After having spent two weeks in Istanbul, most of us have “checked” off the big tourist sites and turned to explore more of the local areas of attraction like Istiklal Street (or Independence Street in English) or even our local gourmet shops. Today however we explored another area of the Istanbul favorites, the Princes’ Islands. These nine islands off the coast of Turkey in the Sea of Marmara hold a strategic place in Turkish and World History. Leon Trotsky for example took refuge on these islands during his exile in the 1930’s. However these islands have a different appeal to the Istanbul locals, they are more of the week-end beach and shore then exile locations.
Our destination was the biggest of the nine Islands, Büyükada, which literally means Big Island in Turkish. We reached Büyükada after an hour and a half ferry boat ride provided through the Istanbul Public Transportation System. On a ferry boat with maybe even more Turkish then tourists, we were carried away from the tumults of the Istanbul life to the quiet(er) beaches of the Big Island.
The island was a site to behold with its tall hills and houses hanging of the forest-y cliffs before forming miniature enclaves of sand, where lawn chairs and parasols were tetrissed in as tightly as possible, in front of a clear blue/turquoise ocean.
Not being one for sea or sun bathing, as lobster red has never been a color which suits me, I decided with three other explorers to try and find one of the historical legacies of the Island, St Georges’ Monastery.
From the guide books information, we knew that it would be an hour long walk from where we left off the group at the beach, but armed with the confidence that the journey would be valuable, we set off with our free commercial map as our only guide. Oh and what a journey it was… What I believed would be a nice leisurely walk albeit somewhat long to the monastery turned out to be a real calorie burning, marathon training hike to the top of the highest peak of the Island (I think my Mediterranean decent is showing here…).
After the first quarter of our “walk”, we reached a plaza where two options were presented to us, a 50° incline on small cobbled stone or a longer flatter dirt path. For the sake of my knees, we chose the dirt path which still had an average incline of 30°. So we set of to climb the deserted path overlooking the western side of the island, opposite from where we had arrived.
We had as such a view of the Sea of Marmara with music blasting beach clubs and what I believe to be the other monastery of the Island. We rejoined the main path after a forty minute hike for the last stretch and reached the St George Monastery (or church depending on the signs we read).
It was a beautifully restored orthodox church with magnificent point of views which made us forget the extensive journey we had just taken to reach the peak, or at least until we had to walk back…
From this trip to the Istanbul vacation area, I have two main remarks, first the inhabitants of the island must be very good walkers because those hills where deadly and I can’t imagine myself wanting to ascend them daily. As a no car island, carriages, bikes or feet are the main transportation modes. Even the drinking water canisters were delivered by a horse tracked cart… My second remark and only piece of advice on how to navigate these islands is to pay close attention to where euphemism may be and to always wear sturdy shoes when in doubt because as I quickly realized the long skirt and flip flops were really not the best attire for a hike…