بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم
“Toooottttt …” shouted the ship’s small chimney while spitting out a thin, white smoke. The sound of the Istanbul City machine (the name of the ship we were board) resembled the sound of a diesel locomotive. Noisy and rude but somehow describes valor. The port crew who had unfastened the rope seemed to be getting smaller as Istanbul City swung toward the sea. The air on the deck is amazingly cold for up to five seconds without gloves making the hands frozen and difficult to move. But the cold air does not broke this moment of joy. Photo and video sessions continue while the wobble on the ship gets stronger; our marks have pierced deeper waters.
“Ladies and gentlement, welcome to the Bosporus Cruise.” Zeki’s voice blasted from the deck’s. From inside the bridge I found our guide sitting next to the captain. While the captain’s hand held the wheel, Zeki’s held the microphone. He kept talking the whole trip about an hour and half.
Our journey starts from a small dock bordering Galata. Wandering alone in the middle of the sea, old fishermen waved back to us with an innocent smile. Being not far away, the black gulls were busy bathing and several times dipping their heads into the cold water as if to show off to the shaky tropical people of Indonesia. Our ship went on to the Sea of Marmara as more seagulls passed by us. There are white and some are black. Some only flew by, some caught fish, and some others were busy bathing. I looked sadly at the tall Galata Tower between the roofs of the house; hoping on another occasion to stop in the ancient region that once became a colony of Genoese merchants.
Our ship is getting away from the mainland and the wind is getting tighter. Some of pilgrims – especially the elderly – are unable to withstand the cold winds choose to go inside; enjoy the view while ordering tea or hot coffee.
“Toootttt …” Another ship passing in front of us honked a horn and soon replied by our captain. We who are on the deck also waved to the passengers on the next deck as a form of solidarity in the middle of the deep sea. “Now we have entered the Bosphorus Strait,” Zeki explained, “On your left is Europe and on the right is Asia.”
From the sea it seems that nothing is different in Istanbul part of Europe or Asia. The houses were the same plot and piled on the hill and the container port was similar. The tankers were so crowded that the strait was no more than a narrow alley.
“Please look at your left,” Zeki asked. A beautiful white building stands by the sea. His physical features are more inclined to France than Turkey. “It is Dolmabahce Palace.” The palace whose name can be interpreted as ‘Filled Garden’ was built in 1843 on the orders of Sultan Abdulmecit I. The sultan felt Topkapi Saray less magnificent than other European palaces thus he ordered a development project which lasted for 13 year. Filled with gardens and closer to the harbor, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk maintains the status of this palace as the home of Turkey’s number one man when the Ottoman Empire was dissolved in 1924.
After passing Dolmabahce we found another building that is not less beautiful. A small island converted into a white-walled resort with glass windows showing the contents of the building; dining tables laid out neatly. At the courtyard of the resort was struck the yellow flag of the Galatasaray football club which became the pride of the European city of Istanbul. “Even there’s a swimming pool indide.” Zeki’s added.
I went in for a while to warm myself as I spoke to the rest of pilgrims. They all seem to be cool in conversations about Turkish cinema which is widely aired on Indonesian television. “I think it’s the home shown on the movie.” Mrs. Erni pointed out of window while recalled the name of the Turkish soap opera.
“Ladies and gentlemen, did my voice clearly heard?” Zeki asked.
“No IT’S NOT!” Farel Shouted and laughing. His mother did not seem to like the act.
“SURELY HEARD!” Zeki yelled, “Otherwise I will not hear your answer!”
Staring from the window, the shadow of the Bosphorus bridge connecting Asia and Europe seemed increasingly clear. Above the bridge are cars of the two continents fluttering for 24 hours. I was reminded of the story of my aunt and cousin who had walked across the bridge from Europe to Asia. When I asked how long it took, Aunt replied, “More than one hour.”
Istanbul City is now just a few meters from such a huge bridge and high above the water surface. In the middle of the bridge fluttering the so-large-size Turkish flag. Our ship passed under it and proceed north until almost entering the Black Sea. I imagine the fear that struck the European seafarers crossing the narrowest part of the strait where in the Asian section is Anadolu Hisari while in the European part is Rumeli Hisari. The two buildings are a strait-guard fortress built by two Ottoman sultans, Anadolu by Sultan Bayazid Yildirim while Rumeli by his great-grandson, Fetih Mehmed. At that time every Christian ship crossing between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea must pay taxes if they do not want to be gunned by cannons. This control of the narrow strait also helped Fetih Mehmed conquer the Constantinople in 1453.