This is Part Two of “The Best Commute in the World.” Check out Part One here.
The glorious basilica of Justinian, the Haghia Sophia, comes into view. Its rusty-red base supports a large grey dome and is flanked by four slender minarets. The minarets were a minor addition by the Ottoman Turks, who converted this architectural treasure from a church to a mosque. The Blue Mosque has a grey-blue façade with six elegant minarets. Both buildings seem to sparkle in the dawn light along with the whitecaps of the Bosporus.
In the glittering waves, a strange grey shape emerges, moving in tandem with the current. These are, in fact, the fins of several dolphins bobbing in and out of the water’s surface. One of them jumps clear out of the water as if trying to bask in the sun’s morning rays. The Bosporus had never been home to dolphins until the construction of the Marmaray, a subway underneath the Marmara Sea and Bosporus. Apparently, the sounds of hammers and drills attracted the curious animals and they’ve been around ever since.
We pass by the towers of Topkapı Palace and Harem, home to the Spoonmaker’s Diamond. (The story goes that this 86-karat gem was found in the garbage by a poor fisherman, who, unaware of its value, sold it to an unscrupulous jeweler for just three spoons.) But the ferry doesn’t turn into the Eminönü docks, towards Sultanahmet and its famous monuments. Instead we bypass the Golden Horn and Galata Bridge and continue up the Strait towards the Black Sea.
The white ornate gate of the Dolmabahçe Palace becomes visible. The “new” European-style palace of the Ottoman sultans, from the 1840s, symbolized the end of a more traditional Eastern style in Turkey. And now, for me, means the end of my morning voyage. From this point on, things become a little less pleasant with more traditional means of transportation.
Disembarking at Beşiktaş dock, I am greeted by a refreshing sea breeze and the smell of freshly brewed tea from a nearby café. I am also welcomed by the sight of soldiers in uniform who survey the departing ferry crowd with stoic expressions and clearly visible machine guns. The soldiers are joined by a small army of stray cats, who are waiting for their benefactors to drop off today’s breakfast. Indeed, several warm-hearted Turks open up shopping bags to reveal cat food and other treats for these hungry animals.
Part Three coming tomorrow!