Monday, May 12, 2008

From Istanbul, boat excursions: part II

One of the other delightful boat excursions we took was the IDO (public ferry) Bosphorus cruise. There are private Bosphorus cruises as well, but I recommend IDO for two reasons: one, it's a larger boat and better if you are subject to any hint of seasickness like yours truly; and two, the private boats don't go all the way up to the northern end, turning around about 2/3 of the way up, and don't let you off to explore.

We started out at Eminönü, quite the boat transit hubbub, at the mouth of the Golden Horn. Once again we had terrific views of the city from the boat as we forged up the Bosphorus, beginning with the Galata Bridge and its hordes of fishermen. The first major site as we cruised along were the Dolmabahçe Mosque and Dolmabahçe Palace on the European side. We had visited the Mosque the day we went to Büyükada; that ferry departs from the Besiktas landing, next to Dolmabahçe, and we had a half hour to kill. Here's a picture of the chandelier in the mosque.

As we made our way northward, the boat more or less zigzagged back and forth between the European and Asian sides. Note to humanity: the sides look an awful lot alike. There are some amazing homes along the water's edge, many being summer residences of the elites, I gathered. A presidential palace here, a fortress there, a palace-turned-hotel here, a mansion with pool and gazebo over there.

There are two bridges spanning the strait, from continent to continent. Adjacent to the second one (Fatih) there are fortresses on either side. Why this spot? The fortress on the Asian side (Anadolu Hisari) was built in 1391. In 1452 Mehmet the Conqueror had the European one (Rumeli Hisari) built directly across the strait. It's the narrowest point along the Bosphorus, and the pair of fortresses allowed him to control its traffic, and therefore to cut off supply shipments from the Black Sea as part of his planned siege of Constantinople. Clever, huh?

It's still a major shipping lane of the world, connecting the Sea of Marmara and the Mediterranean with the Black Sea.

There is apparently some extra-delish yogurt made in Kanlica, so at that particular stop your onboard treat-sellers start appearing with the yogurt they pick up there, probably made that same day. Most folks have it with a large dollop of powdered sugar on top, but Bill took his straight. Let's just say it was taaaaangy.

The farther up you travel, the thinner the population gets. At the southern end the development is solid as far as the eye can see to house some of the 17 million metro Istanbullus. But by the time you reach Rumeli Kavagi (European side) and Anadolu Kavagi (Asian side), which are almost at the Black Sea, the ferry landings are probably the most exciting places in the tiny villages that poke out from the thickly-forested areas on both sides of the Bosphorus.

The final stop is on the Asian side, where we disembarked for the afternoon (which turned out to be pretty darn hot). I am quite sure that most of the merchants--especially those selling food and drink--absolutely live for the once a day (twice in summer) that the ferry comes calling with all its tourists and daytrippers.

We walked around the tiny village for a bit, then hiked up the very steep hill to the ruins of a Byzantine fortress. The area is still strategically important so there is a military base taking up much of the local land. As you walk past it much of the way up to the castle, you'll need to keep that camera packed away in your bag; for security reasons no photos are allowed. When you get near the top of the hill, there is a cluster of small restaurants, most of which don't open till summer. We did see one or two that seemed to be operating but most were in some state of hibernation. The chairs and tables were still accessible so we stopped to eat our picnic lunch in the shade of an unused café area...after the respite we contuned to the castle (another 5 minutes or so). We were rewarded with a stupendous 360 degree panorama of distant Istanbul, the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. There's not much left of the castle, but we did step inside the two rooms that still stood independently. I don't think the property is "kept" in any way, because there was quite a lot of litter both inside and out. (In Istanbul itself, it seemd that the streets were constantly being cleaned in some manner or other). And nowhere in the area seems complete without a stray animal or three, so here we have a black mutt enjoying the sea breeze.

More on the strays in another post!

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