In limbo in Istanbul: Trip to the Princes’ Islands

And now, back to the narrative…
With Allison and Kelli gone, I had 5 days to myself before my residency began on Oct. 1. I had found a cheap hostel close to both the hotel we had stayed in and my residency, so I set up camp there and planned my next few days.

The weather was beautiful that week, so the following day I took a trip to the Princes’ Islands, which are about an hour boat ride from Istanbul. I arrived at the harbor a little early so I strolled around a bit and visited the Besm-i Alem Valide Sultan mosque, which was a beautiful building with a baroque interior:


The boat to the islands is only about 3-4 lira each way, and fills up quickly. I had a nice seat in the open area, perfect for the beautiful views of the city falling behind us, the coastline of Anatolian Turkey (Anatolia is the Asian part of Turkey–only the European side of Istanbul is not part of Anatolia), and the upcoming islands. It was lovely to be on the water!

The Princes’ Islands are a group of 9 islands, the largest two being the most popular for  day trips to walk around, picnic, and visit the beaches. The largest, Buyukada, is the favorite, and that’s where I was headed.

Approaching Buyukada

The harbor is beautiful, with hotels and restaurants facing the water. We disembarked at a small village with waffle shops (waffles and ice cream), restaurants and some souvenir shops. The main point of the town is a small square with a cute little clock “tower”.

The islands don’t allow any cars, aside from trash trucks and a few other necessary vehicles, so people get around on foot, on bike, and by carriage.

There is a main thoroughfare than runs along the outside of the island and is lined with huge, ornate houses. Most of the houses are wooden and feature a lot of gingerbreading. There are a lot of balconies, which is a typical feature in Turkish houses. The houses and gardens are stunning, as are their views of the sea. I opted to walk along the road, gawking and taking pictures the whole way. Fortunately the carriages makea lot of noise as they come up behind you, unlike cars, so I always knew when to get out of the way.

(Now you know how to say “There is a dog” in Turkish)

What was really interesting, however, were the abandoned, decaying mansions interspersed between the immaculate ones.

Here you saw the buildings stripped of their make-up, their beauty faded but still visible; in fact, maybe even more so.

There was a kind of melancholy grandeur in these old places that was very appealing, especially in contrast to the pristine buildings next to them. Add the gorgeous overlooks to the sea, and it’s a magical place. Perfect for a British vacation murder mystery!

I continued my trek along the main road, passed every few minutes by the tourist-heavy carriages. I was headed for an old church/monastery at the top of one of the mountains, and as I climbed further up, the houses gave way to a beautiful pine forest through which you could see the sea.

After probably an hour of walking, I made it to the bottom of the steep road leading to the church. This was where I found all the carriages which had passed me, dropping their (much smarter) passengers off at the base of the hill.  But I wasn’t about to stop now, so I pressed on up the incredibly steep hill road, which was largely empty. As I got further up, the views of the sea and islands became more and more spectacular, until, half an hour later, I reached the church and restaurant at the very top of the hill.

A few minutes later I realized there was, once again, a smarter way to ascend:

pilgrimage by donkey

But by that time I was just happy to be at the top of  this beautiful island on this beautiful day!

View from the monastery

It was breathtaking! I sat and sketched for a bit, then visited the small church/monastery, which is incredibly ornate inside. The most interesting object I saw was this hammered-silver votive to St. George, (I assume), in which people have left offerings of watches.

After an hour or two I headed back down the very steep hill to the carriage stop (and market place), where I asked for a “shortcut” back to the harbor. One of the shop owners pointed down a road, which I blithely followed, all alone. It was a beautiful walk and you could see pieces of cloth tied to the trees by devout pilgrims on their way to the church.

After a few minutes I realized it was one of those times when you find yourself alone on a deserted road in a foreign country to which you were directed by an unknown man, but of course it was fine, and I soon saw a few people and reached another busy street. This turned out to be on the other side of the island from which I had walked, so I had another 45-minute walk back to the harbor.

At this point I was pretty sore–my hips hurt, my back ached (a one-shoulder bag is not great for long walks) and my dogs were barkin’, as they say. I almost cried when I finally reached the harbor!

I took a later boat than I had expected, but this allowed me to see the exercises at the Naval Cadet School on the next largest island, Heybeliada:

Exercises at the Naval Cadet School--this one's for you, Dad!

and I also got to see a gorgeous sunset over the Sea of Marmara.

It was a beautiful trip, but I was completely wiped out for the next few days. I am not as young as I used to be! I also developed a small cold, so I generally holed up in the hostel, napping or working on the computer, with a few brief excursions every day.

By October 1, the first day of my residency, I was pretty well-rested and very ready to settle down somewhere for a month and meet new people. Next post: the residency!

About Stephanie Beck

Exploring the international world of art.
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