Istanbul is a big city. Wikipedia confirms this observation in its description of the metropolis: “With a population of 13.9 million, the city forms one of the largest urban agglomerations in Europe and is among the largest cities in the world by population within city limits. Istanbul’s vast area of 5,343 square kilometers (2,063 sq mi) is coterminous with Istanbul Province, of which the city is the administrative capital. Istanbul is a transcontinental city, straddling the Bosphorus — one of the world’s busiest waterways in northwestern Turkey, between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.”
On a day with the most perfect weather ever for a February in Turkey, I left my hotel in the late morning without the faintest idea where I was going and headed out into the sprawling mass that is Istanbul.
This is not an exaggeration, I really had no idea where I was going when I left the hotel. Ferda came by to meet me, but we didn’t have a plan, nor a common language. We had only just met for the first time the day before at the shop she was working at, and with no specific agenda on hand, we just started walking. We started out in the tourist center of the city, Sultanahmet, with the Hippodrome, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. We made our way across the Galata bridge, which is pretty cool. There are always dozens of fishermen hanging out, rain or shine. I took this photo of the bridge a year later during much worse weather.
After a bit of contemplation/roaming aimlessly, Ferda decided on Yoros Castle as our destination of the day, though I had no idea since I couldn’t understand what she was saying. She did seem pleased with her decision, and over the course of the day I was able to discern that we were going to one of her favorite spots in Istanbul, a place she and her friends often went in the summer. I did not know that it was 25 miles away and that we would be walking most of the way there.
We hugged the Bosphorus pretty much the entire way, which made for a spectacularly scenic journey. We stopped off for a lunch of kumpir before too long. Kumpir is basically just a baked potato with lots of stuff in it. Here’s a photo.
Most of it was good, but I had to eat around the mayonnaise, of which there was entirely too much, but here’s another example of the language barrier rearing its ugly head, as the nice fellow loading up the potato did not speak a word of english and my mime skills were unable to stop him and his squeezebottle of blech.
Later on we came upon some street kids selling kleenex, and they were straight out of Oliver, save for asking for seconds, and Ferda very kindly forked over a lira to one of the kids, who promptly took the coin and went on his way, forgetting to hand over the packet of tissues. Ferda is a sweet person and/or an easy mark. I like to think the former, given on a later occasion we were confronted with a little boy who pleaded for money for a bowl of soup on a rainy night and she readily agreed. Actually, she agreed to buy him a bowl of soup but not give him the money, and he wasn’t happy about that, but dutifully followed her for a couple blocks until he got fed up (ha-ha) and bolted, realizing he wasn’t getting any cash. Later that night I had lentil soup, and that kid was missing out. Anyway, on this particular occasion, Ferda hurries after the kid with kleenex, stops him, takes the packet she paid for, bops the kid over the head reproachfully/affectionately with it and we were back on our way. It’s interesting to consider, after the fact and down the line, not so much why we like the people we like, but when exactly we made that determination.
We kept trying to find a boat that would take us across to the Asian side of Istanbul, but everything was closed because it was a Sunday. So we kept walking. And walking. And then we walked some more. The most common refrain from Ferda during this period was, “Only five or ten more minutes.” This was to be a recurring phrase in our travels.
Eventually, we found a boat that would take us across. It took about twenty minutes and the water was calm. I pretended to sleep and made Ferda take pictures.
When we got to the Asian side, my first time on the continent, we hopped on a bus and headed into the hills. When we were on the European side, I could always find my bearings because of my proximity to the Bosphorus, but once that was out of sight, and we were zipping around a bunch of winding roads into the hills, I had no landmarks, no bearings, no clue where I was. I tried not to think of what the percentages were at that moment I would wake up in a tub of ice with a jagged scar where my kidney used to be and a note suggesting I take it easy for a few days, drink plenty of liquids and warning me about the dangers of infection.
So after a while we emerge from the hills down into this tiny little town on the waterfront. A few restaurants dotted the shoreline, and after not eating anything besides that mayonnaise-drenched potato all day, we took a breather and had some calamari and shrimp, both of which were excellent. The waiter was nice enough to snap a couple pictures after the fact.
From there, we hiked through the residential portion of the town, which looked pretty much like West Virginia once the Bosphorus was out of view. Small houses in various states of disrepair, most with satellite dishes on the roof. One had a stump outside with an axe buried in it and smoke emanating from some unknown location.
A dirt path wound through the hill/mountain up to the castle, a fairly steep incline, passing through a cemetery and military barracks along the way. The sun was setting, so I only spent a little time in this hammock, which was alongside the staircase leading up to the castle, for some reason, but it was time well spent.
Once we got to the castle, the entrance Ferda usually went through was closed for the winter, but that didn’t dissuade her. Neither did this sign.
Our first attempt to storm the castle failed and we ended up in what felt like a briar patch, but eventually we found a hole in the wall we could climb/crawl through. The castle walls are still relatively intact, and the place was in superb condition for being consistently occupied all the way through the Byzantine Empire into the beginning of the 20th century.
I think the difficulty Ferda and I had getting inside speaks to its effectiveness as a defensive structure. It was getting pretty dark but we managed to climb up onto a thin ledge without killing ourselves and settled in to watch the last of the light fade.
The Black Sea to the right, the Bosphorus directly below, the Sea of Marmara visible far in the distance. The edges of the world.