Never Ending Madness of the Istanbul Bus System

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Spacial issues. Not an “issue” topping my list my first few weeks in the city, although I’d been warned that compared to American Spacial Bubbles, (which are like……………….this) Turkish Spacial Bubbles are like…this. This only become apparent my third Sunday in Istanbul as I attempted to make my way to Taksim Square. Not being able to blame Bayram for the non-existent shuttle service on Sunday’s, I learned the hard way that the only way to get into the city at noon on the weekends is to take bus 48 (not to be confused with 48A) and pray that the person next to you remembered to at least apply the ineffective watery roll-on deodorant that so many unfortunately sweaty people seem to wear.

Taksim Square. A large breath of pedestrian fresh air.

I took bus 48A (yes, the wrong bus) from Kemerburgaz. The bus was as crowded as a sardine can when I boarded, the next stop saw 10-15 more people climb aboard, and the next stop just as many, if not more, without a soul hesitating to clamor onto the humid, smelly bus and sweat out the hour long ride to Eyüp with one hundred and fifty of their closest cousins and neighbors. A crotchety old Turkish women had it out with the bus driver as her kinsmen squeaked past her, the crush of bodies allowing for many to bypass payment amongst the confusion. The man in front of me, who’s jacket I was pressed against, smelt of pickles and cigar smoke. Babes in back seats were crying with abandon. At this point, panic was rising in my chest and beads of sweat started breaking out on my forehead. No one else seemed to be suffering from the same crippling claustrophobia. One of my eyes may or may not have been twitching. The terrifying combination of motion sickness and nausea from the jolting bus ride, horrible road conditions and claustrophobia mingling with my impending panic attack forced me to elbow my way out of the bus only 20 minutes into my trip–as at least 10 more people were still waiting to board–leaving vapors of profanities riding on the smoky haze inside the bus as bewildered Turkish folk made way for the crazed American girl with a twitch in her eye and a sharp elbow to boot.

Metaphorically called “The Heart of İstanbul”
Juice vendors galore.

I consolded myself with an apple, a packet of pretzel sticks (good for at least twenty mintues of mindless snacking) and an Aldeni bar (a Turkish confection that tastes like soggy biscotti covered in caramel and sütlü çikolata–milk chocolate) from the mağaza across the street and sat down to wait. I waited for a good hour and a half, and watched two more buses come and go, for one that was empty enough for this spacial issue ridden Western girl to ride in relative peace.This bus never came. I realized if I was going to go anywhere at all today, I had to suck it up, plug my iPod into my ears, and watch out the nearest window to keep the Albeni bar from exiting my already churning stomach. I was in obvious distress, and my fellow passengers knew it. One elderly Turkish man seemed so alarmed by the way my actions seemd to mirror a frightened wild animal, that he said something earnest to me in Turkish as he patted his shoulder and mimicked the swaying of the bus, seeming to be offering a shoulder to lean on should I topple over. Kindly fellow. I replied, tamam (okay) and went back to staring out the window. I made it to Eyüp (albiet the wrong destination, but finding my way to Taksim was a breeze from there) by some unknown force of the Universe that seriously had my back that day.

Susannah Woodbury
Susannah Woodbury is an ayruveda-loving expatriate yogic English tutor conquering the world one wipe-off activity book at a time. She writes collections on The English Tutor, which are experiences from a young vagabond living and working in Turkey. She explores what it means to live far outside of your comfort zone--and have the courage to walk into a new yoga studio halfway around the world.
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