Istanbul's ferries survive change, charm anew

Thu Apr 21, 2011 8:30am EDT
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By Alexandra Hudson

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - With a rush of churning water then a jolt, the Karaoglanoglu ferry docks at Karakoy passenger terminal on Istanbul's European shore and a familiar rite begins.

Young men dart from the waiting room and leap aboard before the gangway is fixed, racing for a prized spot on the benches just above the water.

Parents with children make for the top deck of the 34-year-old ferry, the best place for feeding the flocks of seagulls, who swoop to catch morsels of bread as they fly.

Huge changes lie in store for how the citizens of this growing city of almost 15 million people cross the Bosphorus Strait, which separates its European and Asian shores.

The government will shortly tender a third Bosphorus bridge, expected to bear rail as well as vehicles, and on the seabed giant tubes will encase a privately-operated commuter rail link, the Marmaray, and another a twin-deck road.

While these projects will offer speed, convenience, and landmark engineering, they are unlikely to capture citizens' hearts in the same way as the old-fashioned ferries.

Even the city itself acknowledges the affection in which the ferry boats are held.

Istanbul Municipality this month sold its high-speed passenger and vehicle ferries to a Turkish-Scottish consortium for $861 million -- but hived off the slower boats into a separate firm, Sehir Hatlari (City Lines), to be kept in state hands.   Continued...

<p>Ferries transport people between European and Asian sides of the city in Istanbul, November 26, 2010. REUTERS/Osman Orsal</p>