If you like your personal space, peak travel season is not for you. That’s definitely the case for Istanbul at the height of summer. The line to get into the Blue Mosque is almost always ungodly long, the Grand Bazaar is crowded with people looking for an amazing steal, and even Gülhane Park’s shady grass is strewn with loungers seeking to beat the heat. Cities are packed with people; it’s – duh – what makes them cities. And sometimes an escape to a quieter place, even for just a few hours, is in order.
In Istanbul, there’s the perfect alternative to the sun-baked asphalt and sweaty throngs: hop aboard one of the Şehir Hatları boats at the Eminönü docks near the Galata Bridge in the mid-morning and sail an hour or two up the Bosphorus River to Anadolu Kavağı, an itty-bitty little town that sits at the mouth of the Black Sea.
Explore some ruins, eat a delicious lunch, and soak up some sun (without the crowds that go along with it in Istanbul) until you’re ready to return back to the city. With round trip tickets only costing 25 lira (about 12 USD), it’s an easy, cheap day trip that’ll have you back in Istanbul just in time to hear the evening call to prayer and catch the sunset.
If you show up early enough to board the boat, you can snag a spot on the open-air decks, where the breeze from the river will keep you cool. Learn from my mistake: twenty minutes before the departure time is definitely not early enough. We were still able to sit outside, but it was near the bow, where loads of rigging and other passengers blocked any picturesque view of the river and its banks. (Though we lucked out on the way home. Pro-tip: spend a dollar on some ice cream and sit at one of the tables at the ferry’s cafe. Empty tables and a perfect, unblocked view await!) If you’re lucky and nab one of the seats along the side of the boat, you’ll get treated to the fortress ruins, palaces, parks, and swanky villas that line either side of the Bosphorus.
The reason for Anadolu Kavağı’s popularity sits perched atop one of the steep hills that overlook the town; even though the castle gate and a few crumbling walls are the only things that remain of Yoros Kalesi, it’s still an imposing sight. Yoros was an important fortification that guarded the confluence of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea throughout the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Even earlier than that, the Phoenicians and Greeks originally occupied it. Basically, if you wanted to attack Istanbul from the north, you had to come through Anadolu Kavağı, and Yoros Castle stood in your way. Though Anadolu Kavağı has primarily been a fishing village throughout the ages, it’s alleged that some of them acted as ‘wreckers’ – people who lit fires around the bay to draw enemy ships to ground themselves on the craggy rocks below – in the past.
Even though Yoros has been reduced to ruins, Anadolu Kavağı still holds military significance. As we were walking back through the town, jeep after jeep of uniformed soldiers or white-clad sailors passed us by. Much of the area is occupied by the Turkish military, and certain areas are blocked off with high fences topped by barbed wire and plastered with intimidating signs emblazoned with pictures of machine guns. (Promise, though, it’s still a fun day trip!)
Nowadays, any importance the castle has is purely historical. When we were there, archaeologists were still sifting through the courtyard, and though that meant we couldn’t traipse our way through much of the grounds, we still got a pretty damn fine view of Macar Bay. It’s a good thing, too; though the walk up to Yoros only takes about fifteen or twenty minutes, it’s basically straight up an insanely steep hill. Even with calf muscles honed by a summer’s worth of runs, I was huffing, puffing, and covered in sweat by the time we made it to the top. I wasn’t the only one, either; plenty of men – of all ages, physiques, and sizes – shed their shirts for the climb up. Buy a water bottle in town before you set off, or suffer in the sun.
After that climb, pretty much the only thing my friend and I could think of was lunch. In the main town square, just in front of the pier, Anadolu Kavağı is chockfull of touristy, overpriced restaurants, complete with touts beckoning you to eat their fare. Walk three minutes away like we did, though, and you’ll get a much more delicious, cheaper meal with friendlier service.
Case in point: the lunch that I ate was not only about a total of about seven dollars, but it had three kinds of meat, two kinds of bread, and a heap of fresh vegetables. As I was waiting to use the bathroom, the cook asked where I was from…and five minutes later, a freshly baked, puffy round of bread with ‘USA’ sprinkled on it with red pepper landed on our table. How’s that for memorable service?