PROVING IT’S THE JOURNEY AND NOT THE DESTINATION LIKE NOTHING ELSE: THE MINIBUS.
At the risk of sounding like some elitist, snobbish expat with delusions of grandeur, I have a confession to make: I don’t think Istanbul’s minibuses are the most stately mode of transport. No offense intended, this is just an observation. One of my earliest recollections involves veering in and out of traffic while the driver, mobile phone propped between shoulder and ear, cigarette clenched in teeth, drove and sorted change. Now that’s multitasking. On another trip, quite recently, the driver requested that all standing passengers crouch or squeeze three to a seat as the police were right behind him and he didn’t want to be fined for being overcapacity.
THE FRONT SEAT: THE MOST COMFORTABLE, REMEMBERING THAT COMFORT IS RELATIVE.
Not having a car (or wanting one) at my disposal, and being a firm believer in public transport in all its forms, I frequently use these nimble little buses that dart in and out of traffic without regard for what’s ahead, behind or below and seem to teeter precariously on upward bends in the road. Don’t get me wrong, they are efficient and cheap form of transport, just not especially comfortable—especially when you’re over 6 foot (190cm) tall and your crown makes repeated contact with the ceiling or the handlebars. The trip is unlikely to ever have the romance of say a train, and certainly not a vapur—despite the great skill of the drivers and their ability to multitask, it’s probably a little demanding of me to expect their one-man-crews to serve tea as well as navigate, sort change and carry out a conversation on their mobiles. Still, it’s good to dream.
YOUR TOUR GUIDE AND NARRATOR: MISS SOFIA ELIF.
Over the last year, however, the minibus experience has transformed itself into nothing less than great fun. And that’s entirely due to my traveling companion, and narrator daughter, Sofia Elif. Not only does Sof’s presence relinquish me of the gentlemanly need to abandon my seat once the bus becomes crowded, it enriches the experience of not just me, but I think the other passengers, who will hear squeals of delight when Sof sees a boy playing with a ball on the street, or better yet a scruffy mutt trotting along the roadside. Great shrieks of “Ohhh! Doggie!” or “Ball!” will erupt out of nowhere. Or she’ll start tugging on some woman’s headscarf, or flirt with a dour looking old uncle who looks like he hasn’t cracked a smile in a decade but suddenly does.