Trip North to Istanbul
One of the most difficult challenges we face is deciding which towns/islands/countries to visit and which to bypass. The sad unavoidable truth that we continue to reconcile is that no matter for how long we plan to visit, we will not see everything we hoped, planned, or dreamed of seeing.
That said, it is our most fervent hope and belief that, as with all things in life, we are seeing and experiencing what WE are supposed to be seeing.
Which is why, after seeking to re-connect with Kim and Steve after a long summer of playing leapfrog with them, we turned our boat North while they turned theirs South.
There is something very real about the pull of the winter home after a summer of managing Meltemi winds, guests, long warm lazy days, and a busy itinerary. The call of the routine, the steady of the Monday-Friday school week and the scheduled work outs replacing the gelato all feel like a warm welcome. I remember last year, begging Alec and Jack to let us make one more stop for my birthday in Slovenia before heading to the “barn” and being so rewarded by that effort, It was a resounding reminder that we still have a few months before we need to be anywhere, and the winter will come soon enough.
So, we decided to tick off a very important stop on the “goals for Turkey” list. Istanbul.
Istanbul was a bit of a hard sell – for a few reasons. Firstly, the common and most widely appreciated cruising grounds in Turkey are South. Very little is written about the cruising North of Didim. And even less was talked about amongst our small group of cruisers. Nobody had planned to make the trip North to Istanbul and there was very little input from others who had been.
Secondly, Kas, the winter home, is WAY down South at the other end of a very large country. So essentially, we will need to come this way again, after making a several days passage North.
Finally, and this was of far less of a concern but something to be aware of, Istanbul and the famed Bosporus canal into the Black Sea is very close to the current hotbed political area of Ukraine and Russia. I was not very concerned since there were no alerts whatsoever on the Americans in Turkey section of the State Department website. But to say that we hadn’t considered it would be incorrect. We even planned on bringing Gratitude through the Bosphorus and turning around in the Black Sea and heading back but changed our minds. It just seemed too far to travel for the benefit of having just done it.
Other considerations regarding heading North to eventually travel all the distance South, is that we have 90 days in Turkey in which to travel on a tourist visa. Before the expiry of our 90 days, we must be in Kas, together with our boat, to begin our long stay visa paperwork. Now 90 days may seem like plenty of time, but when one travels at 8 knots and can only travel when the machine and the weather permit it, let’s just say we hate painting ourselves into a corner.
But missing out on ISTANBUL!! With Gratitude. It’s ISTANBUL people!!! And I would forever regret not having our home in Istanbul.
So, before we get to that…. There are a couple of stops we made which are worth noting. The first, a small anchorage near Cesme, was a perfect place to hit the big “reset” button after being in the marina in Didim for 2 weeks. We had a chance to try out the davit but primarily, we swam, SUP’d, rested, cleaned, cooked, watched movies and otherwise just totally chilled. This was what we had hoped to be doing for the whole of August. Just taking advantage of the cool waters, and the open schedule with no plans, no responsibilities. I did some writing and Alec did some maintenance but mostly we just chilled.
As weather permitted, we traveled North to Ayvalik. A very local town with no tourist splashes, we enjoyed a meander through the streets soaking up the Turkish Vibe. No English spoken or on the menus, we discovered that we must be more proactive on our Turkish language pursuits. Alec and I enjoyed a day trip to Cunda and we also had a fun hike. This was another wonderful place to drop the anchor and have an explore. One item of mention is the Clock Mosque. Visible from the seaside, the clock tower had the distinct vibe of a Christian church, so we went to explore. Upon closer examination, we could see a minaret indicating a mosque. Truly a building having an identity crisis, we discovered that it was a converted Orthodox Christian church which was built in 1850. The first time we witnessed this fusion of Islam and Christianity was in the cathedrals in the South of Spain, most notably, in Sevilla. We so appreciated the lovely clock tower which was once a minaret in its previous heyday as a mosque. I loved that the consecrated building served the same purpose, though with a few different flourishes. In fact, it is that conversion which has preserved so many of the buildings from ancient Rome and Greece. The greatest examples of Roman and Greek history are those which were converted to churches, but with evidence of the previous function apparent.
The next stop North was a very cool island called Bozcaada. Mentioned in Homers Iliad, Bozcaada was known as Tenedos in Greek mythology. The island has a storied past as it was tossed around like a hot potato, belonging to Byzantium, Venice, it was fought over in the Venetian/Genoese war and was evacuated by the Republic of Venice. In the 15th century it was annexed by the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Mehmet II. It finally came under Turkish Rule when the Turks declared their independence in 1923. I’m not sure what the meaning of “It feels so Greek” is intended to imply as these were the words that everyone we spoke of the island before we went said. The guess here is that there is something more appealing to the Greek islands, but I couldn’t disagree more. It’s true, the Greek islands have a totally different vibe than the Turkish towns, and Bozcaada has another vibe altogether different, neither feeling Greek nor Turkish to me. However, one describes it, it really is its own thing. We loved it and decided to stay for a few more days. Alec and I took a walk around the Castle which has been reconstructed several times. It feels enchanting and since it hosts the market on Wednesday and Saturdays, it serves a purpose as well.
Deciding to break up the trip further so we needn’t travel at night, we stopped at a few additional anchorages between Bozcaada and Istanbul. One stop involved the largest and most fierce jelly fish we have ever seen – no swimming here. Here are some photos of the Rhizostoma Pulmo jellyfish. According to Jacks internet research, contact with this jelly should immediately follow seeking medical treatment. These things were everywhere around the boat, and they looked beautiful! But we didn’t check the anchor for holding…
While no stops looked appetizing enough to spend a few days, we pressed on and arrived in Istanbul a few days ahead of schedule. The Setur Marina Istanbul did an amazing job of accepting us, after hours and several days early for our reservation. Truth be told, the closer we get to a destination, sometimes the more excited we are about arriving.
I can’t say for certain what I was expecting. But this was not it.
Stay tuned for a post on all things Istanbul….