Ferry tales from far and near
Getting out and about on the water is undeniable fun and easy to accomplish in destinations with great harbours or waterways, such as Sydney, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Istanbul. There is something special about cities with ferry boats; suddenly the prospect of a commute, tour or transfer becomes a salty adventure.
Who could ever tire of crossing Victoria Harbour aboard a Star Ferry between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island? About a decade ago I was travelling with a keen photographer who insisted we take multiple return journeys as he was snapping water traffic of all shapes and sizes, including sailing junks with batwing sails and the odd sampan that bobbed about crazily in our wash. Back and forth we went, much to the amazement of the deckhands, who couldn’t persuade us to disembark and so just shrugged. Nutty foreigners, they must have thought.
In Istanbul last year, thanks to the precise instructions of my guide Eser (now my “Turkish sister”, so fiercely did we bond), and my purchase of an Istanbulkart transport pass, I was out and about on the Golden Horn aboard those big, white ferries that come with unknowable timetables you have to fold out like a tablecloth. It was summer and so the open top deck was always the place to be, complete with vendors circulating with trays of mint tea in little coloured glasses. I never seemed to have the right change to buy a refreshment but, no matter, the charming sellers insisted I drink for free. Tesekkurler! Thank you! Have fun, foreign lady! By the end of each tea-filled journey, urgent toilet stops were required. Then I would be back aboard for another jaunt, just for the heck of it.
In Venice, a gondola ride is de rigueur (unreasonably expensive, too, but bucket lists are there to be ticked), but even more fun are the ferries that get you about on the Grand Canal. Maybe it’s because they are called, romantically, vaporetti or the drivers look like Johnny Depp, but these boats seem more than just conveyances. There are motoscafi, too, to take into the more narrow canals, and that name just begs to be repeated; it sounds like a wine and feels like sailing into a story. Or if you are staying at the peerless Hotel Cipriani on Isola della Giudecca, you will arrive on a gleaming launch driven (in my case) by a boatman with the impossible name of Fabio who’s wearing what looks like an Armani sailor suit and then you’ll be handed a bellini made with fresh white peaches. Bella signora, welcome! Then (like me), perhaps you will decide you simply have to get the vapours and faint.
As part of the program for last month’s family wedding (Snap Decisions, October 3-4), I chartered an old Sydney ferry for a two-hour cruise. It was barely enough for some of our overseas guests who were out and about on the harbour for days afterwards, on water taxis and tall ships, reporting back on their escapades. On a luncheon cruise, a beer or wine apiece were included with the meal. Another refreshment on the top deck? How much, please? No worries, mate! Welcome to Sydney! Have one on us!
You will arrive on a gleaming launch driven (in my case) by a boatman with the impossible name of Fabio