Where East meets West with Dolphins in the Bosphorus

The Bosphorus is the fine strip of water separating East (Asia) from the West (Europe). It has been the natural channel linking the Black Sea to the Marmara and then the oceans of the world since before Jason breached the stones and sailed through to the Black Sea, maybe 7000 years ago.

Maybe even then there were dolphins following the ship lanes up and down the strait. Certainly for our boat tour up the Bosphorus from the Golden Horn to near the Black Sea, the sight of a pod of dolphins going downstream against the flow of the shipping was thrilling. Apparently, such a sight is not unusual and dolphins undoubtedly enjoy the currents in the Bosphorus, but for those of us with Australian heritage, the dolphin is most often seen surfing the waves up and down the eastern coast, not competing with hundreds of ferries and merchant shipping.

The tour commenced at the pier across from the Spice bazaar and after a short sojourn in the Golden Horn on an increasingly warm and sunny day, the ferry headed out towards the Marmara with Topkapi Palace on our right and turned left into the Bosphorus. The magnificence of the palaces of the Ottoman era was arrayed on the left, the history of which could only be really appreciated by recording the details and stories narrated by the guide.

Those summer palaces not converted to museums now occasionally form offices and meeting rooms for visiting heads of state. Some palaces have been converted to hotels by the luxury brands and appear to compete for business on the grounds of maximising price. The current winner of this prize is the Sultan Suite at the Ciragan Palace hotel, which Kempinski proudly advertise at €30,000 per night – definitely a price to encourage early arrival and late checkout.

The mansions that follow the palaces as we move further upstream (or maybe up-strait) are equally ostentatious, though the post Ottoman constructions reflect a wide range of architectural styles and abilities. Apparently prices of over €100 Million (should anyone be desperate or bored enough to sell) are realised.

On the fringe of the palaces are the famous Istanbul night clubs, remarkably dull at lunchtime. Passing under the two Bosphorus bridges each over 60 metres above the water, the competing traffic and the density of construction thin out, and this was where we were granted the dolphin show.

Approaching the Black Sea we were informed that the giant leg standing on the left hand shore is a partly finished pylon of the new Bosphorus bridge, one leg of the new Colossus. But given the density of ferries criss-crossing the Bosphorus we doubt that this new bridge will significantly reduce the water traffic.

On this tour we were offered the chance to disembark at a fishing village on the Asian side, just inside the Bosphorus. Time stops for no man, and it was unsurprising but disappointing that the fishing village consisted of a wealth of tourist restaurants, refrigerator magnet shops and a plethora of Coca Cola signs – not the Turkey we came to see.

The return to the Golden Horn down the Asian side exposed an equally large number of exotic mansions some with only helicopter or boat access plus clubs for the famous football teams of Istanbul. After passing the Galata Tower the Bosphorus was left behind with a view up to the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque straight ahead on the right hand turn into the Golden Horn.