THE BOSPHORUS STRAIT IS STUNNINGLY FANTASTIC, and its waters glimmer and reflect the cultural and historic beauty which exists in the city surrounding them. The Turkish writer A. S. Hisar captured the wonder of the Bosphorus in these words: “When there is not a breath of wind, the waters [of the Bosphorus] sometimes shudder as if from inside and take on the finish of washed silk.” Tonight I felt Hisar’s words drastically seep their way into my reality, as I rode a seabus ferry from Galata to Sariyer, a voyage which lasts about an hour and a half.
The contemporary Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk remembers taking similar trips up the Bosphorus as a child: “…it seemed to me that the colours of the Bosphorus hills were not reflections of an external light. It seemed to me that the rooftops, the plane trees and the judas, the wings of the gulls that would flap so rapidly past us and the half-broken walls of the boathouses – all of them glowed with a dim light that came from within…On summer evenings, when the reddening sky merges with the dark mysteries of the Bosphorus, the water foams madly, madly dragging after the rowing boats cutting through it. But right beside the foam there is a smoother part of sea whose colours do not change so much as undulate like Monet’s pool of water lilies.” All of these descriptions seem so fitting after tonight.
Before boarding the ferry, we walked around Galata for awhile, and I got some great photos (click on any of these pictures to make the larger):
Ferries pass boisterously underneath the Galata Bridge:
The New Mosque shimmers in splendor as the blanket of night sets in:
Galata street vendors sell delicious food to locals:
Finally, we prepare to board the ferry, amidst the splendid chaos of Istanbul:
While sitting on the roof of the ferry, I experienced what was perhaps the most overwhelming catharsis of beauty in my entire life so far:
The ferry in motion:
A great shot of Galata Tower from the ferry:
On the ferry ride, we passed under Ataturk Bridge, which spans the Bosphorus Strait, connecting Europe and Asia:
We also passed the palace which Ataturk lived in:
…as well as an illuminated, sparkling mosque at night, its reflection beaming off the rippling susurrations of the water:
Next, the ferry swished by the famous Rumelifeneri Castle, a momentous landmark in its own right:
Then, an unexpected – and particularly Turkish – turn of events: we are approached by several Turkish college students, with whom we begin conversing. The students were fascinated by the United States, and we were equally fascinated by Turkey. After 45 minutes of conversation, we are all friends:
As chance would have it, we discover that all of us are travelling to Sariyer. They invite us to come eat fish and drink rakı with them, an offer we’d be idiotic to refuse. After settling in at a pub in Sariyer, I am again astounded – and delighted – by the warmth of Turkish pub culture. Within fifteen minutes, the songs begin:
..and continue even more:
Wanting to capture the joy of new friendships, the Turks keep insisting we take more photos:
Meanwhile, the visage of esteemed Ataturk watches over the pub to make sure everything stays in line:
Eventually, things slow down, and we take a few final pictures before saying goodnight. The man in the white collar shirt is the owner of the pub:
And thus ended an amazing evening. I cannot reiterate enough how friendly, inviting, and welcoming these people were…and all because of a chance meeting on a ferry ride! Throughout the evening, we had illuminating discussion about secularism and Kemalism (political philosophy supporting the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk). With these randomly-made new friends, we transcended cultural boundaries in our embrace of secularism, all of us agreeing that extremism, unnecessary classification, and strong religious affiliation in general is just plain useless. When you shed the narrowing influence of hackneyed identity categorizations (religion, politics, nationalism, etc.), so many avenues of human interaction brilliantly open.
In Istanbul, the terrors of the past and the uncertainty of the future evaporate, and in the shimmering collision of friendship, laughter, history, and beauty, everything is spectacular, and like the soaring gulls who dance above the rhythmic undulations of the moonlight waters, the spirit is set free.