|Richard & Stacy's Round the World Trip 2001|
Saturday, May 19, 2001.
After being up late the night before struggling with Internet connectivity, getting up for the Bosphorus Tour was tough. But up we got, with the help of the muezzims in the mosques and a wake up call. We'd booked the tour through Hayden, the local English-speaking Kiwi tour guide at Jasmine Tours, next door to the hotel. Hayden hooked us up with Ancient Tours for the Bosphorus Tour, which would take us up the Bosphorus Channel and stop at various sights along the way. The reality was not quite so perfect...
The tour started off well enough - we were able to get up on time for breakfast and get out to the front of the hotel before the bus arrived. The bus was early, a good sign in many cases. The driver spoke virtually no English, but he talked to the bellboys and they told us it was the right bus. On board was an American named Peter who was sociable enough. After we were aboard, the driver drove a block or so and then dropped off his daughter on a street corner and headed down the block. At the end of the block was another hotel and two more tourists boarded - a mother and daughter from New Zealand. And the driver's daughter returned as well, having run down the block.
The next driving leg was longer as we headed over to the other side of Sultanahmet and picked up our guide, Karim. Karim introduced himself and then told us that the ferry up the Bosphorus wouldn't be leaving for another hour and a half. We then set out on a drive around Istanbul, with Karim pointing out a few sights, some of the Byzantine walls, etc. Finally we stopped at the Spice Bazaar and were set loose for an hour.
The Spice Bazaar had lots of spices in it, plus some jewelry and other odds and ends. Not an hours worth of distraction, we decided to head down a street next to the bazaar where other street vendors were setting up...
Finally the hour had gone by and we walked from the Spice Bazaar to the docks of Eminönü - about four blocks away. After a quick briefing by Karim (mostly warning us NOT to get off the ferry too soon), we boarded a ferry boat for the trip up the Bosphorus. This was the regular local ferry, and it was stuffed to the gills with locals.
The actual trip up the Bosphorus was uneventful, but with lots of interesting sights. After a couple of stops, we left the ferry at Yeniköy, a fishing village that dates from Byzantine times. There to meet us was the same driver that dropped us off at the Spice Bazaar back in Istanbul! That was the end of the water part of our tour, the rest of the tour was done from the bus. Hardly seemed worth it, calling an hour and a half trip on a packed ferry a tour of the Bosphorus.
On board the bus, we discovered that the driver's daughter was going to be with us for the rest of the day, and she sat right at the back of the bus with us. She spoke very little English, but we managed to learn that her name was Neslihan, and she is twelve years old. Through Karim, we asked Neslihan's father for permission to take her picture. For the rest of the day (with one notable exception), Neslihan stuck close to us.
We drove back from Yeniköy, past Istiney Bay and the Faith Sultan Mehmet Bridge (nearly half way back to Istanbul!) to the Fortress of Europe, known as Rumeli Hisari in Turkish, which was built in 1452 by Mehmet II as a prelude to his (successful) invasion of Constantinople.
The Fortress of Europe is just a site to explore now, its life as a fortress ending shortly after Mehmet II took control of Constantinople (and renaming the city Istanbul). After entirely too little time at the fortress, we went back to the bus and headed for lunch, past the villages of Bebek, Arnavutköy, Orataköy, Besiktas and Pasa. We were taken to a tourist lunch place - but only those that were staying for the "full day" tour - the mother/daughter pair from New Zealand were driven back to their hotel while we ate lunch.
After lunch, the bus returned with some new members of our tour - a family (father, mother and two adult daughters) from, of all places, Abbotsford! Unfortunately, they too were expecting a boat tour of the Bosphorus, which had already come and gone (such as it was) in the morning. The only exposure to the Bosphorus expected in the afternoon was a trip over the Bosphorus bridge.
