Sunlight streaming through the embroidered and sequined curtain wakes me from the first decent sleep I’ve had since arriving here. After the traditional Turkish breakfast that I look forward to every morning, I consult my new map, and set out to follow the train tracks to the waterfront for a ferry to the Rumeli Fortress.
I find the Sirkeci train station, the arrival point of the legendary Orient Express, and I stop to take photos of the steam engine that sits in the station yard. I had hoped to come to Istanbul on this train, which ran for nearly a century before shutting down in 1977. It now runs twice a year, departing from London.
I find the Eminönü ferry dock but am outwitted by the ticket machines. I ask for assistance from one of the clerks who redirects me to the Bosphorus cruise dock. After several failed attempts to rephrase my question, I grudgingly trudge north and buy a ticket for TL25 instead of the TL7 that the ferry would have cost. There’s no seats left on the upper deck, but plenty of room below on old wooden seats that remind me of ships from the 1940’s.
After we pass under the Bosphorus Bridge, I queue up for the Bayern (restroom). The expressions on the faces of the German women in front of me make me wish my German wasn’t so rusty. I find out the cause when my turn comes.
It’s my first encounter with a traditional Turkish toilet — an oblong ceramic plate in the floor, with a very shallow bowl, a hole, and two textured areas where you place your feet. The toilet reeks as any pit privy does, and I wonder if the Germans understood that the water tap and pitcher (not shown here) is used to flush the toilet as well as to wash your hands. One more experience checked off my bucket list…
The Rumeli Hisari comes into view. It is expansive and I’m very disappointed that this boat doesn’t stop here (which is why I was trying to take the ferry).
- Built by Sultan Mehmet II in 1452, the Rumeli Hisari was completed in 80 days and was one of two fortresses that led to Mehmet’s successful siege of Constantinople the following year.
Beyond Kanlica we reach Rumeli Kavagi, where the strait narrows and is thought to be the site of the ‘Clashing Rocks’ from Homer’s epic ‘Jason and the Argonauts.’ During the Byzantine period a large column was erected as a warning to ships. It remains a treacherous part of the strait, even with modern day navigational equipment.
We reach our final destination, the small fishing village of Anadolu Cavagi that sits at the base of a hill, crested by Yoros Kalesi. I start up the hill, and I’m approached by a waiter from the nearby restaurant, whom I try to ignore until I realize that he’s pointing me towards the castle. The road up the hill is steep, taking me past a cemetery and up to the ruins of the fortress.
A ruin which is closed for renovation…
- Andalolu Kavagi was the customs point on the Bosphorus during the Roman era. The village industries included fishing, gardening and serving the ships while waiting for favorable winds to the Black Sea.
I content myself with wandering around the back side. This is the closest I’ll get to the Black Sea, as the rest of the land on this side is restricted to military access. I turn around and head back towards the path, just in time to see a group of men old enough to know better, scrambling over the locked iron gate at the entrance to the fortress, which seems like a really good way to get yourself in trouble.
The stone stairs leading down are a little treacherous, and I’m mindful of patches of broken glass. I progress down the path, past a shanty house with chickens roaming free. Down a set of stairs I find a play yard with a wooden swing set, a wooden teeter totter taller than a man, and a number of hammocks. It’s inviting, as are the restaurants that dot this hill, but I opt to continue downwards.
I return to the waiter who was kind enough to point me towards the castle, and order swordfish, cooked on a small grill just feet from my table. I look around at a terrain built on the side of a hill, with outdoor cafes under tarp roofs, foliage and intense sunlight that make me think more of Greece than Turkey. I try to get the waiter’s attention for my check so I can head back to the ferry.
- No one is ever in a hurry here. Choices are made via sign language or gesture, checks are tallied by pen and paper or calculator and if you ask for a receipt you are likely to get the scrap of paper they did the tally on.
Back at the hotel, the young waiter, whose name is Cihan, smiles as he waits for our nightly game of ‘What’s For Dinner.’ Afterwards, I return to Gulhane (Tulip) Park, which surrounds the Topkapi Palace. The tops of the trees are filled with grey heron nests. More pairs of birds than I can count are building nests and mating, puffing out their chests and making a racket with their calls. I note the location of the Science Museum which I will visit tomorrow.
I go to my room to download the photos from the day. Construction continues next door and the building starts to shake as heavy equipment seems to slam into the side of the hotel’s foundation. It felt like an earthquake that lasted until about 2 AM. I learn the next morning that the heavy work must be done at night, as trucks are not allowed here during the day during tourist season.
There appear to be no sound ordinances here at all…
- This is an excerpt from my original travel journal. The full text, which includes historical notes and traveler tips, is now available at AugustPhoenixHats.com.