Saturday, April 23, 2011

More of Istanbul and our trip up to the Black Sea

Istanbul is a unique city.  This city literally joins 2 continents.  The major portion of Istanbul is located in Asia Minor and the smaller section rests in Europe.  We enjoyed the opportunity to visit both Europe and Asia Minor within the space of a few hours.   I know of no other city that encompasses 2 continents.  The statistical metropolitan geographic area has an official population of just under 13 million people, but its true population may exceed over 15 million.  The city has a very rich history, far too involved and lengthy to be discussed in this blog.
    After visiting the very impressive Hagia Sophia and the beautiful Blue Mosque our next destination was the nearby Underground Cistern.  The cistern was built during the reign of Emperor Justinianus for Eastern Rome.  Unfortunately, this is where our camera promptly reported that dreaded low battery icon.  We forgot the unusual size extra battery on the boat, so that meant no more photos until we charged the camera overnight.  Before the camera completely died we were able to snap just a few shots.  What a shame!   We have a few additional photos taken with our cell phone, but we forgot the cable on the boat so cannot upload to our computer from the phone until the boat arrives in Marmaris.

Entrance to Basilica Cistern
The Underground Cistern was a special treat.  The effect of the low-level lighting and the water throughout is dramatic.  There are a few raised stone walkways between the rows of columns so tourists can walk the entire cistern.  I doubt these stone walkways were present when the cistern was first utilized back in the sixth century.
There is always water present in the cistern.  In the "olden days" (as our grandkids would say), the cavernous space would have been completely filled with water.  Today the water is kept at a level of only a few feet depth.   The cistern is 110 meters long and 70 meters wide, encompassing a total area of 9,800 square meters.  There are 336 marble columns, each 9 meters high.  The supporting columns or pillars are coated with something that prevents damage from the water.  This has worked very well for the 1,479 years since this cistern was constructed.  Can you imagine!!  Hard for me to wrap my mind around that factoid!

What surprised me were all the intricate carvings on the columns.  The tops and bases of each column are intricately carved.  Many columns still show evidence of carvings covering the entire surface of the columns; most of which has been eroded by water dripping down various sides of the columns during the 1 1/2 centuries of their existence.  Why did they feel the need to be artistic on supporting columns inside an underground cistern that constantly would be filled with water?  Not like these columns would be visible to anyone.  Seems like utilitarian smooth columns would have sufficed.

The cistern is surrounded by a firebrick wall that is 4 meters thick.  The firebrick wall is coated with special mortar that is impervious to water.   Water to fill this cistern was provided from the Belgrad Forest located 19 kilometers north of the city.  The water was delivered to the cistern via the long aqueduct also built by Emperor Justinianus.

Medussa Head column support under water

Underwater Medussa Head column base
In the farthest corner there are 2 Medusa heads that form the base supports for 2 columns.  I do not remember the history of these 2 Medusa heads, but they are intricately carved and each is turned in a different orientation.  The Medusa heads are great examples of Roman Age art sculptures.  (Photos taken by phone, so these are of very poor quality.)

European Istanbul in background
Next up was a full day cruise up the Bosphorus River to the point where the river enters the Black Sea.  It was a dreary, rainy and very cold day with gusting winds, weather conditions that were not conducive for walking around the city for sightseeing.  We thought sitting inside a large boat next to a radiant heater watching the scenery for a few hours as we cruised up to the Black Sea would be a perfect way to spend this nasty weather day.  So that is exactly what we did.
We walked 10 blocks or so from our hotel to the ferry docks and located the Beggars Ferry at the final dock before the bridge over to the European side.  The locals call this the Beggars Ferry because it makes many stops along both sides of the river calling for additional passengers.  There are several faster ferries that go direct to the various tourist sites on both sides of the Bosphorus River, but we wanted an all-day activity to stay out of the nasty weather.  This trip takes about 2 hours in each direction, with stops at Besiktas, Kanlica, Yenikoy, Sariyer, Rumeli Kavagi and Anadolu Kavagi.

Bridge to Europe
We arrived early and enjoyed strolling along the restaurant boardwalk beneath the bridge to Europe.  Finally we got too cold and decided to go wait in the ferry terminal where it was warm. And, surprise, surprise, in walked Jackie and Brian of S/V SONGSTER.  We joined them in a cozy seating area next to a heater on the enclosed upper deck of the ferry, where we all enjoyed chatting as the ferry made its varied stops as it progressed up the river.

At Anadolu Kavagi we disembarked and started hiking up the steep hill.  Our goal was the fortress at the top.  The views are supposedly spectacular overlooking the hills of Turkey and into the Black Sea.  Those views might be spectacular; we will never know.  It was so cold and windy that all 4 of us decided that hiking up that steep hill in the rain was NOT our ideas of a good time.  Figured the views wouldn't even be visible on this gray dreary day.  So back down the hill we went in search of a nice taverna for lunch. As Anadolu Kavagi is a seaside village we were in search of fish for lunch.  We found a cozy place and enjoyed great lunches.

This lunch was our introduction to a practice common in Turkey.  Watch what the waiter places on your table!!  If you did not specifically order it, it is best to refuse to allow the waiter to place unordered food on your table or your tab will be a lot higher than you expected.  The menu prices for the meals and beverages for the 4 of us for the meals we ordered should have totaled around 60 Turkish Lira.  But the waiter placed 3 small mezze dishes on our table to start our meal -- some kind of eggplant dish, some fresh raw veggies and a small plate of some kind of red spread to go with the basket of bread that he also added to the table.  After our meals he brought a tiny dish of 2 pieces of baklava, which we cut in half and shared amongst the 4 of us.  Our 60 TL tab totaled 108 Turkish Lira -- as we were charged for each and every dish the waiter had placed on our table.  We paid the tab and chalked it up to a learning experience.  But we have made certain since then not to allow anyone to place any food on our tables in restaurants unless it is something we know we have ordered -- which is not always easy to do since often we have no idea what we are ordering.  Don't want any more price surprises.

After a long, relaxing lunch in the cozy restaurant (crowded with local people coming and going the entire time), we made our way back to the ferry terminal to await our passage back to Istanbul.  It was getting really cold!  We 4 had spent the past 2 years or more on the equator and were freezing our butts off!  It is going to take awhile for us to acclimate to spring temperatures in the Med.

The trip back to Istanbul was just as enjoyable as the trip up had been.  We saw some gorgeous riverside properties.  This looks like a beautiful place to live.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a new follower so I'm just going to post my comment here.

    It looks like Istanbul's quite a city, and I expect it would be since it's appeared so many times in my history lessons.

    So, just saying hi from the wannabe author circles, really like your boat (or ship if you prefer, and good luck on your trip. Stay safe,



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