Cruising the Bosphorus: Between Asia and Europe

Trip Start Sep 07, 2006
Trip End Sep 17, 2006

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Today went for a "cruise" along the Bosphorus River, which runs right through Istanbul and divides it into Europe and Asia. (It also connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean Sea) We boarded the government-owned boat (its like public river transport) 20 minutes before departure time, only to find that the best seats had been taken. Not to worry, we were promptly surrounded by fellow tardy Asians (Japanese and Koreans), each group of whom had a leader who proceeded to give a loud running commentary in her native language. Everyone else quickly moved away.

The view of various mosques (Istanbul is also known as the City of a Thousand Minarets) and OldNew Ottoman Houses along the river was stunning. But what really got many people (incl. yours truly) excited was the HUGE scandinavian cruise ships we encountered along the way, with exotic names such as Norwegian Princess and Holland-America Lines. They were all gargantuan, new and white and the size of Pearl Hill (behind my house in Penang). I had no idea they even built ships this big, unlike some I did not spend my primary school holidays cruising the Mediterranean. Anyway the question of the day for my geographically-challenged father and I was How did the Ship come Here all the Way From Norway, the answer to which would require actual knowledge of 1)Where Norway Is; 2) Where Exactly the Mediterranean Is and 3) Are they even joined? Needless to stay, we still don't know, and I have more important things on my mind right now, such as, where the **** is the 200 dollars that my dad gave me this morning?!

The climax of the 3 hour cruise was a stopover where we climbed up a lovely hill to some castle ruins where there was a breathtaking view of the Black Sea (and NO its NOT black). This is the only place in the world where you can sit atop ancient ruins in Asia with a view of a river that joins two seas, and across that river, Europe, while stray dogs rub themselves against your ankles. Of course with a view like that, someone had to build a restaurant on the hill and charge 15 Lira (or was it Euro? I give up) for a few calamari rings, 3 mussels and 1/2 a fish. But all were very fresh. Hmph.

Back in Istanbul, we visited a tiny hidden mosque the interior (and exterior) of which was covered with the famous 16th century Iznik tiles. This was literally a living work of art; as is the case with the Blue Mosque, regular Istanbullus (yeah thats what they're called) come to pray 5 times a day. All that Islamic fervour must have been contagious, because our next stop was a makeshift tent where charity goods were being sold in aid of Lebanon victims. Against a backdrop of banners with graphic pictures of injured and dead Lebanese, I found a tartan miniskirt for 3 Lira. Adjacent to the miniskirts were gaily-coloured T-shirts depicting a Palestinian soldier clutching a grenade. Also on sale were cartoon postcards depicting a US missile standing erect amongst a background of broken minarets. Oh dear, oh dear. Like that how to masuk European Union?

Dinner was at a very snooty rooftop restaurant overlooking the sun setting over the Bosphorus River. When we admitted that we hadn't made reservations, the maitre'd looked at us as if we were insects, and then grudgingly told us we could have a table "for 1 hour". The food was fabulous, however. My dad had some sort of kebab into which pistachio nuts had been incorporated. I had lamb with yoghurt. On leaving, we committed another sin when we asked to puchase 3 miserable pieces of baklava instead of a whole box costing 40 Lira (this was apparently the Him Heang of Istanbul). They threw the baklava into a plastic box and threw us out of the shop.

It was perhaps poetic justice then, that we stumbled onto the Ghee Hiang of Istanbul on the way back to the hotel. (Ghee Hiang was the original maker of Tau Sar Peah but has now been eclipsed by Him Heang). Haji Muhhidin Haci Bekir has been making Turkish Delight since 1777 and his descendants still own the shop. Needless to say, my dad and I bought 2 of everything, and at 325g per box, we are SO going to be overweight at the check-in counter. Just as well I've already opened 1 box of halva and its already half empty, so don't even mention the word calorie right now.
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