It was a balmy Sunday evening and I was going to the airport to pick up my mother. As I had plenty of time and was keen on saving a few lira, I decided to use the city's transit system rather than splurge on a taxi or shuttle bus. However, aside from being frugal there was another reason I opted to take the long way round. That reason was the Funikuler, one of the quirkiest forms of mass transit I have encountered on my travels.
With such a dramatic introduction, I am sure you are wondering what exactly the Funikuker is, and why was I so excited about riding it? The short and unimaginative answer to this question is that it is a short link between the Taksim metro station and Kabatas, the start of the tramway that leads to the far shore of the Golden Horn and the districts beyond. This answer, though, fails to capture the excitement, wonder and sheer novelty of the Funikuler. Instead, I would rather describe it as a trip into the abyss that comes as a regular part of the commute to or from work.
Taksim is one of Istanbul's busiest tourist and business hubs. It is also the end of the Green subway line which runs through the business districts of Sisli and Mecidekoy and out towards Levent. Kabatas, is a major ferry port for those commuting to and from the Asian side of the city and the end of the city's tramway system. Ordinarily, it would have seemed logical to have the subway and the tramway meet each other. However, this logic is undermined by the rather steep hill stretching from the banks of the Bosphorous up to Taksim. Therefore, the tramway is situated at the bottom of the hill, the subway at the top. To link these, in 2005, the government constructed the Funikuler. It is part subway, but also part ski-lift, powered by a giant winch in Taksim that drags the carriages up the hills.
From the outside, the carriages look just like those you would find on any regular subway line. However, when you step inside, you see that they are actually staggered. Each one is on three levels to ensure it can meet the angle of the track. When taking the journey from Taksim to Kabatas, I always love to take the lowest carriage and sit next to the front window. From there, I can gaze out into the blackness of the tunnel that extends below. As it sets off, a line of lights on the tunnel floor appear to boost the sci-fi theme. I may be taking a very childlike view of the whole thing, but it had the feel of being like a scene from Star Wars - which can never be a bad thing.
The Funikuler is by no means a tourist attraction in its own right, but I have traveled on very few pieces of public transport that were more interesting.