My original travel journals were split across August Phoenix Hats and a few other websites. February 2021 marked the 12th anniversary of the beginning of my travels. To celebrate, I’m reissuing my journals as Director’s Cuts, with the complete text as well as larger and additional photos. My Crossroads Tour series details my travels to Florence, Genoa and Istanbul in 2011.
After spending the morning at the Ayasofya, I board a train and head across the Galata Bridge to the Kabatas Ferry Terminal and the Princes Islands. I use the brief wait at the ferry terminal to photograph some of the floor tiles.
I’m among the first to embark. I find the perfect seat on the starboard bow with a great view, a hook to hang my purse on, and a rail to prop up my feet. I am transfixed by the jade colored sea filled with moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) and watch three dolphins as they break its surface. The ferries and cruises on the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus are nice, but this is the trip that gives you a true feel for the immensity of this place. Twenty million people live here, in a city whose skyline along both sides of the coast is nearly unbroken.
Travel tip: Istanbul can be an intense city and the crush of people can be relentless, especially at peak tourist season. When you need a break, either visit a hamami, or take a ferry somewhere. It doesn’t matter where, just pick a direction and go.
There are about 5 stops on this ferry run, the final of which is Buyukada, where we debark into a town filled with homes that have a mix of Victorian and Indonesian elements, and other details that do not strike me as Turkish. The architecture and flora here are dramatically different from the mainland and it feels very tropical. I can see why this is such a popular mini-vacation place for the city-dwellers.
I allow myself to be talked into a tour of the island by horse-drawn surrey (another first for me), which seems to be one of the sustaining businesses here. Fifty lire gets me the short tour, ten more gets me the full island tour. I opt for the short tour, which follows a twisting, winding road to the top of the hill, through residences and a park overlooking the sea, where we stop to water the horses. It is a bumpy ride but very picturesque.
The trot back to the city center takes me past vendors selling silk flower hair wreaths, and the most expensive gelato I have had so far this trip. It’s a short wait for the ferry back to the mainland.
I return home after a very pleasant day, topped by very well timed transit schedules. I’ve got two days of photos to upload and have given up trying to transcribe my journal, preferring to be mindful of my more immediate surroundings in the short time I have left. After dinner I settle my tab and ask Baha to print boarding pass. But there’s a problem. Baha calls Lufthansa to get it sorted out.
And then, the most remarkable thing occurs…
“Your flight does not leave until the 19th…”
An extra day! Baha suggests that we celebrate, and we join Erhan and his lady friend for drinks at Cagaloglu Hamami, one the oldest and finest in the city, where we sit with a small group of local hotelliers. Baha instructs me in Turkish etiquette — to stand and shake hands with people as they enter and leave the room, and how to properly clink glasses during toasts. He asks me to tell the story about my lost taxi driver, which elicits much laughter from the group.
Afterwards, we walk across the street to the Kybele Hotel. “Like museum,” he says. It’s an Ottoman house like the Han, only larger, and filled floor to ceiling with glass lanterns, yurta bands and other antiques.
He leads me through the hallways and the bar, to a glass enclosed lift which takes us -very- slowly to the roof. The view is spectacular, made only slightly less perfect by the absence of stars…