For millenia the Bosphorus has served as an influential gateway that has, and continues to leave a powerful footprint on human society. It has been a key actor and primary muse in the generation of numerous empires and provided a fertile trade and bread basket to the peoples and civilizations that have controlled it. The Bosphorus is a relatively short waterway which connects the Sea of Marma and greater Mediterranean with the Black Sea. It serves as a dividing line between the European continent to the west and the Asian continent to the east, and is straddled by the great city of Istanbul, formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople.
The Kadıköy (Kadikoy) Ferry
For visitors based out of hostels and hotels on the European side of Istanbul the ferry docks located just off of the Eminönü tram station offer a budget friendly, and convenient way to see the Bosphorus. You’ll find three harbor stations (one was under repair during my visit) that offer several different routes. Having heard that the Kadikoy district on the Asian side of Istanbul was well worth a visit I opted to give it a go. I also recall that the Uskudar line leaves from the same location.
The ferries are considered part of the standard public transit infrastructure and run regularly. You can purchase tokens at the small ferry terminals for 2 TL which are good for one voyage, though you could theoretically continue to ride the ferry back and forth for the duration of its shift. The ships are large and pedestrian only which varies them somewhat from many of the other local ferries I’ve ridden in the past.
I can never quite place my finger on the origins of my love of ships. I suppose it might date back to times spent as a toddler in Puerto Penasco, Mexico where we’d spend a month every winter as a family. Boating, fishing, swimming. There’s just something about the rocking of a boat, the smell of fresh salty air, and the sound of gulls and waves that is soothing. The Turkish ferries have large open deck areas as well as cozy interior seating with big windows allowing you to get the most out of the relatively short trip back and forth. Oh, and then there’s the Turkish tea of course which is dirt cheap and a must!
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts my timing was both fantastic and dreadful. I ended up in Istanbul smack dab in the midst of the worst cold front and snow storms they’ve had in 25 years. The result was an unusually snowy Istanbul, incredible light, and very, very, cold weather. While this made spending time out on deck rather rough, it also shortened the days and resulted in visually stunning views from the ferry as the European side transitioned from three dimensions to silhouettes, and then faded into the haze as Istanbul’s famous lighthouse and the Asian side slowly emerged and became visible. The lighthouse which, is perched on a tiny island just large enough for the building and a dock, is gorgeous and has been featured in a number of movies the most famous of which was featured in The World is Not Enough, the semi-recent James Bond/007 film.
I can’t stress enough how incredible the light was. This photo highlights the deep yellow/golden color of the light as it struggled to cut through the sea haze and snow clouds. You can see a mixture of snowflakes and birds in this photo which are semi-indistinguishable. The entire trip back and forth felt as though I was somehow caught in the midst of a 17th century oil painting.
One of the things that really surprised me about Istanbul was the number of major mosques and their size. These structures are incredible. They’re gorgeous. They’re ancient and they’re massive. They also created a really impressive silhouette. From time to time as a traveler you’re greeted with moments that take your breath away. This was definitely one of those moments – the type that, if I was religious, I would call divinely inspired. For me, they resonate as the type of moments where I feel an even deeper awe at the beauty and depth of the universe, humanity, and our relationship with nature. If I could have paused and drawn out that moment, I’m sure hours would have passed without me noticing.
The Tourist Cruise
The following day I opted for one of the actual harbor tours. In retrospect I should have just gone with one of the longer ferry routes. Still, it only cost a few dollars more and was a decent enough experience that I didn’t feel like it was a waste. As we left the docks and steamed in the general direction of the Asian side, the first third of the route was similar to the previous day, only instead of heading to the right we turned left when we reached the coast.
This took us up and past a number of beautiful old buildings that included administrative structures, palaces, and the Turkish military academy. It was a fun look at buildings and areas that were considerably less touristy than the city’s historic center.
They were in widely varied states of repair and it was clear that many were used semi-seasonally to take advantage of Istanbul’s warm weather and plethora of small islands during the summer. Most featured small docks and a few had built in boat garages, which were a really cool touch.
One of the most memorable buildings along the route was the Beylerbeyi Palace which is a historic Ottoman era summer palace built in the mid 1800s. A beautiful structure, it unfortunately sits immediately beside one of Istanbul’s largest suspension bridges. Despite the jarring visual clash between the two, it does serve as an interesting reminder of how things change. I know it’s a small detail, and perhaps i’m just easily entertained, but one of my favorite parts of the palace were the series of harbor gates set up along the water. They added a certain fantasy element to the palace which tugged at my romanticized daydreams of princesses, queens, and luxurious sea yachts. Granted, of course, that this was the Ottoman Empire and the names varied. Still, it definitely had Disney-esque potential.
The final leg of the tourist cruise took us back towards the Maidens Tower. I highly suggest spending time on either one of the cruises or the ferry around sunset. Even though the skies were partly cloudy, the city silhouette was something I was impressed by once again. It’s also fascinating to see the hundreds of ships lined up south of the city waiting for permission to make their way up and through the straights, fill up on freight, or to unload their cargo.
