Queen of the Cities

By Asli Ersahin

istanbul beachcombing

For centuries, Istanbul has stood at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, straddling the two continents across the Bosphorus strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and then to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. Originally known as Byzantium in the 7th century B.C.E., rebuilt as Constantinople in the 4th century, and now called Istanbul, this city earned the nickname Vasileousa Polis, “Queen of the Cities,” in the Middle Ages due to its strategic importance and considerable wealth. Asli Ersahin is lucky to call Istanbul her home, and she is excited to share her beachcombing story.

In 2015, I had a dream that I was sick, and it prompted me to have my first mammogram. I learned that I had an early form of cancer in my breast. Finding out was like driving full-speed into a brick wall. I was 40 years old. (To the women reading this: do not neglect having your mammogram annually after 40.) Thankfully, I had an operation, radiotherapy, and have ongoing medication to keep the disease at bay. 

I’m lucky and proud to have the love and support of my 14-year-old daughter, Alisa, and my husband of 16 years, Burak. At the beginning of 2018, I quit my job so I could concentrate on my family, my hobbies, and myself. In the beginning, it was nice, but I started to feel depressed and useless. I began spending time on Instagram, and one day I saw a post from Sharon @bensonsulecki, and that’s when my beachcombing journey began. 

alsi luvlyalisa sea glass from turkey

I grew up in a coastal city near Istanbul, so the sea and the beach have always been huge parts of my life. I used to collect stones, shells, and driftwood, but it was only after making friends with Sharon that I learned my childhood hobby had a name: “beachcombing.” It was great to put a name to it, because until that time, I thought that I was the only one collecting things from the beach. When I was young, my mom called my treasures “garbage,” and used to throw them away,  but I never stopped collecting.

I continued to chat with Sharon on Instagram and I started to reach out to other beachcombers, visiting  the beaches in Istanbul again, but I wasn’t able to find a single good piece of sea glass. Through Sharon, I met Gulsad @seaglasslove8, and travelled to where she lived and beachcombed with her. We spent two great days together, and I came home to Istanbul with 13 kilos (almost 30 pounds) of sea glass in my bag. 

beachcombing in Istanbul turkey

I started to travel all around the Sea of Marmara, which is connected to the Black Sea by the Bosphorus strait, in search of treasures. I was interested in finding sea marbles but wasn’t able to spot any. I wrote to others and asked how they were finding marbles, then, one day, I found a marble beach. Really—a marble beach. I started finding marbles by the handful. My luck continued as I started to find other good beaches with sea glass and marbles, and that’s when I began to share them with my friends on Instagram, remembering the times when I had looked for marbles and found none.

In my short time on Instagram, I have been lucky to meet some amazing sea sisters and brothers. Though I am very different from many of my online friends in the sea glass community—a different language, different religion, different continent—they accept me and have been very kind and welcoming. My life is infinitely more valuable with my online friends in it. 

turkish sea glass tiles luvlyalisa

To come close to death is inexplicable—there is no real way to prepare for it. On top of that, being a mother to a daughter who is relying on you makes it even harder. My sea sisters from all different backgrounds have always understood how I feel, even if I’m often unable to express myself fully. 

I’m lucky to be a part of the sea glass community. In just two to three days a week, it has helped me to live mindfully, and I treat my time on the beach as a form of therapy. I communicate with the air, the sea, and the animals on the beach. When I find a good piece of sea glass or pottery, I jump, scream, and dance. 

Beachcombing has improved every aspect of my life—my relationship with my husband, my daughter, and with myself. Maybe the best part of my new hobby is that my husband and daughter have also joined the fun. Though he works hard at his job during the week, my husband makes time to beachcomb with me at least once a week. My daughter loves to join me and help to clean up the beach, as she is very conscious and passionate about environmental issues.  
I feel very lucky to be part of this awesome community full of kind, creative, intelligent, artistic people. I send my deep love from Istanbul.

Beachcombing With Asli

Asli collects on the coast of the Marmara Sea in Istanbul, as well as the Prince Islands. In the summer, it is almost impossible to beachcomb
in Turkey because of the tourists. But Asli says that from September to June, all the beaches are relatively empty. 

Many of the beaches she searches at have specific items: there’s a marble beach, an agate beach, and a “hunky chunky” beach with large pieces of sea glass. She says she is probably one of the only people in Istanbul that collects sea treasures, and is working on creating a beachcombing map of Turkey for those who are interested. 

In her time as a beachcomber, Asli has already collected over 300 sea marbles, as well as several jars and boxes filled with different kinds of sea glass. Asli’s friends have reacted to her new hobby in a way very similar to many people: at first, they thought she’d give it up, then they said she’s crazy, but after they realized how passionate she was, they started to show interest in her collection and some started beachcombing themselves. 

One day, Asli would like to attend all of the sea glass festivals in the United States. Most importantly, she wants to host as many sea sisters and brothers as she can in her home city of Istanbul.

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine January/February 2020 issue.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published