I’m often asked to name my favourite place in Istanbul.
It isn’t a place, at all: it’s a passage, or a vantage point, or an adventure, with deep dark waters under the keel, and spray at the prow, and a briny bench – and a glass of tea.
It’s a trip on the Bosphorus.
About fourteen miles long, and sometimes no more than half a mile wide, this twisting strait divides Asia from Europe, and links the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. The name means the same as Oxford: where the cattle cross, from the legend of Io, transformed into a cow until she crossed the strait and regained her human form.
There are all sorts of Bosphorus trips on offer, but I think it best explored on the ferries which morning and evening crowd around the ferry station at Eminonu. The slow vapur have high prows for punching through the seas which run in from the Sea of Marmara, and low thwarts for easy embarkation.
Their bright green hawsers are casually coiled on the planking.
One day they’ll no doubt be replaced by fibreglass catamarans and a sensory world will disappear, composed of wet planks, splintered pilings, the bubble of thick paint on rust, and the old ferryboat smell which is the same the world over, a tincture of diesel oil, damp wood and the sour reek of air trapped in the cabins.
Meanwhile, buy a glass of tea at the counter and settle down on one of the outside benches that run along the bows; put your feet up on the rail, and watch the shores of the Bosphorus unscroll, like some Victorian panorama, their vistas of villas, palaces, restaurants and domes.
The last photo, above, shows where they make tea: a place I like so much I put it in Yashim’s new cookbook, Yashim Cooks Istanbul. !