Commercial ships on the Bosporus strait near the Black Sea.
The day started auspiciously with an ear-splitting crack of thunder about 9:30 a.m. that rocked the Sultanahmet district, triggering a rash of car alarms, and unleashing a hellacious storm that dumped rain for at least half an hour. From the ground-floor patio outside my hotel where I was having breakfast, the men in the neighborhood shops tried to act unfazed but were soon sheltering themselves and staring, some open-mouthed, at the deluge.
It was over almost as quickly as it started.
In the afternoon, I took a boat cruise from the Sea of Marmara up the Bosporus strait almost to the Black Sea and back. The cost of 20 lira, less than $14, was a far more worthwhile expenditure than the 20 lira I spent the previous day to gain entrance to Topkapi Palace, the royal estate of Ottoman sultans between 1453 and 1839. The architecture and interior design are often spectacular, but too much of the experience involved being among sweaty crowds packed into sweltering rooms that displayed ostentatious objects of precious metals encrusted with jewels, portraits of the potentates, and other artifacts designed to impress we little people. The homes and toys of the rich and famous, whether from the 15th or 21st centuries, don’t hold my interest for long.
But back to the cruise, the bittersweet excursion upstream from metropolitan Istanbul past grand historical buildings, the ruins of old military forts, museums, mosques, lavish private homes, waterfront restaurants both extravagant and funky, as well as tourist towns that become smaller, less gaudy and more interesting as we drew closer to the Black Sea. Our boat passed by docks, commercial enterprises, pine groves, rolling hills, went under massive bridges, and by buoys crowded with cormorants. The traffic included small pleasure boats, barges, fishing boats, tugboats, private yachts, oil tankers and other commercial ships. We stopped at six ports, unloaded and picked up a few passengers at each, until we reached Anadola Kasvaği, where we disembarked for about 90 minutes. I had a dinner of small bluefish on the third-floor terrace of a riverside restaurant with an unobstructed view. Waiting for my meal, I texted my sweetheart Oksana in Turkmenistan and told her how much I missed her. This was a trip I had imagined taking with her many times and I felt guilty enjoying it without her.
The sounds of the ferry cutting through the water, the occasional marine horn, and the swooping sea birds were almost meditative. Ten minutes into the return trip, about a quarter of the passengers were stretched out on the bench seats, some nodding off, while others, curled into the embrace of a loved one, appeared to be dreaming. If you think me still embittered about my forced separation from Oksana, let me to dispel any uncertainty. More than once on the cruise, hell maybe a dozen times, I imagined taking several of those cooing, snuggling couples and heaving their sorry asses over the bow and into the drink just so their apparent happiness wouldn’t remind me of my own sadness.