After several days of unremitting heat, it was time for some relief. We decided to flee the sultry summer city, and seek refreshment on a cruise. Istanbul lays at the southern end of the Bosphorus Strait, a thin ribbon of water that links the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. The Bosphorus also flows rights over the gap between Asia and Europe.
A regular passenger ferry service shuttles between Istanbul and the small towns that dot the Strait. We will take a voyage north to Anadolu Kavagi, which is just south of the Black Sea. But first, lunch. As we walked toward the harbor, we were drawn in by the sight of a woman in a traditional black headdress, sitting in the window of a restaurant, rolling, stuffing, and cooking a dish that looked suspiciously like pancakes. These were Gozlemeler, a traditional Ottoman dish. What made them better than your average pancake was that the thin batter was rolled around a variety of fillings. The French call these crêpes or galettes, depending on what is rolled inside. Grace ordered honey, Ann opted for feta cheese, Mary selected feta and potatoes, and I chose a mixture of assorted ingredients. I supplemented my meal with rice-stuffed vine leaves and a bottle of Aryan, the yogurt drink that was becoming part of my daily routine. We ate in the Greco-Roman manner: reclining on long sofas, which is not as easy as it sounds.
Topped up for our sea voyage, we continued down the hill to the harbor. Istanbul's ferry fleet operates out of a dock that is adjacent to the train station. I had anticipated that the ferry would be packed with tourists, but rather surprisingly, people haven't embraced this particular diversion yet. The crowd was quite manageable and we found seats easily. Water churned beneath the stern, loose windows buzzed in their frames, a gout of smoke blew out of the stack, and we were off, heading north.
The ferry makes several stops on its way north. Nearly fifteen million people live in Istanbul, and it quickly became apparent where they built their houses. Both sides of the Strait, the European and Asian, are jam-packed with dwellings. Istanbul is said to be the only city in the world to span two continents, and it goes on for miles. We sailed past waterside mosques, plush seaside villas, and decrepit shanty towns. Istanbul huddles alongside this ancient waterway, connected by the two immense suspension bridges that carry automobile traffic overhead.
The Bosphorus is also an important conduit for maritime traffic. Out in the main channel, massive freighters drew a line from north to south, moving goods between the Black Sea and distant ports. We saw a representative sample of the world's shipping go by, logging sightings of vessels from distant countries like Vietnam and Panama.
At one of the ferry stops, a middle-aged man came aboard with a case of yogurt. According to our guidebook, this yogurt ― Kanlica Doga Yogurda ― is supposed to be the best in the world. Why not try a tub? I thought. Before I could stop him, the vendor dumped several spoons of icing sugar on top of my yogurt. Three cavities opened in my teeth with the first spoonful. I don't know if the yogurt is the best in the world, but there is a case to be made for it being the sweetest.
The town of Anadolu Kavagi sits at the northern terminus of our route. This small village used to serve the ships entering the Black Sea, but now contents itself with feeding the tourists who visit on the ferry. As far as I can see, it has no obvious attractions, but the moment you step off the boat, you are awash in restaurant touts trying to lure you into their seafood joints.
We wandered the streets for a few minutes. The girls had ice cream. Eventually we found a stretch of beach that was not the site of a restaurant (Waterfront! Sea view! You come eat here!) and sat down to wait for the return ferry. Waves from the Black Sea rolled south and shook the pebbles on our small piece of seaside paradise. A cool breeze carried the promise of distant Russia to the north, but, sadly, we wouldn't be traveling there on this trip.
Eventually our ferry returned and it was time to clamber back aboard. We motored south through the busy shipping lanes, and reached the Istanbul docks near dinner time. Before making our way to our restaurant, we decided to make a swing through the Istanbul Spice Market. After some difficulty finding the proper venue, we entered the domain of the spice dealers.
Once the Spice Market was the sole domain of food and spice merchants, but in this age of commercialization and aggressive expansions, rug merchants have begun a slow invasion. There are still spices to be found in the market, but in the end, the exotic charm of eastern scents is diluted by the presence of the same kind of kitsch we found in the Grand Bazaar.
Sorry Istanbul, but shopping is not my life.
We ended our day with a lovely dinner near our flat in Jesus' restaurant. Jesus claims to have the finest chef in all of Istanbul. We didn't doubt him ― the food has been superb. Nevertheless, Jesus was compelled to prove his claim by showing us pictures of some of his chef's creations on his Ipad: a bicycle made out of vegetables, kittens sculpted from rice. Very impressive. He was also keen to show me what will be Istanbul's first retractable roof. Jesus' restaurant resides on the future's cutting edge. We walked back through the kitchen, climbed a flight of stairs, and then stood on the (conventional) roof. Here I saw the beginning of a giant steel frame that will support the new, retractable roof. When completed, the current roof will be removed, leaving the top of the building open. On fine evenings, Jesus will push a button and the retractable roof will roll away, opening his restaurant to the sky.
It's the future of fine dining.
We enjoyed our last dinner in Istanbul very much. But what else could we expect? As our genial host said, “You are eating the best food in the city and it is being served to you by Jesus.”
What more could we ask for?