Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia, with the Bosphorus Strait splitting the European side, which has most of the tourist attractions and commerce, from the Asian side, which is largely residential. We decided to devote a day to seeing more of this important strait, which offers the nations around the Black Sea their sole path of entry and exit to the Mediterranean via the Marmara and Aegean Seas—crucial for trade and navies.
We boarded the ferryboat that would take us on a 1.5 hour journey from the old city up the strait, past the bankside sprawl of Istanbul, to a fishing village called Anadolu Kavağı situated near the mouth of the Black Sea. After claiming seats on the topmost level where we could enjoy the warm sun and chilly wind, we peered down into the waters of the inlet, where cormorants plunged into the depths, and impassive, translucent jellyfish wobbled through the water, almost indistinguishable from the plastic debris that floated on the surface. Seagulls silently swooped above us.
The boat was docked near the bridge across the Golden Horn, over which the tram passes back and forth to the New District. Below the traffic on the lower, pedestrian level of the bridge, there is a row of seafood restaurants. At 10:00 AM their staff were just starting to clean and prepare for a day of customers, and we watched in amusement as they hauled up water from the strait below to swab the decks of their outdoor seating. In that act, I was reminded of how provident the sea and its estuaries are to coastal cities. Little wonder then that successive empires made this area the focus of their empires, surrounded as it is by a natural moat of generous and protective waters.
After some time, the engine started purring and the boat pulled away from the dock. As we moved along, we followed the tour in our guidebook, spotting such sights as the European wannabe Dolmabahce Palace and its nearby mosque and clocktower, the Rumelian fortress dating from the 15th century, and several towering bridges across the strait, one for city traffic and one for “intercontinental transit.”
Eventually, the crowded urban area thinned out into areas of mansions with tall trees. In one such tree we saw a cormorant worshipping the sun, wings outstretched.
When we would approach the shore to pick up more passengers, flocks of seagulls would attach as if magnetically to our boat and hover around. Perhaps the wake of the boat stirred up small creatures for their lunch, or maybe they hoped we would jettison our own food—in any case, Jasmine encouraged me to get some action shots of these birds. There were, in fact, several species of seagulls, ranging from a long-winged pterodactylesque breed with harsh eyes to a chubbier, smaller variety with the charm of a flying porpoise.
Now that I’ve started on seagulls, I must digress to another scene. Seagulls were not only present above the Bosphorus, but also all over the Sultanahmet. They careened past the eaves of our hotel as we ate breakfast on the enclosed terrace. More hauntingly, one night as we strolled around the park between the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, we observed scores of gulls weaving like ghosts above the domes—like moths tethered to lights.
Back on the strait, we arrived at the village. As we approached, we noticed two things: the ruins of Yoros Castle, our destination, on the peak of a hill, and the black-and-white clad waiters standing in front of their seafood restaurants flagging us down. As none of us care for seafood, we skipped the daily catch in favor of the village’s other specialty, lokma, which are syrupy balls made of a light dough deep-fried to golden perfection and sprinkled with cinnamon.
“Mmmm!” was our unanimous reaction to lokma. Yet this treat soon met a tragic end: as we walked away from the bevy of restaurants and hawkers in pursuit of the castle, I flung out my arm to point at a sign saying “Yoros,” just as Sergey was proffering the container of lokma to me. In the ensuing collision, the lokma scattered over the street like sticky marbles. I felt quite crushed by my role in this accident—as crushed as the lokma were soon to become under the tires of passing cars—but luckily, we were still close to the stand and purchased a refill.
Up the steep hill we hiked, passing by a military zone protected by a high fence, higher and higher until we reached the surprisingly commercialized ruins of the Byzantine castle. We had to pass by another bevy of restaurants to reach our destination. While the castle was admittedly dull since we could not enter (unless we defied the law and scaled its crumbling walls, which some boys did), the summit of the hill did afford a striking view toward the Black Sea.
“Can you see Moldova from here?” I asked Sergey.
Soon enough, our time on the Asian side was over, and we re-boarded our boat, which felt tranquil after our return hike through the surprisingly traffic-congested lanes of the village. We chose indoor seats and spent most of the return voyage in a half-stupor.
Towards the end, though, I decided I had to go to the top so I could finally photograph one of Istanbul’s well known sights, Maiden’s Tower, which sits upon a small island. As we neared the European side, the setting sun set the cityscape aglow, smears of saffron light upon the minarets of countless mosques…and neon light upon the signs of countless seafood eateries.