Sunday, 10 July 2011
So when I was in Istanbul, I wanted to see the Black Sea. Would it actually be black? This is what I wondered. Istanbul straddles both an isthmus and a straight; the straight is called the Bosphorus, and it links the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. When I was in Istanbul I was couchsurfing with my friend Christina, and she lived about an our from the city center, but also some distance from the Black Sea. In order to get there, some public transportation would be required – a bus ride; disembarkation at the correct stop; a 10-minute ferry ride across the Bosphorus, and a climb up to a castle on the Asian side, from which the Black Sea would reputedly be clearly visible. A challenge, certainly, but one I felt I could master.
After all, I wanted to see the blackness of the Sea.
Getting on the right bus first meant climbing down a very, very steep hill. Christina shares a flat just behind Boğaziçi Üniversitesi, which is one of the most prestigious universities in Turkey. The most direct way to get down passes through the campus; there are steep paths and stairs and cobbled streets, all winding their way steeply downward. In fact it’s so steep that it can be rather hard on the knees, but once you reach the bottom (after 15 minutes if you’re reckless), you’re beside the Bosphorus. And the Bosphorus itself is lined with fishermen, endless fishermen. If you pass by at the right time, at dusk, they may even be frying up some of their day’s catch to eat. People stroll the broad sidewalk and vendors sell corn on the cob and little cups of chai. And there you’ll find boats from all over the world – some large, some small: two-seater speedboats from as far away as Delaware, Copenhagen, and London. And there’s the Bosphorus itself, a different shade of blue each day, gently choppy, filled with massive tankers traveling back and forth from the oil fields of Central Asia, container ships, ferries, tour boats, and pleasure boats.
The bus was 25E, and it wound its way along the coastline, sometimes pulling ahead of the tanker I was keeping time with, sometimes falling behind. I got off at the right stop and started looking for the ferry I was to board. I started looking left – and that was my mistake. Because the ferry stop was just to the right, *behind* the bus stop, a few steps back toward the way we’d come. In walking to the left – further onward – it would take me another hour to reach another port of call. But along the way, this was the view:
You could do worse. When I hoped on the ferry it wasn’t like the other ferries I’d taken over to Asia; it was wooden and old, like an old steamboat. And filled with people speaking familiar languages, like English, which was also different. This is the view looking back toward Europe:
And this was the view towards Asia, and the Castle I intended to climb:
Meanwhile, this was the view towards the Black Sea:
Where we landed was filled with restaurants and tourist trinket shops: clearly I wasn’t the first person to wonder about the Black Sea. Up I climbed through hills so steep that my feet were often above my head. You knew you were close to the top, though, when you found restaurants again – this time with terraced views and even more expensive menus. By the time I reached the top, I was panting like a dog, sweating like a leprechaun, and looking out at this:
The Black Sea, not so black after all. In the other direction, you could see the office towers of Istanbul:
When I reached the bottom again, I had to wait an hour for the ferry – the real ferry, not the all-day Bosphorus tour ship that I’d accidentally hitched a ride on earlier. If I wanted to ride THAT (and I didn’t) it would cost me $10, a ferry token to cross cost about $1. So I spent my time in one of the tourist-trap restaurants, reading about budgeting and eating a delicious meal of whitefish with fresh tomato and onion and arugula. One the ferry ride over, I took one last look towards the Black Sea:
If only those two tankers would collide, maybe a part – a very small part – of the Black Sea would be black, like it’s supposed to be.