Life on the Bosphorus

Galata Tower from the Ferry Credit: T Walker

Galata Tower from the Ferry Credit: T Walker

by Tracey Marie Walker,

A Place Where East Meets West

From fishermen to sailors, commuters to tourists, the Bosphorus remains a busy, attractive means of straddling two continents. Turkey is increasingly becoming a popular travel destination for European travelers. Istanbul, in particular, is known as the mysterious yet modern city that straddles two continents. Istanbul is, in fact, situated within both Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus, a stretch of water that links the Black Sea with the Marmara Sea, is what both separates and connects Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus has a hectic life of its own, carrying passengers, freight and fishermen between East and West. Passenger ferries continuously carry locals and travelers on the waters where clearly defined boundaries are blurred.

A Community of Travelers
Selling Simit, Turkish Bagels Credit: Illustir

Selling Simit, Turkish Bagels Credit: Illustir

Upon entering the iskelesi, or port, many passengers buy a simit, which is the local bagel. After placing their coin in the turnstile, they enter the ferry and take a seat. On a pleasant day, the outside seats are taken first. At departure times, the engines roar and the unsteady planks are removed. A waiter brings around a tray filled with small curvaceous glasses of Turkish tea. Many locals buy the tea, and the brave tourist can be heard practicing: ‘bir cay lutfen’.

Once the ferry has safely left the port, passengers sitting outside typically start feeding simit to the seagulls. Birds gracefully glide alongside the boat, catching small chunks of bread. At prayer time, this lulling flow resonates perfectly with the spiritual sound of the call to prayer skimming the surface of the water. An orchestra of sounds can be heard: the song of the birds, the water splashing outwards from the boat, and several singing voices from the mosques that surround the Bosphorus. It leaves a person living completely in the present, in the matrix of nature and human song.

A Place of Peaceful Paradox?
Bosphorus Sunset Credit: Ruth Hogan

Bosphorus Sunset Credit: Ruth Hogan

As the ferry nears to shore, passengers are confronted with a contrasting view of modernity and history. Minarets resembling fairytale beauty reach above pubs and bars, Ottoman wooden houses stand shoulder to shoulder with modern high rise buildings, an Ottoman fortress rests beneath the connecting Bosphorus Bridge, and local fishermen sell their newly caught fish next to one of the numerous McDonalds. Paradox persists. Colorful headscarves alternate with free-flowing hair and teenage boys wearing western clothes play with prayer beads. During the call to prayer, life continues, but radios and televisions must be turned to mute.

Once the ferry has reached its destination, passengers stand by the edge of the boat, ready to step into Asia or Europe. Planks are quickly thrown in place, and passengers flock to descend. Queues are not important, but consideration for your fellow travelers is. A refreshing lack of prohibiting health and safety measures ensure passengers surrender to the flow of the crowd while applying simple common sense. Each individual is a member of the ferry community for a few more minutes before they blend with the community of the neighborhood of which they are entering.

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