Crossroads Tour – The Bosphorus…

I awaken from first decent sleep I’ve had since arriving here, to sun streaming through the embroidered and sequined curtain. What a glorious, sunny day! After the traditional breakfast that I now look forward to every morning of peynir cheese, oil-cured olives, sweet breads, and french bread with today’s pair of homemade jams, I consult my new map, and set out to follow the train tracks to the waterfront for a ferry to the Rumeli Fortress.

I find the Sirkeci train station, the arrival point of the legendary Orient Express. I stop to take photos of the cute little steam engine that sits in the yard along side the station. I had hoped to come to Istanbul on this train, which ran for nearly a century before shutting down in 1977. An Orient Express run by the Venice Simpleton company now runs only twice a year, departing out of London.

  • The original Orient Express began operation in 1883 in Paris, where it took three days to reach Istanbul via Romania, Munich, Vienna, Varna, Budapest and Bucharest. Six years later, the first non-stop train departed Paris for Istanbul, where it stopped at the Sirkeci Station. Passengers could walk from Sirkeci to the ferry terminal for service across the Bosphorus, where they could pick up the Ottoman Railways on the Asian side of Istanbul to continue their journey to Bagdad and other points in the Middle & Far East. 

I find the Eminönü ferry dock but am outwitted by the ticket machines. I ask for assistance from one of the clerks who redirects me to the Bosphorus cruise dock. I grudgingly trudge north, and buy a ticket for TL25 instead of the TL7 that the ferry would have cost. By the time I board, there’s no seating available on the upper deck, but plenty of room below on old wooden seats that remind me of ships from the ’40’s.

  • The Bosphorus is a nineteen mile long strait that connects the Black Sea in the north, to the Sea of Marmara in the south, and separates European Istanbul from its Asian side. It was a critical factor in the establishment of Constantinople in the fourth century, and remained a strategic waterway for centuries after that. 

We pull away from the dock, and I see the waterfront side of the Ayasofya and the Sirkeci train station, and a little later, the minarets of the Blue Mosque. The skyline is studded with mosques and minarets. We pass the small Ortaköy Camii, and next to it, the Esma Sultan Yalisi, a 19th century mansion that was used to store tobacco during the 20th century.

After we pass under the Bosphorus Bridge, I queue up for the WC (restroom). The expressions on the faces of the German women in front of me make me wish my German wasn’t so rusty. I find out the cause when my turn comes to use the Bayern (women’s room).

I am introduced to a traditional Turkish toilet… an oblong ceramic piece with a very shallow bowl, a hole, and two textured areas where you place your feet. Now I know why the German women are grimacing and shaking their hands. The toilet reeks as any pit privy does, and I wonder if the Germans understood that the water tap and pitcher at your right foot is there to flush the toilet as well as take care of any other needs. One more experience checked off my bucket list (no pun intended).

The Rumeli Hisari comes into view. It is expansive and I am disappointed that the boat does not stop here.

  • Built by Sultan Mehmet II in 1452, it was completed in 80 days and was one of two fortresses that led to Mehmet’s successful siege of Constantinople the following year. 

A pair of yogurt vendors board at the port of Kanlica. One sells you a yogurt, the other hands you a packet of powdered sugar and a spoon. The yogurt is crusty on top and really good.

Beyond Kanlica we reach Rumeli Kavagi, where the strait narrows and is thought to be the site of the ‘Clashing Rocks’ from Homer’s epic ‘Jason and the Argonauts.’ During the Byzantine period a large column was erected as a warning to ships. It remains a treacherous part of the strait, even with modern day navigational equipment. 

We reach our final destination, the small fishing village of Anadolu Cavagi that sits at the base of a hill, crested by Yoros Kalesi.

Following directions and maps seems to be beyond me lately, and I am approached by a waiter from the nearby restaurant, whom I try to ignore until I realize that he’s trying to point me towards the castle. The road up the hill is pretty steep, taking me past a cemetery, through a maze of opportunistic eateries, and up to the ruins of the fortress.

A ruin which is closed for renovation…

I content myself with wandering around the back side. This is the closest I will get to the Black Sea this trip, as the rest of the land on this side is restricted to military access. I turn around and head back to the head of the path, just in time to see a group of men old enough to know better, scrambling over the locked iron gate at the entrance to the fortress. That seems to be a good way to get arrested …

Treading down the stone stairs is a little treacherous, and I am mindful of the patches of broken glass. Down the path, past the ‘serf’ with the chickens and shanty house, past a restaurant, further down the stairs past a play yard with a wooden swing set, a wooden teeter totter taller than most adult men, and a number of hammocks. It’s inviting but I opt to continue down the hill.

The boat schedule shows that I still have time for lunch, so I head back to the waiter who pointed me to the castle. My eye contact is returned with a big smile as he seats me for lunch. I choose swordfish, cooked on a small grill just feet from my table. I look around at a terrain built on the side of a hill, with outdoor cafes under tarp roofs, foliage and intense sunlight that make me think more of Greece than Turkey.

I hold up my hand to get the waiter’s attention and my check.

  • Travel tip: No one is ever in a hurry here. Choices are made via sign language or gesture, checks are tallied by pen and paper or calculator and if you ask for a receipt you are likely to get the scrap of paper they did the tally on. 

I wander down towards the ferry dock, stopping for a gelato and looking for the elusive silver ring that I ultimately will never find this trip. I buy a glass evil eye key chain from a young gypsy woman in the square. The Hotel Han attaches glass evil eyes to their room keys. It’s the small things that serve as the sweetest reminders…

I stake a place near the door of the ferry terminal, since the first ones in line get the best seats (though that often means a 45 minute wait). I read a sign at the terminal building describing Andalolu Kavagi as the customs point during the Roman era. The village industries included fishing, gardening and serving the ships while waiting for favorable winds to the Black Sea. When the ferry arrives, I take a seat inside next to a window, in hopes of getting some shots of the Rumeli Hisari and perhaps a nap. Between naps I am rewarded…

Back at the hotel, the young waiter, whose name is Cihan, stands and smiles as he waits for our nightly game of ‘What’s For Dinner’. Baha later invites me to what I now call the Captain’s Table for a cup of coffee and small talk about soccer and football, and my hats.

After dinner, I return to Gulhane (Tulip) Park, which surrounds the Topkapi Palace. The birds I couldn’t recognize by voice, turn out to be grey herons. The tops of the trees are filled with their nests, and I break out my binoculars for a better look. What a spectacular sight! More pairs of birds than I can count, building nests and mating, puffing out their chests and making a racket with their calls.  I note the location of the Science Museum which I will visit tomorrow.

I go to my room to download the photos from the day. Construction continues and the building starts to shake as heavy equipment seems to slam into the side of the hotel’s foundation. It felt like an earthquake that lasted for hours, but at least it wasn’t jack hammers. I doze off and on until finally, at about 2 AM, quiet reigns. I learn later that the heavy work must be done at night as trucks are not allowed on these streets during the day during tourist season. There appear to be no sound ordinances here at all…

For additional photos from this day, please visit Daveno Travels.

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