Topping the list of criticisms is a lack of parks with modern playground areas, difficulty in getting around the city, especially if using any type of public transportation and a shortage of affordable entertainment or educational facilities offering age-appropriate activities to fill the hours of the long summer days. To be honest, I do feel that there is some merit in these assessments, but, in many ways, it can be a fun city for children of all ages and one that will not put a huge dent in a parent’s bank account.
The number of clean, well-kept parks varies wildly by neighborhood. In some quarters of the city, green areas are few and far between. However, in other districts, such as ours on the Asian side of the city, there are several lovely parks with playgrounds and exercise areas within a short walk from our home. When my son and I go to the park, if one is too crowded, or his friends are not out playing, we can easily walk to another neighborhood park in just a few minutes. On the other side of the coin, I have friends who do not live within walking distance of a park and they have to drive their car or take public transportation to reach the one nearest one to where they live. Like many things in İstanbul, neighborhoods and local amenities vary widely.
Public transportation can be a challenge for some parents who are traveling with small children. I have used public transportation ever since I moved to Turkey, over 14 years ago. Since we do not own a car, due in part to the cost and the traffic problems in the city, I find that, in general, it is easier, quicker and cheaper to get around the city using various modes of public transportation. From an early age, my son has traveled the city with me, learning to quickly navigate the ferry, tram, metro, bus, minibus and dolmuş systems. It can be a little daunting at first, particularly for newcomers who are unfamiliar with the routes and who have limited language skills. However, once the different transportation options are understood, commuting across town can be a breeze.
When my son was very young and rode everywhere in his stroller, our first few attempts at boarding a bus or ferry with a small child, a stroller and a bag carrying all the necessary gear for the trip were a challenge. I soon discovered, however, that people were always willing to help me get the stroller on board and make sure I was given a seat. Once I got over my initial apprehensions about trying to juggle infant and stroller, I relaxed and learned to ask for help when I needed assistance. As he has gotten older, traveling is much easier on us both and he is in charge of carrying anything that he wants to bring along with us.
Most of the historic sites can maintain a child’s attention -- at least for a short period of time. However, as anyone knows who lives here and who has had frequent guests arriving for visits throughout the year, there are only so many times you can visit a palace, mosque or museum without feeling as if it is an unwelcome chore. In addition, in the summer, the crowds and heat can combine to make the historic areas a nightmare for both a child and parent.
When my son was a toddler, he was content to spend time on ferry rides up and down the Bosphorus and across the Marmara Sea to the Princes’ Islands. The ferries captivated him. We watched for dolphins, tried to count the multitudes of jellyfish, talked about why it is bad to throw garbage in the water, marveled at the sunlight reflecting on the water and generally entertained ourselves by enjoying the journey. Now, we still like the ferries and use the time to look at the sights and talk about anything that comes to mind.
Art museums have become our latest treat. My son likes to bring along his sketchpad and pens and spend time in front of paintings that catch his interest and make quick drawings. Since I have no talent to speak of when it comes to art, I am content to watch him work and to investigate exhibits that interest me but that do not attract him as much. Some of the museums in Istanbul have classes for children throughout the year. The downside is that these classes fill up quickly and must be booked well in advance. The upside is that many of the classes are free and those that cost usually have a very reasonable fee. Likewise, there are also many summer camps to choose from, many with a specific focus such as art, mathematics, sports or space. And, as with the museum classes, many of these camps fill up quickly and need to be booked in advance.
Summer in İstanbul does not need to be a boring time for children who are on holiday from school. With a little creativity and some advance planning, there are activities to entertain them and keep them active. Even with the hot weather causing most of us to shun outdoor activities, there are places to go and things to do -- and much of the traveling can be done by public transportation for a pittance.
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