A rail link between Europe and Asia
AN OTTOMAN sultan’s 150-year-old dream was realised the day we arrived in Istanbul.
It makes front page headlines in the Turkish newspapers and in the international press. Although the last sultan ruled in the early 1900s, in true Ottoman style – the newest chapter to the country’s 3000 history books – is grand.
The Marmaray is a high-speed rail link underneath the Bosphorus Strait. The Turkish capital straddles two continents, and the new railway links its Asian and European shores. It takes its name from the nearby Sea of Marmara, with “ray” being the Turkish word for rail.
It is the deepest of its kind and is a world first in connecting two continents. It is designed to withstand earthquakes and it will help ease the traffic on the two bridges, used by about two million people crossing the Bosphorus every day.
We took a joyride on this impressive feat, joining hundreds of curious locals making use of the government’s two-week no-pay offer. It took us just four minutes to cross – short enough to prevent my overactive imagination getting caught up in a Hollywood Poseidon-style adventure.
Work on the link began nine years ago but archaeological excavations delayed construction for four years when workers dug up ancient artefacts, replicas of which are on exhibition at one of the stations. In theory it brings closer the day when it will be possible to travel from London to Beijing via Istanbul by train.
I could just imagine the likes of Jamie Oliver using this modern incarnation of the legendary Silk Road to shop at the fresh food market we discovered on the Asian side.
Here, life slows down to a stroll. In the market, glistening fish are stacked on ice. Thick slices of Norwegian salmon vie with a pile of crab nipping to get away.
Butchers display cuts of meat, and carcasses hang from hooks. One store offers crates of vegetables. Across the cobbled street a grocer displays a myriad olives in sacks. Dried chillies, aubergines and peppers – used to make a stock, the grocer explains – are strung up like bells at the entrance to the store.
Next door at a confectionery bak- ers put out rows of enticing pastries and sweet treats. I mill about taking in life in Uskudar, one of the more conservative neighbourhoods. It has fewer bars and more tea gardens and is home to 180 mosques.
Watching people is my favourite pastime. I see friends meeting for a cup of Turkish coffee and couples doing their weekly shopping. Before I get too engrossed someone from our group signals that its time for our journey back to Europe.
It is only when I’m back in Cape Town that I learn of some of the hiccups the rail system experienced in its first few days. A YouTube video shows scores of passengers leaving a stopped train and walking along the tube. If I had known this I might not have been so keen to make the trip beneath the rushing waters.
JOYRIDE: The Marmaray is a high-speed rail link underneath the Bosphorus Strait.