been writing the bus attendant has come around again twice: once with sealed plastic containers of drinking water, once to pick up our trash. He also brought a hygienically wrapped blanket to the woman across the aisle from us.)
Yesterday we took part in a small conference in the amazing Sabanci Towers complex in an area called 4-Levent. We took the tram from the hotel to the end of the line in Kabatas; then the “Funiculer” that runs up to Taksim; then the metro from there to 4-Levent. The interchanges were pleasant and well-marked. The vehicles frequent, clean, and well-maintained. Each part of the trip cost about $1 (US)– probably a lot for most city residents, but cheap and efficient for us.
I mention all this not only because I’m a real mass transit junkie, but also because the state of the city’s transit systems– along with the well-planned, well-kept, and clean state of the streets, parks, historic buildings, and other public facilities is a real testament to the effectiveness of Turkey’s moderately Islamist AKP ruling party.
Before current prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his colleagues in the AKP won their first national election in 2002, he had made his name as a very successful mayor of Istanbul. I believe the party still dominates city politics, though I am not sure. Anyway, the kinds of policies that make this city of around 12 million people such a pleasant and well-run place today must have been put in place a number of years ago.
Erdogan, his party, and his intriguing new foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu– who previously worked as a special adviser to the PM on foreign affairs– all deserve a lot more consideration. But just for now, the legacy the party has given to the amazing city of Istanbul is certainly worth noting.
I’ve been reading Orhan Pamuk’s book of memoirs about his childhood in the city, growing up there in the 1950s. He makes a big deal about the “huzun” (melancholy) with which he judged the city to be extremely deeply imbued at the time.
Pamuk attributed that huzun to a sense of post-imperial loss and shame. Interesting. If I have the time I’d love to compare that with my sense– as someone who was also, like Pamuk, born in 1952– of growing up in an empire that was actively disintegrating even as I was racking up the inches of childhood growth.
But today, Istanbul has very little discernible air of huzun at all. It seems optimistic, self-confident, clean, purposeful– and also, extremely pleasant.