Aside from visiting the Ayasofia (Hagia Sophia) and the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii), the most obligatory tourist activity when visiting Istanbul is to do a cruise on the Bosphorus Strait. If you are staying in the historic district, the Bosphorus Cruise will be the most commonly peddled tour. I am always guarded about packaged tours and seek to break down the elements myself, since I know they are marked up. The tour companies sell the tour at €25, but I soon discovered an option from a government-run entity, Şehir Hatları.
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If you alight at the tram station at Eminönü, the pier is the closest one to the right of the Galata Köprüsü. Instead of paying €25, this cruise is only 25 Turkish lira, which is equivalent to less than €9. If all travelers were like me, tour companies around the world would go out of business since I am ruthless about finding the margins that they have built for themselves.

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Bosphorus Bridge, 22nd-longest suspension bridge in the world.

 

 

The “cruise” is a large ferry with outdoor seating that I’m told fills up rapidly during the peak tourist summer season. I had no trouble finding a seat, although I spent some time behind the windows too due to the temperature. Some tea is served during the trip. It was ambiguous as to whether it was free or not, but I ended up paying US$1.82 for two cups of tea.

The cruise takes 90 minutes to travel 25 kilometers each way. The Bosphorus Strait spills into the Black Sea, and the pier there is 7 kilometers short of the mouth, at a barren village called Anadolu Kavağı, which is on the Asian side of Turkey and not a part of Istanbul.

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These yalı are waterfront mansions along the Bosphorus. They are architecturally striking, and I could not take my eyes off them as we were cruising past them. There are only 620 of them, mostly dating from the 19th century. Several have a valuation exceeding $100 million! Istanbul is home to the fourth-most billionaires in the world, almost as many as London.

 

The cruise departs Eminönü in Istanbul at 10:30, arrives at Anadolu Kavağı at a little past noon, and returns to Istanbul at 16:00. I had three hours at the quaint village of Anadolu Kavağı, of which I spent 20 minutes to climb to Yoros Kalesi (Castle), which is the smallest and officially the most dilapidated castle I have ever seen. The primary reason for being there are the free views it offers of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. Unless I ever make it to Odessa or Sochi, this may be the closest I ever get to the Black Sea.

I have been to some villages in the world where I wonder how people survive, due to the lack of an economy or the remote location. Anadolu Kavağı is near Istanbul, so I needn’t have worried for these villagers, whose primary income is from fishing and perhaps Bosphorus cruise tourism. I spent a lot of time just sitting on a dock and staring at the little fish and jellyfish in the fairly clear water. The Bosphorus is a striking blue so it’s actually good-looking, above and beyond the alluring quality of any body of water.

 

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The confluence of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. You can see two towers in the background, the start of a new bridge. Constructions started in May 2013 and is scheduled to end in 2015. It will be the ninth-longest suspension bridge in the world. Toll is tentatively set at $3, as the construction cost is $2.5 billion. As it will be the third Bosphorus bridge, the bridge was originally named “Third Bosphorus Bridge,” but it has since been changed to Yavuz Sultan Selim Köprüsü.

 

 

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The vibrant economy of Anadolu Kavağı. Being located at the confluence of the Bosphorus and Black Sea, these villagers were rumored to set fires to disorient ships, causing them to crash. The villagers would then grab the loot. Not sure if this segment of the economy is still active.