It was 4 A.M. and the little taxi we were in was flying down the coastal road. That’s where things started to get a little strange.

4 A.M. is one of those times when you are stunned at the speed at which you can traverse this sprawling city, when all of the regular participants in the Istanbul’s infamous (çok!) traffic are asleep.

The taxi driver behind the wheel seemed delighted to be taking us to the airport.

At first, I had questioned his choice of route. “Don’t worry, it’s a fast way,” he had quickly answered. He had gestured with his hand showing an imaginary path in the air that started low, curved up slowly and then quickly veered right at the end. “Fffffftt!” He had used a sound effect to punctuate the motion.

“Ah, ok,” I replied. Whenever I am in a taxi following a new route, I always ask, “What way are we going? This way seems long.” The taxi driver tells me why he is going that way and I always say, “Aaah, tamam,” as I have inevitably only half-understood their explanation. Nonetheless I want them to know that I am watching them, even if I have no idea where we are.

It was when the cab began to slow and veer off to the right that I started to raise my eyebrows once again. No longer were we cruising past the sea and watching the street lights fly by the window. No longer were we set to arrive at the airport with a comfortable amount of time to catch our flight.

Out the windows in the pre-dawn darkness all we could see were an ominous collection of warehouses and construction sites. Everything was deserted. Everybody was asleep.

“I have been working for sixteen hours,” the little man behind the wheel said.

“Oh? That is a long time,” I replied in weak Turkish.

“Yes. I need to stop and another man is going to take over for me,” he continued as the sound of the tires grew rough. We were passing over a section of road that had been torn away by construction. The tires began kicking up rocks and dust. I noticed out the window that many of the street lights here had been torn away as well.

I looked at my wife, then at my phone. We were somewhere near Aksaray, I thought. I remembered our suitcases in the trunk, inconvenient for a quick getaway.

In my mind, an image of us parking somewhere in an abandoned area began to grow. The driver insisting that he was tired and somebody needed to take over, the perfect excuse to lure us to a gang that were out there waiting for us.

Was it normal to stop and switch drivers? No, probably not. I needed to tell him that this wasn’t cool. We weren’t going to stop. We were going straight to the airport.

Just as I was about to protest, he turned back onto the highway. “Yeah. My shift finishes at five. I can’t wait to get home to my wife and sleep,” the driver said happily.

When we arrived at the airport the fee came to a 50TL. Our ominous detour had saved us some cash, but I gave the driver three 20s and told him to keep the change.

Featured images courtesy of Talya Baker and Sveta Nekrasova.

Awkward Tales from the ‘Bul is a series of the funny, strange and utterly confusing experiences we undergo in Istanbul. 

To contribute to this series, email your submission or query to:

Joe Vickers
Joe Vickers is of average height and standard weight. At least, that is what he would like to think. He majored in Creative Writing and has believed in self-expression in most but not all forms for all of his adult life. Istanbul has grown on him both painfully and pleasantly for the past six years.


  1. A popular one: I name my destination. Taxi driver says something about a “problem” on the way there. (Have you ever noticed how much the people in Istanbul like the word problem?) Traffic jam, whatever, he will have to take a long way around.
    I leave him standing there, take a dolmus instead that goes on the normal route – and there is no “problem” whatsoever.
    Taxi drivers who straight up tell you a fixed price almost always want to cheat you. Unless to and from the airport where there is a sign with the official prices. Check it out before taking a taxi.
    And everybody’s favorite driver, the one who “doesn’t have change” even though you can hear the coins in his pocket…


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