It may be a bit of an oversimplification, but you could probably say that Istanbul exists because of the Bosphorus. It was the first thing I wanted to see when we got there. We dropped our bags at the Empress Zoe hotel, and headed right out. We were only a few blocks away, and so our first impressions of Istanbul were those of the strong current flowing from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, the ships lined up waiting for their pilots to take them through the strait, and the lines of fishermen with their lines in dark water.
So, we walked from the Old Town along the shore from south of the Hagia Sofia around the walls of the Topkapi Palace pretty much keeping our eyes on the sea instead of the man made attractions on our left. We made it all the way around to the docks where the tourist ferry leaves for the cruise north to the Black Sea. Of course, at this time of year, there's only one cruise per day, and we'd just missed it.
So we comforted ourselves with our land locked walking tour to The Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia and vowed to come back later for maritime adventures.
Adventure is probably too strong a word for the Bosphorus cruise. Of course, you're never out of sight of land…and the land you can see is heavily populated. Also, there are a lot of other boats around to pick you up in case you fall overboard. I had to reassure myself of such things because, well, to put it succinctly, I pretty much hate boats.
But, I got over it for this cruise. It was calm, and as I said, what could happen?
The cruise, in the winter, leaves the dock at Bogaz Izkelesi at 10:35 a.m. It's near the mouth of the Golden Horn. To get there you can walk about 20 minutes from the Old Town, or you can take the tram to the Eminonu stop. When you get off the tram, face the sea and look to your right. You'll see the sign for Bogaz Izkelesi. The round trip takes around five hours, including lunch stop at the fishing village of Anadolu Kavagi and costs 25TL (about $14.) Get there half an hour early to get the best seats.
If the boat is not crowded, stake out a seat on the left side. (That's port, if you're into that nautical talk.) Because as you sail up the strait, that's the side that's looking at Europe, where most of the interesting stuff is. On the return trip, stay on the left side, because that's where most of the interesting stuff is that you missed on the way up.
There are lots of buildings to look at along the shore. Many of them are fantastic mansions of very wealthy people. They will make you jealous of the one percent of Turks who are the targets of the Occupy Turkey movement, if there were such a thing there. Or, you can just sort of wistfully say, “Wow, those are really nice, but I wouldn't want to have to manage that big of a staff.”
There are also so many mosques visible that at one time I started to count them. In one small vista on the Asia side, I counted 16 sets of minarets. One Turk we'd met earlier had said to us, “I wish they'd build schools instead of mosques. We don't have enough of those.”
The best part of the trip, though, is the two-hour stop in Anadolu Kavagi. It really is a fishing village, as you can see from all the fishing boats at the docks and on the nearby water. It's also a fishing restaurant village, and as soon as you get off the boat, about ten or twelve Turks will rush at you with menus for their restaurant, most of which have a second floor view of the Bosphorus. Of course, since you just got off a boat with an even better view of the Bosphorus, that might not be that important to you. It wasn't to us.
We wandered the village for a while. It gets a little more interesting and real the further you get from the docks. You can see where people live and work and there's an abandoned castle at the top of the hill in the back. But we didn't feel like walking all the way up there, since we have seen so many ruins lately, we figured we could skip that one.
As we walked back down the hill, we ran into a restaurant who plied us with the oldest trick in the book: they had their actual fresh seafood on a tray in the window. We went in and sat down. Much to our delight, after serving us a carafe of wine, the waiter brought the very tray to our table, described and named what was on it, and let us point to the very fish we'd be eating shortly.
I chose a swordfish shish. The chunks were alternated with hot green peppers of the jalapeño family which gave a sharp taste to the fish and made it even more wonderful than I imagined. I honestly think it was the best fish I've ever had in my life. Kris had the small bluefish, and I think she'd give it an equivalent review. We also had an appetizer of mussels dipped in egg batter and quick fried. They were served with a yogurt and garlic sauce and were also excellent.
The name of the restaurant is Ismael'in Yeri. As I said, you'll have to pass up the restaurants right by the docks and walk back a bit to find it. It's worth it.
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