However, we all went together to the Dolmabahce Palace. Remember the amazing Topkapi Palace? This is the place that the sultans moved to FROM Topkapi. You run out of superlatives trying to describe this place. To get into the palace, you have to take a tour, which start every fifteen minutes or so in different languages. The floors are all hardwood, in an effort to protect them, carpeted pads are everywhere and you are expected to stay on the carpet. Also, you have to wear little plastic booties over your shoes. And finally, NO PHOTOGRAPHS (OH NO!)... that is, unless you're willing to pay an extra 5,000,000 lira (about $4 US) for your camera. And even then, no flash. And yes, we paid the extra.
It may be a weak proof of how fabulous the palace is, but we did take more pictures in the palace than anywhere else in Turkey. After all, we did pay for the privilege. The tour took quite awhile, more than an hour. We walked back to the parking lot along the front of the palace, close to the Bosphorus. When we gathered together at the entrance, we realized that someone was missing - Neslihan! She had come into the palace with us for a tour, since all school-age children get free admission for Museum Week. We presumed that she had waited for a Turkish tour, rather than the English one we were on that she wouldn't understand.
Neslihan's father was rather upset - Karim said that Neslihan's tour had actually left before our tour, so she should have been back first. He talked his way past the various guards in an effort to find his daughter. We were upset too, having felt rather protective of Neslihan and not being aware she had slipped away from us - we thought she was with Karim.
After a half hour, there was still no sign of Neslihan. Peter (the American on the tour) had fallen asleep in the bus while we were waiting. The family from Abbotsford that had joined us after lunch eventually left - they had been planning on a trip up the Bosphorus which they weren't going to get, whether Neslihan came back or not.
Finally, Neslihan appeared - there was a second part of the tour (yes, there's even MORE to the Dolmabahce Palace than we saw) that we did not go on: this is the tour of the Harem. Neslihan, already ahead of us on the Turkish tour and not having to pay anything for the additional tour, had gone on the second part as well. When she finally returned with her father, she looked rather like a chastised 12 year old, which, of course, she was.
And so, with about a 45 minute delay, we were on our way again for the last leg of our tour - a trip across the Bosphorus on the Bosphorus Bridge, over to the Asian side and up Camlica Hill, one of the highest points in Istanbul. Unfortunately, since we had gotten away so late, we were mired in the heavy afternoon traffic of Istanbul. The Bosphorus Bridge is one of only two bridges connecting the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, and the Bosphorus Bridge is also the larger and closer of the two. Also, the European side of Istanbul is the business side, the Asian side is more of a bedroom community (as we would eventually see). So, to make a long story short, we drove right into the middle of the Istanbul afternoon rush hour.
As we reached the other side of the bridge, there was a big sign saying "Welcome to Asia." The Bosphorus is recognized as the dividing line between Europe and Asia. From the bridge we headed up Camlica Hill. The hill is obviously a major park location for the local community of Istanbul - the parking lots were overflowing with cars (once again our driver showed his talent, squeezing his bus into a tiny spot), and there were picnickers scattered all over the hill. Lots of little concession stands and such made it a happy, summery place.
We moved along a pathway off the crest of Camlica Hill, in pursuit of perfect views of the city of Istanbul.
After a final pose, Karim led us over to the other side of the hill, to look down on the rest of the Asian part of Istanbul.
While staring in awe at the sheer size of Istanbul (there is, after all, 17 million people living in Istanbul), the afternoon prayer call came wafting up the hill from the minarets of the mosques that cover the landscape. It was time to go. The drive back was much faster than the trip over and we dropped Peter off first. There was the obligatory carpet presentation at the end, where the various kinds of Turkish carpets were shown to us. We enjoyed the tea and carpet lesson, and then headed back to the hotel. Before getting out of the bus, we gave Neslihan a Canadian two dollar coin as a present - something to remember us by. After a quick rest in the hotel, we walked a couple of blocks to a restaurant called the Turkistan Restaurant, where we had traditional Turkish food. Part of the experience was taking off our shoes as we entered the restaurant and putting on a pair of slippers.
At the end of the meal, our shoes were returned, perfectly polished! With good tips all around, we walked back to the hotel and to bed. We weren't certain what to do the next day, we were sure that we still needed a more "serious" trip up the Bosphorus at some point.