Thank you to those who have messaged or expressed concern about the rioting in Taksim Square. We are pleased to report it is not too close and in fact if it were not for the internet news we would not know it was hapening. The only potential issue is that we are due to pick up our hire car from Avis, which is in Taksim Square. Dad spent a while on the phone, with the help of the hotel reception, trying to see what will happen – the office was closed today because of the rioting, but it seems things are settling down. Fingers crossed.
Thankfully for our tired legs, today was a little more sedate than yesterday. Everyone had told us that a river cruise on the Bosphorus was a must, and we always do what we’re told! Choosing between the myriad tours on offer was a challenge, but in the end we opted for one recommended by the staff at the hotel, in part because they picked us up at the hotel door. I think I mentioned the narrow jumble of roads – imagine a huge tour bus navigating those – actually I saw it with my own eyes otherwise I never would have believed it was possible.
We were the first pick-up on the list, and we spent close to an hour collecting the other tour guests. That could have been tiresome except that we were fascinated to watch the driver’s impressive skill, and we did get to see a part of the city we hadn’t been in before. At last we arrived at the wharf and climbed onto the boat. There were only about 15 of us, a very eclectic mob, of different ages, nationalities, and ethnicity. The boat was big enough for 10 times that number so we had plenty of room to wander around and get the best vantage spot for photos. Our guide was Jamal (“call me Jimmy”) who was knowledgeable and had a good sense of humour, but his English did leave a bit to be desired. It was entertaining at times trying to decipher his commentary!
The river cruise was lovely. After yesterday’s rain we woke to clear blue skies and the day remained fine & sunny, warm but not hot – perfect. As you probably know, Turkey is the only city that straddles two continents – Europe and Asia. The river Bosphorus divides the two, and is the only way for some of the Black Sea countries to reach the rest of the world. So it’s a busy thoroughfare of passenger ferries, cruise boats (big & small), container ships, tankers and fishing vessels. The cruise allows you to take in the vastness of this city of almost 20,000,000 people, and to get a glimpse of many important buildings. With the commentary, it helped to gain a better understanding of the fascinating history of Byzantium / Constantinople / Istanbul.
We got off the boat for a visit to Rumelli Fortress, a medieval-style fortress built by ‘Mehmet the conqueror’ in 1452, as part of the siege of Constantinople. It sits at the narrowest point of the Bosphorus and enabled Mehmet to block any ships attempting to bring supplies or aid to the city. It is a massive structure, built in only 4 months, which seems remarkable.
We cruised back to the city past expensive waterfront mansions, presidential palaces (or pollisses as our guide pronounced it), restaurants, hotels, schools and even a university. It was a fun and relaxing way to see the sights. (I will caption these photos later)
After a brief lunch stop in Sultanahmet Square (dry but tasty Doner wraps) a few of the group piled onto a smaller bus for a continuation of the tour. We drove along the ancient (9th century) city walls that once surrounded Constantinople, and learned some more history. The walls are amazing the way they are just there, with the city growing around them. After an impossibly narrow, steep drive we landed at Pierre Loti Hill. Pierre Loti was a French Naval Officer and novelist who (we were told) had an unrequited love affair with a Turkish girl and supported Turkey against France during the war. The main attraction of going there was a spectacular view over Istanbul.
We came down the hill in a cable car – much faster and probably safer than the bus! The tour dropped us back in Sultanahmet Square and we walked back to the hotel from there. I enjoy the stroll along the Hippodrome – it is always teeming with people – tourists of all nationalities and local family groups out enjoying the evening air.
Dinner was in a fun outdoor cafe, complete with cheesy fountain that was floodlit in an everchaning rainbow of colours. There were locals playing backgammon and smoking the local hookahs, and more varieties of kebabs than I ever imagined existed. Another fun day!