Fog, Fairytales, and a Trip to Lake Sapanca

Turkey is a magical place that carries so many of our culture’s myths in its hills and valleys. Santa Claus, for example, has his roots in the Southern region of Antalya. Mount Ararat is the peak, where Noah’s ark is believed by some to have come to rest and the South of the country is home to the legendary city of Troy. In a land so ancient and bubbling over with stories, with so many layers of civilizations underfoot, waking up to Istanbul enwrapped in fog, gives an extra twinge of mystery and excitement to the day- a setting ripe for adventure.

It is on such a stage that we embarked on our voyage to Lake Sapanca- our very first attempt to leave beautiful Istanbul and all its grit and crowds behind.  Our journey began by crossing the Bosphorus to go to the Asian side. We boarded two ferries, floating through the spectral mist, like Kharon’s boat crossing Akheron. The mist coated everything around us and boats emerged and disappeared in its ghostly robes. We reached the train station at Kadikoy and after buying our tickets, stopped to have breakfast at an outside café, Jeremy, Nadia, and I. The fog covered the city completely- like an astute magician, having made it temporarily disappear behind its kerchief. Without our familiar backdrop, I felt far, far away already. 

When the time came, we boarded the train and watched the scenery dawdle by, amazed at how long it took to get away from residences and sprawl of the city and to see more green. Two hours later, we were in Lake Sapanca- a calm and picturesque lake, flanked by rolling hills. It was sunny and clear, and although we had expected to be able to walk around the lake (and that it would be a little more secluded and not as developed), there was only a short promenade along one side, lined with cafés and restaurants for us to walk on. We sat at an outdoor restaurant to have lunch and made a plan to hike in the hills behind Sapanca. 

After lunch, we began our trek towards the hill, weaving our way through the residential part of Sapanca, following our big target up ahead. Fall had left its mark everywhere in the town and the trees’ deep browns were decorated by yellow, red, and orange. Persimmon trees were everywhere, loaded with their plump orange globes. My eyes grew wide every time I saw one, aching to pick its fruit. Finally, at the end of a small street was a yard with a house under construction. The yard was overrun with weeds and in the corner, by the low fence, stood a beautiful persimmon tree, extending its arms with its lovely gifts towards me. What could I do but pick some? I found two that were still hard and put them in my pockets to ripen later. Nadia teased me for taking the fruit and I was immediately reminded of the tale of Rapunzel, when the father makes the initial mistake of going to pick vegetables for his pregnant wife from the witch’s beautiful garden. I had picked forbidden fruit, we joked. What curse would result?

We continued up through the town, under a highway and past houses with yards, chickens, barking dogs. We left the smells of the highway behind and started to smell the wet and woodsy smells of moss and decaying branches. Up above, we could observe the lake’s grandeur, still and regal, reflecting the sky- a mirror from a large wardrobe. When it grew late and the sun began to make his final exit, we turned on our heels and made our way down, retracing our steps with random landmarks, like Hansel and Gretel’s trail of breadcrumbs. Continue straight at the house with the barking dog (he has a loud bark but no bite. He’ll move out of the way and whimper in fear when you walk past- you’ll see), left at the bottom of the road, with the bright blue bus stop… I was secretly hoping to find our persimmon tree again to pick a few more.
At the bottom of the hill, a few boys played with an old bike tire, throwing it up and rolling it back down, passing time before supper, I supposed. It was a throwback game, when kids, before the invention of the PSP, had to make the most of what they had. As we came upon the bus stop, we heard the thudding of the tire coming towards us and saw the kids appear at the top of the hill, running after their runaway toy, like the old lady and old man running after the Gingerbread man. Jeremy stuck his foot out and brought the tire’s daring escape to an unceremonious halt and the boys ran down to retrieve it.

We continued down the bend, past the bus stop, where another group of boys had gathered, entranced by the three strangers trotting down the road. “Burada!” they yelled, “Here!” luring us towards the opposite fork in the road. We knew where we wanted to go and continued down our path, but the boys did not let us go. They continued to yell louder and louder, sounding like an angry swarm of hornets, whose nest we had disturbed by merely passing by. We stayed on our steady course and they continued to follow, slinging harsh-sounding words at our backs. They had repossessed the other boys’ tire and were attempting to fling it at us. Each time they threw it, however, the tire would roll to the side of the road, ignoring their commands, as if it had a mind of its own. Our foreign strangeness lured them to us, like the Pied Piper’s music, as they followed us in a trail of mocking and jeering. We continued with this routine until we were almost to the highway.

And here’s the part where reflecting back, we probably should have just kept going, minding our own business, but hindsight is always 20/20. Jeremy stopped and turned to the students, putting his thumb to his nose and squatting down in a taunting stance. Nadia and I followed suit, scrunching up our faces, and waving our hands in the air, having been instantly beamed by a force stronger than us, back to our 8-year-old selves. This only made the hornets angrier and their buzzing grew louder. They abandoned their sterile bicycle wheel and replaced it with stones. We now were moving targets for these small Davids who continued to march forward. My heart started to beat faster, as images from Lord of the Flies came to mind, as Nadia and Jeremy shrugged it off as normal “horsing around.” Not having grown up anywhere where kids threw stones, my brow stayed wrinkled in consternation and my legs were ready to switch to a sprint at any moment.

We were nearing the highway underpass and I was hoping that this would be the line that they could not cross, where calls from their mothers could no longer be heard, the end of their extensive playground, the limit of their powers. Turning back, as we went through the tunnel, we saw an adult talking to them and I felt relieved that this wasn’t a land where kids roamed free, taking the law into their own hands. My heart’s beating slowed back down to a normal pace as they grew further and further into the distance and we approached the edge of the lake. It was now quite dark and we decided to get on the earlier train back to Istanbul.
We waited on the nearly desolate platform. One bright lamp illuminated the train station’s name in an eerie light. On the train, we practiced our Turkish as we rattled through towns erased by the fog. A young teenage girl, who had come into our car to get some distance from her family, helped us with pronunciation, and her young brother, who joined her later answered our elementary questions. From one page in Nadia’s Turkish book, I learned that the Turkish word for “lion” is “aslan”, the name of the lion in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I remembered that in the book, the witch gives the boy Turkish delight (lokum), so that he will forget his home and stay in Narnia.

While I let the spellbinding delight of Turkey coat the air around me, the train conductor came by- a short man with a wide eyes, ogre-ish grin of crooked yellow teeth, and tangled black hair, asking to see our tickets for the third time. Was it the fog that was causing him to forget that he’d already seen our tickets two other times? Each time he came by, he practiced a few words of English laughing throughout, and we realized that he too, like the little boys, was drawn to our foreignness. We were odd figures in a distant land. We got to the final stop- Kadikoy- and he went out of his way to make sure we knew where we were going. As I stepped down from the train and we said our goodbyes, I glimpsed back at the conductor half expecting to see the furry hoofed legs of a goat and a panpipe in place of his shiny brass whistle.

In the station, we learned that the fog was so thick, no ferries were crossing the Bosphorus. We were stuck on our side of the wardrobe and unsure how to return home. The fog played with the light, bouncing it, softening its edges, turning a mere lamp into a haunted orange Halloween glow. We stopped a few bouncing shadows in the mist and asked them how to get across, back to Europe and they pointed us in the direction of the suburban train, which stopped at the Metro Bus, our Pegasus home.


  1. Amazing post. I feel like its nearly impossible to imagine the nuances int he exchanges with a completely different culture - even to not know whether to feel threatened - defies the supposed protection our animal instinct is supposed to provide! The pictures are terrific, too. Wow. You'll have 100 choices for next years tourist photo contest.


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