On a particularly steamy Sunday afternoon, my friend and I decided to take refuge in my air-conditioned Opel and do some modern-day exploration. As we made our heading northward along the shoreline, we noticed lots of men swimming in the waters to our East. A few women dotted the crowds of men but not many. It was interesting to see people lying on the cement as if the sand within had not been previously hardened by lime and water.
As we left the congestion of Istanbul behind, the scene transformed into a small beach village. Thick trees lined the streets, holding hands to form a tunnel of green. Heads popped out of the open windows of old wooden houses that had seen better days. Our progress up the coast was swift until we hit the junction of three streets. Chaos ensued. A bus full of passengers barely missed hitting me by mere centimeters. Pedestrians casually weaved their way through the mess, as us less fortunate souls in modern vehicles watched longingly. The bottleneck was largely a gift from some selfish driver, whose parked car had reduced this small two-lane road by half. After passing this second major obstacle in our route, my friend and I were met by an additional impediment to our journey: the reverse tails lights of ten cars moving in our direction. We decided that this was not the ideal path for us to follow and so we turned around to find another way up the coast.
In a country with very few street signs, we felt lucky to have actually found one that pointed toward our destination. Now whether or not its sister signs were in place was a different tale, but at least we had our first bearing. I gladly made my way up the mountain, away from the chaos at the water’s edge. To our good fortune, we found a newly paved road with another sign marking the continuation of our journey.
Passage along the ridgeline was much more pleasant. As we closed in on the Black Sea, we noticed that for some strange reason, cars were suddenly pulling off the main highway into wooded alcoves. Some cars even seemed to be stuck in the rolling hills just off the highway. What would tempt these drivers to leave the newly laid pavement to brave the vegetation beyond? It took me a while to realize the goal they sought… a picnic. Now that I think about it, I have passed many a happy Turkish family picnicking in all sorts of places: in city parks, on the grassy shoulders of busy roads, at the beach, on the cement walkway next to the Bosphorus. As an American, I must admit that we Americans are truly picnic snobs. We rarely picnic anywhere that is not designated an official picnic area with proper picnic benches. The Turks on the other hand are much more creative, for them, the possibilities are endless. They don’t need a sign to tell them that they are in a designated picnic area; they picnic when and where they want.
Back to our adventure… Far off in the distance, the Black Sea highlighted the horizon in a deep shade of blue. It began as just a sliver and quickly grew thicker and thicker as the land retreated below the circling tires of our car. My friend and I had finally reached our objective and to our delight, an old fortress stood on the shoreline, waiting patiently for a pair of explorers. We headed straight for the stone tower to peer down on this newly found land. We lowered our heads and traveled up the stairs that countless soldiers had climbed centuries before. From the lookout we spotted beachcombers in every direction. At the water’s edge, swimmers danced in the white frothy waves. Hiding in the shade of Roman arches were several Turkish women in full-length burkas. Off in the distance, ships seemed to follow one another towards the only exit for hundreds of miles, that same exit that hundreds of years before this very fort had been built to protect. The Bosphorus Strait.