Tag Archives: Transportation

Celebrating Childrens Day on a Tram in Turkey

Yesterday I wrote about how much the Turkish love kids. Today is Children’s Day, a holiday that originated in Turkey. We’ve seen posters advertising various children’s events to commemorate the occasion, but they have all been in Turkish and appear to cater to school age kids more than those as young as Ava and Kayan.

We were wrong if we thought we were going to be left out of the festivities. We were waiting to take the tram to the Grand Bazaar this morning when a heavily decorated tram approached the station. After telling everyone that the tram was not in operation, the conductor ran over and ushered us inside. At first we resisted – why would we be singled out from the platform to board this elaborately dressed vehicle? Before we could think, a hand reached out from inside the carriage and gave Ava and Kayan balloons. Then a clown popped his head out with a “Mehraba!” The kids were inside before we could react.

Turns out we were just in time for the Children’s Day party tram. The Istanbul transportation authority runs one just for kids and their families. Kids are the ticket to boarding this tram and those without children were left waving at us from the platform. The tram blasted children’s music and came complete with entertainment, balloons, puppets and miniature turkish flags.

I can’t think of a better person to celebrate Children’s Day with than my cousin Keri who is visiting us from London. She knows so much about kids and their care that she was the one who taught us how to change Ava’s first diaper. In addition to being our go-to person for baby care, she knows how to show Ava and Kayan a good time. Some combination of the party tram and the company made Ava exclaim, “Mama, I love Istanbul!”

While we didn’t start the morning with the intention of celebrating Children’s Day, we were reminded quickly that it’s hard to escape anything that has to do with lavishing love on children in Turkey. We’re glad we caught the tram to another Turkish cultural experience.

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Crossing the Bosphorus for Dinner

Are we responsible parents? On one end we paid a premium to rent an apartment close to our jobs in New York so that we could reach the kids on a 10 minute cab ride should an emergency arise. On the other, we just left Ava and Kayan in one continent while we had dinner in another.

Istanbul straddles both Europe and Asia. It’s the only city in the world with this split identity, and it’s public transportation system is unique in being able to claim that it services two continents.

We have been living on the European side, which according to every guide book is all that exists of Istanbul. However, we have been intrigued to find out what lies in the Asian face of Istanbul. It’s been beckoning us from to cross the Bosphorus, whose waters we view see from our apartment.

Our New York City neighbors, whose two kids are Ava and Kayan’s very close friends, are also visiting Istanbul. We decided kids and adults would enjoy our own respective play dates, so we left the four kids in the care of a sitter and ventured across the Bosphorus in search of dinner.

Looking at Istanbul from the Bosphorus at dusk is one of the most spectacular sights. For 2 Turkish Lira each (about $1), we took the public ferry that pushed off from Karakoy just as the sunset call to prayer begun. From the dock, we could hear several mosques in unison, providing a haunting soundtrack to start our journey. Asia, our destination, twinkled on our left. Straight ahead, the smooth domes and sharp minarets of the multiple centuries old mosques on the Golden Horn looked alive in the evening light. The Galata Bridge was still holding on to its day time activity. It was one of those moments where I was struck by how lucky we are to be on this journey, soaking up centuries of history, being out on the water and crossing continents for the perfect meal.

We docked at Kadikoy and went to Ciya Sofrasi, a highly recommended laid back no-menu restaurant that showcases food from around the Turkey. After we gorged on a self service meze selection, our waiter brought little dishes of goodness. We tried everything on offer, from stuffed onions to stuffed lamb intestine. The most memorable part of our evening was dessert. Not ones to bypass a culinary experience, we asked for one of everything.

The plate had an assortment of preserved fruits and vegetables.

– Preserved green walnuts in a clove syrup. It tasted like Christmas.

– Slightly bitter but sweet orange rind, like marmalade without the goo.

– Cream that tasted more like butter, but it was a good way to cut out the sweetness of the various sugary preserves.

