The Black Sea
The Bosphorus strait is 19 miles long. At one end is the Sea of Marmara, the Hagia Sophia and “downtown” Istanbul. At the other is the Black Sea.
In the United States, 19 miles isn’t a long distance, but in this part of the world it’s far. Blame traffic, poor street patterns, and a not-quite-caught-up metro line for making the Black Sea almost unreachable on a regular day. However a day trip is entirely possible and I decided it was time for a visit.
It’s about 2 hours from our dorm to the Black Sea by a combination of buses and trains, but it’s a cool two hours. Except for the part where you’re underground, you visit the financial district of Istanbul, and drive up the coast through slightly more rural towns and suburbs. We also passed the third bridge- still under construction, but getting there. Our driver was unusually aggressive for Turkey, which is something I never thought I would say. His driving style (lots of gas, and even more brake) combined with the many hills, twists, and descents (and a handful of older passengers badgering him to the point of open hostility) caused us to careen about, sometimes holding on with all we had so to not fall over. We had 30 minutes of that, until we arrived at the town of Rumelifeneri, on the European side of the Bosphorus.
The town itself is small- Bosphorus cruises don’t often make landings there, preferring to go to towns on the Asian side. It’s also much poorer than the districts of Istanbul we frequent- it has the basics, of course, but trash is strewn everywhere and the infrastructure is crumbling. However, it has panoramic views of both bodies of water, sitting high on top of a hill overlooking the activity below.
Spoiler alert: the Black Sea isn’t black. It’s blue, like every other body of water, and I have not been able to figure out how it received its name. But it’s stunning. The water is a deep blue color, and because it’s encircled by land, it’s as calm as could be (at least, it was today). The air was noticeably cooler than 19 miles south, and it was slightly windier, too. The water was ice cold, thanks to a Russian winter up North- a far cry from the summer-like southern Aegean!
We (a friend and I) walked through the town and checked out the harbor, which was filled with fishing boats and small commercial craft. A pile of rocks protecting the main jetty led us down to the waterfront for nice photo opportunities and we were able to take in town views from the sea. Interestingly, the ships waiting to embark down the strait do not wait at the mouth, but a mile to the west, and because it’s a Sunday they were very idle.
The town has two landmarks- a lighthouse (closed) and the ruins of a small castle. We made our way to the castle, and were able to walk around the walls (though that was a hairy experience at some points). The Romans close the location for a reason- it has a perfect vantage point of both sea and strait, able to get advanced warning on an enemy or ship in distress (and presumably take a few shots at the former with its cannons). Unfortunately, it was hard to ignore the many shards of broken glass covering the grounds- a shame considering it would be a great place to have a picnic.
We finished our explorations with a walk along the rocks lining the sea. With the sun shining it was a great place to sit and stare out at the horizon. The lack of cars, people, and smog also had its effect, as both my friend and I sat without talking, just taking in the moment.
After a quick lunch stop in town, it was time to head back to Istanbul.