Our adventure in a rented car begins with a taxi ride of perhaps ten minutes from Sultanahmet to Taksim, across the Golden Horn. The driver forbids me to put my seat belt on, like it is a matter of honour. You don’t trust my driving? He drives up a steep side street, has to ask directions and then backtrack; he drops us blocks from the rental agency with a shrug. This not so young Brando or Belmondo type disappears to get change and brazenly gives us 50 Turkish lira back.
We wander through a tony hotel district near Taksim Square. Ask directions? Nosiree. Google Maps tracks iPad’s GPS without WiFi, as long as you entered the place while connected. We watch the little flashing circle move when we move. Shows us approaching Aydede Caddesi … or not.
When finally we found the place, looked over the car and signed some papers, we trusted Google Maps to get us out of this city of fourteen million. The agent wrote down the important words in Turkish and imparted their meaning by charade, “second,” “exit,” “right.” He pointed out the salient details on the map. Very adroit with the touchscreen he was too. As a steady stream of vehicles whooshed by, he directed us into a nearby tunnel. “Past stadium, right turn.”
Not to create suspense unbearable. The freeways were choked with stop-and-start traffic — it seemed to take hours — but we made it. Eventually we found ourselves in the country, headed for the Dardanelles and three weeks of adventure in a grand circuit.
We were impressed by Turkish highways. Roadways are typically four lanes divided, with access at grade. Often you encounter these tricky roundabouts where the highway bulges and you have to be on the lookout for tractors standing in the left lane. Often they are controlled by lights, and you have to watch the side streets even after you get the green light. Usually traffic keeps clear of centre lanes, express track for BMWs and Peugeots and Nissans that pass like you’re standing still. Don’t get in their way — they will sit on your tail until you move. Or you will come up on a vehicle straddling lanes or the shoulder — that could mean the driver is contemplating a pass but doesn’t have enough horsepower … or a dozen other things; it is a national driving trait. Turkish drivers don’t much signal either.
Gas is expensive — a fill-up in this economy car was $90. So many gas stations. Huge signs. Many many brands. Lots of Shell stations.