I get on the smallest, most rickety boat I can find at the Eminonu docks. I want lots of pitch and sway for my 10 lira. The cruise starts a half-hour after schedule so that the hawker and his monstrous loudspeaker can try to lure a few more people on board. “Bosphorus! Bosphorus! Bosphorus! Bosphorus!” at 115 decibels. What an inducement!
We hug the European side going north, the Asian side on the way back. It’s a pleasant enough 90 minutes, sitting on the top deck with a steaming, tulip-shaped glass of tea cupped in your hands. The Kabatas port, the Dolmabahce Palace and Ortakoy Mosque look much the same from the sea as they do from the coastal road, and if you’ve used the ferries to get around the city already, nothing you see will knock your socks off. A few of the old wooden yah mansions — summertime getaways for the rich — are still around, though they all look freshly painted and keenly updated. Is this Istanbul or the French Riviera?
These are not the same Bosphorus sites Orhan Pamuk remembers in his stilted memoir, “Memories and the City.” (The Literature Nobel? For that? Talk about affirmative action.) What is clear is that affluence becomes more pronounced as we head north. Lots of electronic gates and security cameras. Put a handlebar mustache on Richie Rich and you’ve got the idea.
Its hackneyed cousins: “Istanbul: Where East meets West” and “Istanbul: Land of minarets and miniskirts” also need to be retired.
And we turn around before reaching the second bridge. A word of warning: The smaller boats don’t have any bathrooms, so make sure you can handle 90 minutes without one. Not that I’m speaking from firsthand experience or anything. … Back at Eminonu, to avoid soilage I use one of the public WCs. I’m sorry Turkey got stuck with the name “Turkish toilets,” because I’ve seen the seatless squat variety all over Paris and Brussels. I’m a broad-minded, roll-with-the-punches kinda guy, and even I find them to be nauseatingly disgusting. There’s splashback when you’re doin’ it, there’s splashback when you flush (if it’s the flush variety), there is frequently no toilet paper, or not enough, your used toilet paper is supposed to go in a bucket on top of everybody else’s used toilet paper. Sorry to sound like such a pussy, but this is just not right. If you’re the kind who needs to go frequently, you may wish to carry around a quarter-roll of TP with you in Istanbul.
The tulips here were in three-quarters bloom when I got here in late March, and they clamor for your attention everywhere you go in the city. Tulips were treasured here for centuries before the first bulb was ever planted in the Netherlands, and the Ottomans considered them “a flower of god.” Ah, that’s better.