The tower/lighthouse has been used in some capacity or another since at least 1100. At various points it has served as customs station, military installation, lighthouse, restaurant and even a quarantine area. It also seems to be a very popular destination for the local birds. While I may find my way out to it during a future trip, my hunch is that it is best enjoyed in passing as a beautiful and historic oddity.
By the time we prepared to wrap up the cruise and return to the docks the snow had returned which treated me to another gorgeous sunset. There’s something about the minaret spires and domes of a mosque that really lends itself to brilliant silhouettes. Add in diffused sunlight reflecting off of dark water, a few birds battling snow and you end up with a very unique experience. Perhaps part of what makes it such a powerful visual is the seemingly exotic clash between the two. Though I know it is inaccurate, I always associate mosques and Turkey with Arab cultures and the desert. To see it and its occasional palm trees covered in snow in the midst of a light snow storm was definitely a bizarre contrast. Yet, perhaps that is fitting for Istanbul and Turkey as a whole – a city and a nation that sits astride two continents and is caught at the center, standing astride two vastly different cultures and worlds.
With the crisp crunch of fresh snow under boot I made my way down to one of Prague’s signature landmarks. It was 1:30AM and the temperature had dropped to about -10 degrees Celsius. It was cold. Brutally cold. Luckily, the light wind had died down and all that was left were brief waves of light snowfall. Snowfall so sporadic and with flakes so light that they slowly drifted to earth, seemingly defying gravity all the way until the last moment when they threaded their crystalline structure in with the myriad of beautiful shapes already decorating the bridge’s cold stones. There were only a few of us willing to brave the late hour, cold and snow – a rare opportunity and occurrence for one of Prague’s most popular landmarks.
So it was that I stood huddled behind my camera and tripod snapping photos and waiting for half-drunk, star struck lovers to wander their way along the bridge, pausing periodically for a deep kiss. If not couples, it was small groups of party goers slowly wandering their way back to their hostels. Perhaps the most colorful was a young man in his late 20s who was completely sloshed, had a red rose with long stem in one hand along with a cigar. In the other, he delicately held a nearly full wine glass. As he passed he smiled and nodded, almost skipping as he walked – caught completely in the moment. He looked the part of a dandy, fashionable dress shoes, long light colored scarf, and jacket hanging open in apparently defiance of the weather. Shortly after passing me he slipped on the ice, and went down in a roll, somehow managing to not only keep his wine glass in hand but to keep it from sloshing too much of the wine onto the snow. An impressive accomplishment
Charles Bridge is a beautiful structure. Lined by imposing statues, and with two large guard towers standing vigil at either end it embodies everything a historic bridge should be. It stretches across Prague’s Vltava River and is was built over a 60 year period in the late 1300s and early 1400s. If you find yourself in Prague, don’t just settle for a mid-day viewing when the bridge is covered in vendors, buskers and tourists. Bundle up and head down to catch it in its empty glory. It is a beautiful and memorable site!
Winter has arrived in Copenhagen. After a week of light snow, the lakes have started to freeze over and the city center has traded slick paving stones for a clean layer of white snow. I captured this moment late-afternoon in the heart of the city center along one of Copenhagen’s oldest and most historic streets. You can see the snow falling, lit by the street lamp, a hearty Dane biking despite the weather, and snow covered bicycles propped against sagging buildings. Though it looks late in the evening, it was only about 4:30 or 5PM when I took this shot.
There’s something about this photo – a certain warmth perhaps – that really speaks to me and evokes thoughts of stories and familiar fantasy. Does it have the same effect on you? If so, what is its impact? What does it remind you of?
How do you take a picturesque city with beautifully colored buildings, elegant canals, and wide pedestrian streets and make it even more picture perfect? You add snow. At least, that seems to be the approach Copenhagen takes a couple of times a year. Despite its northern location, Copenhagen’s close proximity to the sea and placement along the Gulf Stream keeps it surprisingly warm and snow free for most of the year. Over the last week, however, a cold spell hit the country dumping more than 20cm of snow across parts of Denmark. While it also meant that temperatures plunged below 0 Celsius, the result has been worth it!
Eager to enjoy the city before the snow melted or got too dirty, I bundled up and headed out into the cold to capture these photos and shoot the above video. As I walked the city center the snow periodically alternated between large light snowflakes and small slow-falling flakes that were few and far between. Combined with the colors of the streets, the warm yellow glow of the street lamps, and the overhead lighting of the holiday lights that decorate many of the larger pedestrian streets, the snow left me feeling as though I’d been transported into a magical snow-globe. Pinch me, I am really here.
Despite the cold I still found the streets crowed with tourists wandering the city and locals out doing their shopping. A few of the buskers had suited up and decided to brave the cold, casting the haunting notes of clarinet, accordion, and violin drifting across streets that date back to the 1400s and 1500s. In other areas the rich smells of freshly made crepes (pancakes as the Danes call them) and caramelized almonds offer a feast for the senses that leave passerby’s stomachs rumbling.
