Saturday, July 18, 2009

the princes' islands

When I was a little girl, my family and I would take a ferry ride to Büyükada, the largest of the Princes' Islands for a day of dondurma, fish mezzes, long walks and horse buggy rides. Cars are forbidden on the islands, so you get around on foot, bike or by horse buggy. As I child I believed that cars weren't allowed because the islands were too small to support the weight of cars, and that the islands would sink. I don't know the real reason for the ban, I suppose it's to preserve the islands' charm and serenity. I remember Büyükada as a quiet, quaint little island with tree-shaded streets and beautiful Victorian wooden houses.

With these happy childhood memories in mind, I planned a day trip out to Büyükada with my friend Nuri. We hopped on a "conventional ferry"— there's a difference between the ferries in Istanbul, conventional ferries are the old-fashioned white boats that are slower, prettier and in my opinion, more romantic than their modern counterparts, the seabuses. The seabuses will however, shorten the hour and a half ride down to about an hour, but you can't sit out on deck as it is entirely enclosed. You catch the conventional ferries at a separate iskele (port) that is also more old-fashioned looking, often a little white wooden building with blue accents that is right next to the regular port. Since I enjoy the feeling of nostalgia, Nuri and I took the conventional ferry for 3 liras from Kabataş.

Our boat was the Barış Manço, named after one of Turkey's most famous and influential rock musicians, according to Wiki. It was a miracle that we found a seat; the boat was so full that it felt more like a floating dolmuş than a ferry. I recommend getting to the iskele early and buying your jeton before they open the gate so that when they do, you can zip on board and grab a seat. Once the boat takes off, a simitçi, a vendor who sells simit, will come by offering these tasty and oh-so-Turkish round breads covered in sesame seeds for 50 kuruş. Then the çay guy comes around with a dispenser of çay (tea) and paper cups. What ferry ride is complete without a simit and çay?

The Büyükada Iskelesi is a wonderful little building with lots of wooden details and beautiful tiles on the exterior. I particularly like the customer service windows. This one doesn't seem to be used much. I don't know why it didn't cross my mind that about 20 years have passed since I last stepped foot on the islands, and that the tranquil little island of my childhood might have turned into a frenzy of tourists and horse traffic. Yes, there was a little horse buggy traffic. I was going to post some pictures of the crowds, but a crowd is a crowd, and I'd rather show you the beauty. I bet if you went in spring or fall, Büyükada would be a dream.

Dozens of fish restaurants run along the seaside, and I suspect they are all about the same in quality and price. We had seaweed, taramasalata and octopus mezze dishes for starters, followed by a delicious grilled fish from the Mediterranean. Here's a little caveat: mezze dishes are all priced differently from a couple lira to 20, and the grilled fish can be anywhere from 6 lira to 100. Make sure you find out how much your fish is so you can avoid any surprises when the bill comes.

After lunch, we decided we needed some dondurma to enjoy whilst waiting in the long line for a horse buggy. A buggy ride will cost you between 40 and 50 lira, depending on if you choose the short or long tour. It really is a fun way to see the island, or you can rent a bike.

The ferry back to Kabataş was sticky and squished— people try to squeeze their bodies into any available space, even if they don't fit. I was not expecting this, but since I take public transportation regularly, I am somewhat used to being pushed and leaned on. What are you going to do, right? It was still a wonderful ride. I love a ferry ride regardless of space and comfort. And what a lovely day it was.


Suniha Uzair said...

Lovely piece of writing. We just came back from visiting Istanbul yesterday.Buyukuda was on my priority list. Reading many views on the web gave me the a very quiet, dreamy and relaxed impression of the Island. But to my dismay, when we got there, it was so crowded, I was surprised how the island was holding so many people. There were horse carts every where, my husband almost got trampled over by one of them, and that was the only exciting thing my kids got to see, the horsecart ride I meant, not the husband part lol. I was told its quite busy in summer, but spring was awfully busy. All in all, it was a nice short trip, we had taken the conventional ferry, not out of choice, but with no regrets. It was fun watching merchants sell their products, and musicians playing their instruments whilst collecting money.

szaza said...

Thank you so much, Suniha!
I am sorry that it was not the most pleasant experience— for some reason the islands have become so much more crowded in the past few years, and on a gorgeous day, you can barely move! When I was a child, it was so quiet and lovely. I'm glad your husband is ok— the horse carriage drivers are insane!