Our last full day in Istanbul was a quiet affair. We were both plum-tuckered after weeks of walking and probably could have done with a day in bed. But we wanted to make the most of our time and try out the much praised Turkish metro system. We headed off to Taksim Square. From the Galata Bridge, about a 30-minute walk from our hotel, we caught the metro about 3 stations to the north.
Metro in Istanbul
The metro really is great. There are clean, modern lifts that take you down to the appropriate floor. You walk out into a spacious hall that could almost pass for the entrance to an art gallery as there are professional photographs and a few interesting installations spread around the place. If you have an Istanbul travel card you can walk straight on through the gates simply by pressing your card to the scanner. Before the gates there are a couple of machines where you can top up your balance. Instructions are given in English, Turkish and other languages.
We, as per usual, got a bit confused at this stage and were not sure which platform we needed. The friendly security guard showed us the way and even walked us to our platform. Everything was smooth and easy. The train arrived within a few minutes and the ride to our station was quick and enjoyable. The trains are aircon-ed, punctual and quite pleasant in appearance. All announcements are in Turkish and English.
During this journey, we made a few quick and (for us) interesting observations:
– The bins were open. By this I mean the bins themselves were more like metal trays where you could place your rubbish. The entire contents of the bin are thus visible. Why so? We figured probably a measure against terrorism. If anyone wants to plant a bomb in a discreet area, they can no longer use the bins here.
– There are security guards. Some have batons and smile at you. Some have semi-automatic weapons and regard all passers-by with a hint of suspicion. Why? Probably somehow connected with terrorism too. Although this isn’t just in the metro stations but in all the major tourist areas. I still can’t figure out whether I feel safer or more afraid with these tough-looking guys hanging around.
– On the walls opposite the platforms you can often see a really cool painting or design. A small rectangle with an interesting pattern or a drawing.
– Some stations have mosaic-style drawings that seem to have been done by children.
Taksim Square is lovely. It’s a wide, open space whose main point of attraction is The Republic Monument commemorating the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923.
The tracks of the almost ancient tram loop around the statue and continue down through the walking street that begins further down the road.
We were lucky enough to stumble across some kind of a fair on the square. This fair comprised a sea of stalls, each one selling something handmade. Many of the stalls showcased a craftsman at work, either weaving silk, painting, cutting or somehow creating something beautiful.
There was also an art installation featuring 10 – 15 pictures that depicted, from what we gathered, the effects of terrorism in Turkey. These images ranged from blown up buildings and vehicles to demonstrations and press conferences. One haunting image showed a single man lying on the road in front of a tank. Unfortunately, we could only understand the words “Istanbul” and “Ankara” from the descriptions below each picture but the images were very powerful.
If you follow the tram lines, they will lead you to the abovementioned walking street (Istiklal Street) that is hugely popular among tourists. The street is lined with the usual selection of fashion stores and eateries and can be overwhelmingly busy. If you walk to the end, you will reach Galata Tower which is surrounded by some groovy cobblestone streets and hipster cafes.