We will start this week’s post with a simple multiple-choice quiz.
- Ferries are to Istanbul as ……
- subways are to Manhattan
- bicycles are to Amsterdam
- motorbikes are to Paris
- double-decker buses are to London
- gondolas are to Venice
- none of the above
- all of the above
Did you answer G, ALL OF THE ABOVE? If so, then you are correct! The ferries are subways, bicycles, motorbikes, buses, and gondolas all wrapped into one Turkish delight. Each day, they criss cross the Bosphorus, transporting millions of workers and students between the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. At the same time, they are a favorite of tourists hoping to take advantage of the breathtaking views of the Ancient City; fortresses built in 1452; and the modern high-rise cityscape in the background. For about 2.8 TL (about $1.40) the price is right. The larger ferries have three decks, a full food service station, and a capacity about 300. Still, they are dwarfed by the tankers that use the Bosphorus as a thorough-fare. The ferries dart and scoot and whip around their larger cousins in death-defying maneuvers that most passengers are oblivious to. On several occasions, we have heard tankers blasting their horns at the ferries or larger ferries blasting their horns at smaller ferries. It all adds to the good-natured chaos and cacophony that is Istanbul.
The ferry terminals (Işkele) number in the dozens on both sides of the Bosphorus, and can be as tiny as ours at Emirgan with only a half dozen small ferries making scheduled stops during the day, or they can be as large as that at Başiktas, which has in fact TWO Işkele each one of which accommodates a giant ferry every half hour during the day. Each of the terminal buildings is unique and beautiful in their own way and we will show you just a few below.
While the tanker traffic goes all night, for safety reasons, ferry service stops around 7-9 PM. Woe to the traveler who misses the last ferry! When one too many intrepid Istanbuli failed in their attempt to leap onto a departing ferry and instead landed in the Bosphorus and had to be fished out, the owners decided to limit access to the loading dock and close a door in the seconds prior to the ferry’s departure.
I am sure that ferries have been used to carry people back and forth across the Bosphorus for as long as people have lived along these shores (about 6,000 years). Since the Bosphorus itself is the central thoroughfare of the city, all of the impressive Ottoman palaces, most of the expensive millionaire homes, and some of the fashionable restaurants face the waterway. Most of these establishments have private docks from which presidents, prime ministers, pashas, sultans, or business moguls, can step right from their yacht up to their homes, palaces, and businesses. But for everyone else, the ferries are a way to capture that regal feeling – one can ignore the 299 other passengers and believe this boat is just for you, that the çay salesman is there just for you, and that the peddlers playing hand accordions are your private musicians.
Oh, by the way, we missed that last ferry back and had to take the metro (6 TL) and a taxi (24 TL). BUMMER
Here’s my favorite of Rich’s photos from this week: