Sunday, November 6, 2011
It was a gloriously sunny morning, as I woke up in the hotel facing the Sea of Marmara. The long flight (14 hours) was almost forgotten as the cool November air wafted through the window. I had awakened at the distinctive sound of morning prayer somewhere around 5 am when it was still dark, but by 8, when it was actually time to get up, the glittering light from the surface of the water was almost blinding.
We had breakfast in the hotel, with one of my favorites from this part of the world..honey still in the comb on delicious bread with slices of pungent cheese and a selection of olives. After a short walk down a cobblestone street to a little market/fruitstand, I got 2 large bottles of water to hoard. In areas where you can’t drink the water, bottled water becomes a valuable commodity.
The streets in this part of Istanbul, not far from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are cobbled with patches of mossy grass growing between them. Fat cats prowl the ledges of walls and stray dogs trot on some mysterious missions. I’m told that the Turkish government captures stray dogs and cats, neuters them, gives them shots and then releases them. You can tell the government dogs because of the green tags in their ears, although I haven’t seen a tag in a cat yet.
This afternoon we are going to take a cruise up the Bosporus to the Black Sea. I can’t say that I’ve ever had any great desire to see the Black Sea, but I decided that this was probably going to be my only chance to cruise the Bosporus Straights, so decided to go. For those who are interested, it cost 45 Euros. They charge in Euros, not Turkish Lira. Because Istanbul spans both Europe and Asia, many things are priced in Euros, although American dollars are still accepted virtually everywhere.
As we drove to the dock, we passed through what I’m guessing are fairly luxurious residential areas on one side and fishermen on the other. The narrow streets and drivers who pass within a sheet of paper’s width of each other assure me that I’m not in the states, but the Starbucks and McDonald’s attest to the homogeneity of the world.
The boat consists of a large dining room with spacious windows and an upper deck. It’s coolish, but the upper deck is refreshing. However, lunch is being served inside so I find a seat by the window. It seems quite romantic to sail between two continents, even though they look exactly alike on either side.
Two bridges span Europe and Asia. As we pass under their at least 60 meter high rises, we enter into an area which must be a military complex. Just above four battleships, stands a Crusader tower, its massive stone walls sharing the hillside with modern radar and other communication devices. A hilltop still remains the best place for a military installation, regardless of the centuries.
The hillsides are still vibrantly green, although a little hint of yellow indicates the change of seasons. As we circle an outcropping, a fishing boat is hauling in the catch of the day. Sea gulls flutter about the bulging nets like so many white water butterflies. Seagulls seem the same all over the world, with their keening calls and distinctive wing shape. Like the smell of the sea, they seem to be part of the greater whole of the planet, a familiar in an unfamiliar landscape. They swoop into the water to snatch a fish and then soar to the sky and become white lights against the green hills.
We land at a small fishing area called Poyrazkoy and walk to the top of a very steep hill to take pictures of the actual Black Sea. It stretches as far as the imagination, a dark, although not black, vastness. As I walk back down the hill, I marvel at a young woman who is making the climb in boots with four inch heels. I’m slipping with flat walking shoes, but she steps as elegantly down the hill in her boots as she much move across the dance floor of a club. The climb seemed steep going up, but even steeper going down.
In the village, several orange cats circled and called. They all looked alike. There must have been one prolific male who managed to escape the mandatory neutering and spread his seed as far as possible before his glory days ended. The one black and white cat I saw clearly wasn’t in the same feline social class. Back at the boat, the left over chicken is being tossed to the stray dogs who leap and catch the morsels in midair. The boat’s dog, whose name is either Captain or Top Dog, the translation was a bit difficult to determine, looks on rather smugly. He know full well that he is the King and these are merely beggars at the gates.
A bit further down the Straight, we stop again at another, larger fishing village. I wandered the streets filled with fish vendors offering fried sardines, mussels, calamari and other fresh fish…and it was fresh. Some even had tanks with the fish still swimming, but most appeared to have come directly from the boats in the harbor. A few shops offer the typical tourist attractions—earrings, trinkets, postcards, but the distinctive blue Evil Eye, or the Eye to ward off evil, graces several items. I wlll eventually purchase some, but not here, not today.
As I wait for the group to come back to reboard the boat for the cruise back to the heart of Istanbul, the strains of a bugle playing taps echo across the harbor courtyard. The smell of frying fish permeates the air. When the bugle ceases, the cry of gulls mingles with voices on cells and the calls of vendors. One very persistent dog approaches each person, hopeful for a treat. As the light turns to a deep gold filtered through the masts of the fishing boats, I am struck by how much this is the fishing village of every myth and dream.
The trip back takes place under the darkening sky with the twinkling of lights on either shore. The bridges spanning the Straights are lit with multi-colored lights—red, purple, green, blue and violet. I watch them change color as we are served a snack of bananas drizzled with honey and topped with nuts. In the distance, the lights of city itself begin to appear and my first full day in Asia Minor is drawing to a close.
(Pictures to come as soon as I can upload them.)