Sunday, February 24, 2008

Boating on the Bosphorus, from the Marmara to the Black Sea

Everywhere you look..

It’s warmer today. It is now about a week since the big snowfall they had in Turkey and Greece on the 18th. The plan for today is boat trip on the Bosphorus, or Istanbul Strait, i.e. the “river” separating Asia from Europe in the middle of Istanbul. The strait connects the Black Sea to the north with the Sea of Marmara, itself connected via the Dardanelles to the Aegean Sea, and then to the Mediterranean. It is 30km long and 700m wide at its narrowest point. The Turks are busy building a railway tunnel going under it, which will theoretically enable London to Baghdad trains! I sense my next holiday plan beginning to form!

So, down to the pier next to the Galata Bridge – for those looking for the right pier of the many to choose from, it’s the one nearest the bridge.

Errr, I think that’s me

Here I fork out 12.5L for the return trip, it’s a couple of hours in each direction, with a break of a few hours for lunch. Touristy price again, but what can you do? Upstairs on the boat I pick a good seat outside, it’s a bit cold but I should be alright.

I’ll put my socks on if things get bad! After about half an hour, we launch off from the pier and stop a few minutes later picking up more passengers. Generally we stop every 15-20 minutes as we head up to Anadolu Kavagi, the last stop just before the northern mouth of the straight. I wonder how tidal this channel is – presumably there must be water flowing back and forth throughout the day. The boat is faster going back, I note.

Very interesting theory – thousands of years ago the Black Sea became disconnected from the Aegean (i.e. Mediterranean), i.e. this channel didn’t exist. Eventually the rising levels of the Med breached through, causing massive flooding of the northern shores of the Black Sea, giving rise to the flood stories in the Bible’s Genesis chapter 6-9. Whether Noah had fun surfing the tsunami in his ark has yet to established.

Along the way, I’m exposed to a new face of Istanbul – the beautiful “yalis”, or historic waterfront houses, wiki says there are 620 or so.

They are of all shapes, sizes and colours, some are palatial, others narrow shacks above boathouses, but all are lovely. It reminds me of St. Petersburg, the grandeur, the pastel colours.

Most of the places we stop are lovely looking villages, all with waterside restaurants. I suspect getting off at one of the other stops would be better than the last – less touristy.

There are also plenty of castles about!

We arrive at Anadolu Kavagi, where I alight. It’s quite pretty, but the restaurateurs are all charging around trying to rope people in to eating with them, spoiling the atmosphere somewhat.

First task, as it’s a bit early for lunch, is to march up to the ruins of the castle at the top of the hill, which most others are doing too. There’s nothing else to occupy one in town after all! Yoros Castle has been fought over by Ottomans, Byzantines and Genoans, as this is a strategically important spot – hence there still being military bases all over the place and some of the Turkish Navy moored up just round the corner.

Interestingly, the Byzantines would extend a chain across the straight to Rumeli Kavagi on the opposite shore, preventing warships from attacking the straits. The fortress was even used to defend against Cossacks sweeping down from the north in the Ottoman era.

Down from the castle, I lunch at Baba Restaurant by the water, watching the boats go by. Sounds idyllic, and it is, except the boats are quite beefy, there is some serious commercial traffic going down this channel!

Sea “Bars”

As I eat, several cats try to get in on the action. It’s something I’ve noticed all over Istanbul, there are cats everywhere. Lots of dogs too, but not on the feline scale. The restaurant is also next to a naval area, so I am careful which direction I point my camera!

After lunch, I have a while to wait for the return. There’s nothing else to do – I even consider going back up to the castle, but in the end hang around in the small square in front of the ferry terminal.

Mr Ataturk, founder of Turkey

Despite not doing much, I feel quite tired on the way back, and decide the wind is enough to justify me wimping out and heading indoors to warmth on the boat!

On dry land, I head up to Sultanahmed, where I am going to visit the Basilica Cistern, one of Mie’s tips, just as well as I wouldn’t have visited it otherwise! One of the components of the impressive water supply system built by the Byzantines, bringing water from forests 20km away.

Into the depths

Down below, it’s dark and very wet, with water dripping from the ceiling.


I walk along the raised walkway (water below still) to the far end of the cistern.

The column of tears. Takes a little imagination

Here there is Medusa, or rather two Medusian heads. Why are there two? I can’t explain!

No one knows why one is on her side and the other upside down. Spooky fish!

Just can’t resist another photo…!

Last stop of the day is Java Studio. I want their Java Chip Frapp, but apparently they’re out of java chips. Surely java is just coffee and so java chips are bits of coffee? Ah well, I settle for a cappuccino.

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