A Boat Trip Up the Bosphorus

We probably had one of the most perfect days possible in Istanbul in our opinion. The weather helped. Bright and sunny 19C. Just a perfect day for being out and about.

After breakfast we walked downhill through the narrow bazaar streets to the Eminou waterfront. The traders were just setting up at 915 outside their shops, Talk about hustle and bustle getting goods in. There isn’t any hassle though. It’s not like Egypt or Morocco where you are hassled to go in and “have a butchers” etc from every shop tout en route. This is just a normal scene for normal people, not a tourist thing at all… I love the way the shops are grouped by trade. So, first we walked down “belt street” where every shop was sellling…. belts! This merged into sewing/crafts street – buttons, trimmings, fake flowers, fabric. Then shoes….. so, so many shoes. It’s convenient for the shopper. You can do all your research in a very short distance.

We reached the sales window for the Bosphorus round trip ferry at about 930. The window wasn’t going to open till about 10 so we got in line. We were 3rd, a biggish line developed behind us. There are two Bosphorus tours. The “long” tour and the “short tour”. The long tour departs at 1035 and goes a long way up, stopping at about 5 places for brief minutes till it reaches its final destination at Anadolu Kapagi, 1 hour and 50 minutes later. It then waits till 3pm when it reverses the trip down arriving back at the dock at 1640. The short tour departs at 1440 and only goes as far as Ortakoy, then returns. We wanted the long tour and it was a bargain 65 tl each, about £3. The Bosphorus is the body of water running up from Istanbul to the Black Sea, on one bank it is Asia, on the other, Europe. Quite unique.

We got nice seats on the little rear outside deck which had a roof for shade. I’d read to sit on the left hand side going upriver and keep to the same side coming back to see both banks with the best light for photographs. So… we did.

It’s a lovely trip along the river, criss crossing from side to side. The banks of the Bosphorus on both sides are adorned with many beautiful mansions, some palaces, and small fishing villages that have now been absorbed into Istanbul suburbs and become the fashionable haunts of the very wealthy. The river is very clean and you could see the bottom in a lot of places and certainly there were a lot of fishermen along the banks.

We saw the Dolmabahce Palace, the home of many of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire and the last home of Kemal Ataturk, the great Turkish statesman. We have visited there before and it is well worth a visit, but we recommend you take a tour rather than a self visit so that you can hear the history of life in the harem, the hellish and murderous atmosphere of the gilded prison where the women plotted and fought for the lives of their sons, and of course the story of Ataturk himself. The audio tour is apparently a bit dull, so get a guide.

We also saw the Kempinski Ciragan Palace hotel where we once had a memorable stay for Bob’s birthday. We happened upon a deal online whre we got a suite in the Palace itself for 4 days half board with butler for £400. They were running a soft opening while they practised the butler service and the suites operation in the Palace before opening properly. It was absolutely amazing from start to finish and we could never, ever do it again now, but we have some incredible memories of the place….. sigh….

We were sat next to an Indian family and we struck up conversation much as you do on an Indian train. The father worked for UNICEF and was quite high up and on a special duty there for a few months. We had a most delightful chat with them all the way up, and again on the way down and exchanged contacts. They live in Hyderabad when in India. On the way down, we were joined in our conversation by a Swiss girl who is working for the UN in Kurdistan. She was so interesting to hear speak of her work and travels too. One of the great joys of travelling is meeting interesting people and swapping experiences and stories.

Anadolu Kapagi is a small fishing village on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. There is a ruined castle on the hillside above it and it retains a strategic naval importance as a checkpoint near the entrance to the Black Sea, not far ahead. There is an active fishing fleet and the quayside is lined with colourful fish restaurants. It’s a very popular lunch spot for Istanbul residents. On the tour, you really have the choice of visiting the castle or getting lunch. There isn’t quite time to do justice to both. We decided to have lunch and a quick stroll round the village afterwards.

Online reviews are pretty lukewarm about the fish restaurants on the quay. They seemed to be damned as overpriced and underwhelming, overly fried fish. One restaurant we found reviews for sounded more promising, just back from the quay in the tiny village square. It was called Kosem Balik and it totally lived up to the reviews. Unlike the others, there were no touts, just a father and son, cooking the fish and seafood in front of you with simple, very fresh ingredients. We took their lunch offer at 150 tl (just over £7) each.

It consisted of a lovely fresh local salad, bread, a plate of fried mussels, stuffed mussels, calamari with a garlic dipping sauce. Then a main of either a local sea bass grilled or dorado steaks grilled. Bob had the seabass and I had the dorado. The portions were very generous and the fish was perfectly cooked, not overcooked at all, still very moist. We washed it down with a large Efes beer (£2. 20) and 2 glasses of white wine (£5 for the 2) and we had an extra plate of the stuffed mussels for £1.20. It was a perfect lunch on a table in the autumn sun, blue checked tablecloth, as village life passed us by. If you find yourself there, we recommend Kosem Balik. It’s not on the waters’ edge but apart from that, a very superior lunch venue.

I used their loo which was immaculate and European style. In another echo of India, I’d paid a visit to the one on the boat, to find there was only one for the large ferry and it was the “crouch over a hole and hope your thighs are strong enough to keep you there” type….. Wasn’t that desperate so gave it a miss… So…. it was a “hallelujah” when I investigated the restaurant’s facilities.

We had a little mooch around the village which took about 10 minutes – very pretty. It would be quite nice to have an overnight there and enjoy it in that atmosphere. Got back on board at about 245 and we started back at 3. A really really good day out was had by all.

Started our walk back up to our hotel at about ten to five and our route took us past the Spice Market, the shopping streets and the Grand Bazaar. There were so many fishermen out along both sides of the Galatea Bridge, it seems impossible that there are enough fish to go round but I guess there must be! Whether there was something special on, a football match or something, or whether this was normal for a Saturday late afternoon, but the streets were crowded to the point of lunacy. For some time we were carried along in a total mass of people, some going one way, some another, impossible to get out really. It wasn’t that nice for about 10 minutes and we were glad when things thinned out further up the hill…..

We are too full up and too tired to go out to eat tonight, so enjoyed showers and a lazy evening.