These islands ‘guard’ the entrance to the Bosphorous on the Sea of Marmara. In Ottoman times princes were exiled here and in the late 19th and early 20th century wealthy Stamboulis built lavish summer homes.
Ever since arriving here we have been urged to visit the islands in order to get away from the hustle and bustle of this enormous city and to enjoy the quiet pine forests and the sea.
Throwing bathing suits and towel into our knapsack we trotted off to the harbour to get the ferry. When you live in a city of 18 million people, many of whom are now on vacation, you forget the niceties of life and just elbow your way onto buses and boats. This day was no exception as we were shoved and jostled by people wanting to get to the best seats. I thought I had found a pretty good one – a little round table with a double bench on each side. An elderly couple were sitting on one bench and I sat down on the other. Suddenly this little lady started yelling at me in Turkish, spread her newspaper over the whole table and moved her husband’s bag to the bench I had just claimed! I let her have it … I wasn’t going to interfere with that ball of fire.
Finding another seat by a window we settled in to enjoy the 1/12 hour trip to the largest of the islands – Buyuk Ada. About 20 minutes into the trip a fellow appeared carrying 2 plastic bags and proceeded to demonstrate getting the juice out of a lemon using a handy little gadget. I need to tell you it was worth the 5TL (the price of 6 of these little gadgets) to watch his performance. It was amazing! Turks have to work so hard to make a living and I marvel at their creativity and sheer perseverance. We did buy a package of these babies and are now trying to figure out how to use them. Continuing the trip we realized just how big this city it – we never got passed it – as our American friend,Bill, said – ‘This is not a city – it is a country’.
Finally, our destination in sight, we began to get ready for our quiet day in the country. Disembarking we were met by a scene of total chaos!!! Masses of people waiting in line to rent horse drawn carriages, shops and stalls selling hundreds and hundreds of things tourists just had to have – and the smell of the horses !! It was awful.
The islands have a ‘no car rule’ (except for the exceptions), so you either walk, ride a bike or take a horse drawn carriage. The main purpose of the carriage drivers seems to be to get up to the top of the first hill as fast as possible in order to get back down to pick up another fare so these guys drive like maniacs and don’t seem to bother much about pedestrians as I was later to find out. At first renting a bike seemed like a good idea until we found out that the final hill gets very steep and you have to either abandon the bike or push it up the last 300 meters. So we decided to walk.
The walk was just fine and it only took us 35 minutes. Along the way we passed the old mansions and hotels with occasional glimpses of the sea. By and large this was pleasant except when we had to dodge one of the carriages. The pine forest finally appeared and it was lovely and cool. We noted a small private park with the promise of a beach and planned to return after we reached the top of the mountain. Finally, the end of the carriage route – and again, a scene of total chaos with empty carriages, smelly horses and booths of stuff everywhere. As one guy from New York said to us – “This was supposed to be an escape from the chaos of Istanbul!”. We could only nod in agreement.
Our destination was the ancient orthodox Church of St. George and tea house. The sign said ‘300 meters’. Well, I’m not sure. The sun was blazing down on us and the hill was steeply looming up ahead of us. Forging onward, with our hats plunked firmly on our heads we began the climb. It was steep but it certainly didn’t feel like 300 meters – it had to be more. After two rest stops we finally reached the top and it was all worthwhile. The view was breathtaking, the church was old, beautiful and serene, and, the tea house was delightful.
Sitting at one of the tables, in the shade, we looked out over the forest, the sea and the islands beyond that – and just remained in the here and now. It was expected that you would linger – and we did. A light lunch, beer and limonata and we were at peace.
BUT …. all good things must come to an end and we were off to find a beach! Walking down the hill proved to be not quite as easy as we had thought so when a taxi appeared (thank goodness for the exceptions) we thought it was well worth the 5TL. Not feeling the least bit guilty or any sense of failure, we happily endured the bumpy ride and the hairpin turns.
We found the little park, paid our entrance fee and – to our dismay – realized that the beaches were either uninviting or almost impossible to reach – but – in the distance – there was a hotel with a beach. Off we went – found the entrance, paid the vastly inflated entrance fee, changed into our suits, sat down – and – the muzak blared, the sun went down, the winds came up, the thunder started to roll – and I got out my sweater. Murray went in for a swim but it was just too unpleasant so we changed back into our clothes and got on a little ferry to wait for an hour before it took us to the main ferry terminal where we could get the boat to go back home.
During this hour we had to endure the non-stop yakking of an obnoxious British teen who criticized everything Turkish thinking no one could understand her. Then the sun came out, the wind died down and the day became glorious!!! Finally …. the boat took us over to the main harbour -and – we found out that we had to wait 2 hours for the ferry back home.
Finding a lovely fish restaurant with tables right by the water, we sat down; the waiter brought us water and bread – and then we moved – a young Turkish mother was 2 tables away and was letting her darlings run all over the place. We just could not bear this confusion after having had to listen to that crazy girl on the boat. As we moved, the waiter said, “Turkish children – bad! “ Well, it really was because we were so weary by this time.
A lovely view, a lovely dinner and, now time to get our ferry. Arriving at the terminal we discovered that we had got the 24 hour clock all mixed up and had missed the ferry!! Another 11/2 hour wait..
Ice cream – that was going to make up for yet another delay. The usual antics, ice cream cones in our hands – and the guy rips us off by charging two times more than anyone else.
Sitting on a bench in the nearby park we reflected on our day. We decided that we could either think about all the negative things or simply choose to think on the good – including this lovely scene in front of us.
And so – we had had a peaceful boat ride, had seen glorious old houses with rich stories lurking behind shutters and curtains, crazy Turkish carriage drivers, a successful climb up a challenging hill, a church rich in a long Christian tradition of serving God, a tea house with a view, a taxi when we needed it, beautiful waterscapes, the sun, delicious food in a perfect setting, yummy ice cream, and an astounding harbour front row seat.
Life is very good:)