– Preserved olives. On first bite we couldn’t tell it was an olive, but the aftertaste revealed its identity.

– Preserved eggplant, cured in a vanilla syrup and stuffed with walnut. This wasn’t too big of a hit, but we were impressed that the curing process completely masked evidence of the vegetable.

– Preserved pumpkin with tahini sauce and walnuts. This was the most memorable dish of the evening. The salty tahini was a perfect complement to the crunchy pumpkin.

The entire meal cost four adults 125 Turkish Lira, one of our best values so far in Turkey. We were so engaged in our dining that we forget to consider the timing of the last ferry back to Europe. Luckily there was one at 11 PM. In contrast to the ride to Asia, the ride back home to Europe was much quieter. It seemed that most of Istanbul had fallen asleep. With the large ferry almost empty, and without the hurry of usual Bosphorus traffic, we felt that we had the city to ourselves. A steaming cup of cay (tea) is never far away in Turkey. The ferry canteen was still open and as we made our way back to the continent where our kids were, we enjoyed glasses of the Turkish staple.

When we got home the kids were engaged in their games and seemed oblivious to the fact that we ever left. We were responsible, even though we went to another continent for dinner. Yet another reason we love Istanbul.


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Life on the Goa Ferry

There is a great debate on the island of Divar. One fraction of the population wants to build a bridge connecting the mainland. The other wants to preserve the ferry system, currently the 15 square kilometer island’s only access to the rest of Goa.

With its oceans, creeks and backwaters, Goa relies on its waterways as much as its roadways. Ferry service used to be an integral means for getting around in many parts of Goa. Over the years, most ferry connection has been replaced by bridges, but not without consequences on the culture. 

Ferry service forces pedestrians, scooters and cars, as well as all delivery, to meet on the boat before disembarking on the Divar. This congregation allows Divarkars to interact and brings any visitors out into the public eye. As one of our neighbors said, “Without the ferry, how will we know who our neighbors are?” Largely as a result of the ferry, people only come to Divar to go home or visit someone who lives here. Due to this element of isolation, Divar retains the charm of a bygone era.  The architecture here remains decidedly Portuguese, with whitewashed facades and decorative tiles. Residents still respect the age old rule of thumb that no structure, save for the churches, be built taller than a coconut tree. Its 5,000 residents know each other on a first name basis and many are distant relatives. 

Apart from playing a practical and social role, the ferry is also the perfect way to be forced to spend time on tranquil water. After a day in town I love nothing more than stepping out of the car and into the open air of the Mandovi River. Coracles searching for catfish dot the water, on one side I see the mangroves of Divar shielding any evidence of humanity, and on the other I see the well preserved 16th century Portuguese churches of Old Goa towering above the coconut trees.

The jovial ferry operators have mastered the skill of packing people and vehicles in a game of oversized Tetris.  In close quarters, the riders socialize. My father met the island chef and arranged for him to come and do a barbecue for us. We ran into the sarpanch (similar to a mayor) and started talking about the recent elections. Ava and Kayan even arranged for a play date.

In our opinion, it would be very sad to see ferry service replaced by a bridge. For starters, the island of Divar is sure to lose its old village feel once it is more accessible. Traffic will reduce our ability to walk around the narrow streets with relative ease. And yes, as our neighbor says, we will stop knowing each other and picking up where we left off on the last ferry ride.

Logistics: The ride between Divar and the Old Goa dock takes all of three minutes, with departures every 15 minutes on either side. The ferry stops this schedule between midnight and 6 A.M. but if we need a ride and the ferry is docked on the opposite bank, we simply flash our car lights and the boat makes a special trip. The ride is free to pedestrians and scooters and cars pay 7 rupees (about 13 cents). If the ferry makes a special charter then the charge is 55 rupees (about $1). If the ferry system goes, I’m not sure there is anywhere else in the world we can find a yield sign with a picture of a rowboat. 

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