Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July 11th - Istanbul, Walking the Bosphorus

After a few days off from sightseeing (and a very quick trip back to the UK), we've maybe lost a little of our stamina. This wasn't helped by the fact that I had to get up before 6am to narrate our sail-in to Istanbul. At that time of the morning I can barely breathe, never mind talk, but fortunately the magnificent sight of Istanbul's exotic minarets and palaces coming into view out of the morning haze made up for my early morning ramblings.

Having lazily retired back to bed post-narration, we finally set off at the crack of 11.30am. We caught a bus to Kurucesme (one of the former villages on the Bosphorus), and started a walk up the glorious Bosphorus. As we were proceeding, the waterside promenades were a buzz of activity - loads of men fishing for sardines, loads of boys doing spectacular dives into the waters, and then being swept downstream by the strong currents, before climbing out, running back and diving in all over again. As a backdrop to this, there was a constant stream of huge oil tankers and cargo ships sailing by - it made you wonder how clean the waters were for swimming, but it didn't seem to worry the fearless adolescent divers.

We stopped for lunch in Arnavutkoy, a former village of historic wooden clapperboard houses that wouldn't look out of place in New England. We decided on a cafe for lunch with loads of locals in, and ordered the menus. When we saw that the menus were only in Turkish, we asked a guy on the next table if he could help us order. He was very nice and obliged, but what we had failed to notice was that he was the size of a house and clearly had a much larger capacity than us. So, our light snack had somehow turned into a major meal, as platefuls of sausage-based dishes were whisked out of the kitchens.

Our walk continued, and we made our way to the narrowest part of the Bosphorus, where Europe and Asia are only 700 metres apart. The spot is marked by two Ottoman castles that were built in the run up to the siege of Constantinople in 1453. We explored the rugged Rumeli Hisari, the Castle of Europe, that clung onto the steep hill that lines the European side of the Bosphorus. Incredibly enough, this enormous castle, with walls that are 6 metres thick, was built in the space of just 4 months, the year before that final attack on Constantinople. It must have been obvious to the Byzantines that their number was up, as they saw this castle shoot up, strangling their vital supply lines with the Black Sea. We nervously walked the walls of the castle, which alarmingly didn't have any safety rails down the side - so we clung to the walled side, rather than look over the 60 feet drop the other side of us.

Having got over our vertigo, we carried on for another couple of miles past some more villages, before stopping for a well earned drink - unfortunately none of the cafes served a much needed beer, so I had to settle for a coke.

For our bus ride back to the ship, we were lucky enough to get a seat, because the traffic was moving at a snail's pace and it got incredibly hot onboard. Unfortunately the bus was by now crammed with people, many of whom wouldn't have recognised a deodorant if we'd hit them over the head with it - the smell on the bus was ripe to say the least. Finally, after 45 minutes of being cooked alive onboard the B.O. Express, we staggered off and onto the ship, for an evening of watching the World Cup.