Despite the snow and black ice most Danes still bundle up, layer on their scarves, and then hop on their bikes. It’s an amazing sight to see and definitely more than a little inspiring. I guess it makes sense, if I’m silly enough to enjoy walking around in the snow, biking in it isn’t all that different…right?
Still, not everyone is up for a snowy bike ride home, especially after a night out at the bars, which contributes no doubt to the piles of snow-covered bikes that line the city’s streets. This dogpile was especially messy. Apparently a few bikes had been double-parked during the weekend and then fallen over, knocking the others into a giant confused and snow-covered jumble.
Copenhagen takes its holiday decorations seriously and has beautiful heart-shaped lights that hang over most of the larger streets. It also has a collection of wonderful Christmas markets. The one located near Christiansborg Slot at Amagertorv is one of my favorites! You can also find other markets in nearby squares and along Nyhavn.
The market stalls in Amagertorv are solidly built, have beautiful facades, and a wonderful traditional holiday feel to them. They’re a mixture of random goods, warm-weather gear, food, and of course, Gløgg/Mulled Wine.
I found Danes and tourists alike huddled together, hands wrapped around smoking cups of Gløgg, eying hot dogs and other delicious meats as they cooked in nearby stalls on circular suspended grills.
The market even boasted a tiny Santa ride for little kids. Little more than a giant train set, the ride made a very tight circle around the Christmas Market’s central Christmas tree. What the ride lacked in size, it made up for with ornately decorated cars and a vibrantly decorated tree.
Another thing that always surprises me is the flower stalls. Despite the cold weather, there are several small street stands that stay open year round. In the photo above you can see the wide variety of roses and flowers they offer, all beautifully covered by a soft layer of snow.
Beyond cut flowers, they also offer live flowers waiting to be planted. Perfect holiday gifts which are somehow perfectly resistant to the cold weather and damp kiss of half-frozen snow.
I finished my stroll with a quick walk past a traditional Danish bakery with its windows full of stacked fresh bread, deserts and delicious Danish treats.
Cold, and ready to retreat back to the warmth of my apartment, I found myself playfully walking through the snow…a light near-skip to my step. There’s something about Copenhagen that always leaves me charmed. The more time I spend here, the more I fall in love. It is an amazing place and an incredible feeling. If you get the chance, don’t just assume that Copenhagen is a summer city. It has a lot to offer no matter what time of year it is!
There are moments while traveling that stay with you. When the magic of the experience infuses itself into the very essence of you who are. As I sat bundled beneath five layers of clothing, staring out the window of a Tundra Buggy on the rural Canadian tundra in northern Manitoba just outside Churchill I was able to experience one such moment. The evening had been mostly cloud-free, the brilliant light of a full moon reflecting off of the frozen lakes and snow covered tundra that surrounded our mobile lodge. As the sun began to work its way over the far horizon, the moon slowly began to slip away over the ocean.
It was a magical moment that lasted mere minutes. Even if it had only been a matter of watching the two orbs reflecting each other’s light it would have been a special sight to see. But, in a stroke of brilliant luck, we found a large, beautiful polar bear relaxing near the lodge. With numb noses, and half-frozen fingers we found ourselves watching the moon set behind her bathed in the soft hues and gorgeous tones of a brilliant dawn.
I’ll never forget the sight of the polar bear as she relaxed, looking at us as she debated rising to start her day. The trip was organized by Frontiers North and through the Canadian Tourism Commission as part of the spectacular trip I won at the Travel Bloggers Unite Conference. If you have the opportunity to do a Polar Bear safari I highly suggest it. They are amazing creatures and the opportunity to see them in their native/wild habitat is an incredibly special experience.
There are moments as a traveler when you find yourself running headlong into some of the world’s most inconvenient or forbidding weather. While my trip to Turkey didn’t leave me facing down a hurricane or braving a tornado, it did land me smack center of one of the worst cold spells to hit Europe in more than 25 years. As the front swept across Turkey and into the rest of Europe more than 200 people ended up losing their lives. The cold front brought with it below zero temperatures, snow, and a glimmer of opportunity.
While the storm front and loss of life was a profound tragedy, it also provided me with the opportunity to experience parts of Turkey in a rare and unusual fashion. After having to cut my time in Cappadocia in half due to the cancellation of my initial flight out of Istanbul, I eventually arrived at Kaysari Airport. Once there I made my way, late at night and in below freezing weather, to the small town of Goreme in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey. With just 24 hours to see the region I threw on every warm piece of clothing I owned and set to the task of exploring what is normally a desert landscape but which was transformed by the snow into a strange winter wonderland. I hope you’ll enjoy this video sequence which I shot during my time exploring the above ground parts of Cappadocia.
The video contains footage from the Open Air Museum, Pasabag (Monks Valley), Devrent (Imagination Valley), Goreme, and of a very traditional Cappadocian meal cooked in sealed clay pots. You can see footage from my tour of the area’s underground cities in this video.
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