One drawback to the Istanbul’s otherwise-great public-transportation system is that transfers aren’t free — not even the first one. So if you take a 1.75TL tram ride from Sultanahmet across the Horn to Kabatas and want to ride the funiculaire to Taksim Square, that’s another 1.75. Venture further to Levent, another 1.75. Pretty soon it adds up to real money!
Another thing about public transport here: Turnstiles are the rule; you enter through them and exit through them. Guards, or guvenlik, are there, at least during daytime hours, to make sure everyone plays by the rules. There is no such thing as an honor system like you see in Berlin, Prague and Vienna. And while I’ve seen scrawny freeloaders duck under the turnstiles late at night, compliance must be in the 95 percent range. In the other cities I mentioned, I estimate compliance at 30 to 60 percent.
The left-wing, semi-isolationist Aydinlik newspaper, on sale at Taskim Square, is a whipping boy of the Erdogan regime. Many of its contributors are on trial in the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases, and have been held in the Silivri Prison for the past three years.
Here we are, just outside the Levent 4 metro stop near Istanbul‘s northeastern edge. This is the Sapphire Tower, and you won’t find it in any guidebook because it opened just three weeks ago. It’s a beautiful design, a little like the International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong, but even more striking.
I’m a fan of tall things — beers, stacks of johnny cakes, you name it. The Sapphire is 864 feet tall, with 54 above-ground floors, some 160 apartments and a chipping golf course about two-thirds the way up. I’ve seen it described alternately as Europe’s tallest skyscraper and the tallest residential building on the continent. There are taller buildings in Moscow, but since when is Russia part of Europe? Ukraine maybe, but Russia? Fuck that noise.
You walk through airport-like security, your bags going through imaging scanners. Inside are seven or eight levels of retail — I lost track. The building smells like a new car. I had difficulty finding the elevator to the top. The woman at the front desk didn’t speak English, but when I switched to French, all was well. This English-to-French switcheroo works 75 percent of the time in Istanbul.
To the northeast, you can see a vast wooded area where Istanbul ends. To get a sense of scale, consider that the city stretches 60 miles east to west. For a good half-hour, I am the only person on the observation deck.