Traversing into and through the busy centre of Istanbul on electric bicycles may not sound like the most cunning of plans for the safety conscious. However as we found out, it is great fun, super effective and really didn’t seem to risky, especially for a city with almost no cycle lanes.
Our journey today was taking us about 6km from our camper parking spot by the Yenkapi Sports Ground to the fantastic Dolmabahce Palace and involved crossing the Galata Kolpruo Bridge over the arm of the Bosphorus that divides the vibrant centre of Istanbul.
After several forays into Istanbul, we reckon we are getting pretty good at this and already have our favourite routes and short cuts to save time and avoid congestion. With the aid of Google Maps displayed on a phone holder on the handle bars, we are happily finding all of the points of interest we have loaded in from our MyMap of Istanbul.
There is always the mix of emotions as we bypass the queues of taxi drivers at the Yenkapi Ferry Terminal then brave the busy Kennedy Cd with the high-speed morning commuter traffic zipping past us. The cars are OK but its a little disconcerting when the road narrows to two lanes at the same time as some heavy trucks crowd us right over to the kerb.
Over the pedestrian crossing and up Aksakal Sokagi then thread our way through the wrong way up the one way Nakilbent against the traffic and pedestrians. The car park is a welcome opportunity to gain some ground and incidentally has a great fresh fruit and vege market on a Wednesday morning.
The road opens onto the Hippodrome where Roman charioteers once raced and gladiators fought to the death. We are luckily only jousting with early morning pedestrian today as we dash past the Museum of Islamic Art on the left, and the magnificent Blue Mosque on the right.
After a brief pause to catch our breath, it’s time for the fun to begin as we position ourselves between the tram tracks running down Alemdar Cd, watching out for the oblivious pedestrians, who saunter in front of us, while keeping an eagle eye out to make sure a tram isn’t screaming up behind. This is easily the most exhilarating way to move around Istanbul and the trip from the Hippodrome past the Archaeological Museum and down to the vibrant docks at Eminonu is over all too soon, leaving us wondering how we managed to traverse such a distance in one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities in such a short time.
After the rush of the headlong trip down the tram tracks, the pace slows as we wind our way along the docks, through the pedestrians and street hawkers selling a smorgasbord of tasty morsels, such as the round bread ‘simic’ that is as cheap as chips and is sold on nearly every corner, and the seasonal ‘kestane'(roasted chestnuts) which are artistically stacked on the vendors cart after being roasted to perfection.
The sight of hundreds of fishermen lined up on the docks, and smell of dead fish and bait are an assault on the senses as we check out their catch of buckets full of tiny mackerel and bluefish from the rich waters of the Bosporus and wonder what sort of dishes they would be cooking up with such tiny morsels. Maybe we should break out the fishing rod and join the locals?
Picking our way around a cosmopolitan mix of families, tourists, the woman in burkas of various levels of severity, armed police, and wall to wall fisherman etc we wind our way over the Galata Kolpruo Bridge and again centre ourselves on the north running tram lines which go most of the way to our destination. There is a strong feeling of ‘should we be doing this?’ as us and the occasional trams are the only travellers on this prime real estate. The cars are virtually bumper to bumper in the adjacent lanes as our electric bikes eat up the remaining distance in next to no time. We get a hint that maybe we shouldn’t be there from the wild gesticulations of a tram driver coming the other way and think that maybe we shouldn’t push our luck on the way back and just take the road or footpath – a shame really as it feels very safe being out of the way of traffic and pedestrians.
Arriving at the Dolmabahce Palace, we double lock our bikes and head in to experience the magnificence of one of Istanbul’s finest palaces. That though, is a story for another day.