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.
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.
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.
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.