Today’s destination was Buyukada, the largest of the Princes Islands, off the Asian shore in the Marmara Sea, and a hour’s ferry ride from Istanbul. We decided to take our bikes as there are no cars on these islands. This required cycling in Istanbul, an activity against which there are many warnings. But we could ride along the waterfront off-road, then over the Galata Bridge to Kabatas Iskelesi (ferry terminal).

The bridge is a popular place for fishing at all times and there were lots of fishermen hard at it, in the middle of a major city, on a bridge that has a lower deck of cafes and restaurants, on a waterway that must be one of the world’s busiest.

At the ferry terminal we saw a man selling his wares that consisted of some shelled whole walnuts and vine leaves arranged on a bucket. With such a limited range of wares and small quantity of stock his prospects didn’t seem encouraging even if he had the best possible day. Vendors are everywhere here, selling sweet corn boiled or roasted, simitci (like thin bagels covered in sesame seeds, and same as Romanian covrigi), sweets, bananas, sunflower seeds, mussels (sold individually), chestnuts, rabbits (alive), wallets, belts… We have seen people with just a few pairs of shoes to sell, a set of scales so you can weigh yourself, a few bracelets. But the job of salesperson is generally done energetically and optimistically in most cases. I digress.

Turkish walnut and vine leaf seller

Before boarding the ferry we had time to see the Dolmabahce Mosque, in the neo-baroque style on the waterfront. (No cherubs though!).

Buyukada is a holiday destination for day trippers from Istanbul and for wealthy holiday home owners. Its main form of transport is horse-drawn vehicles that carry up to four people. We saw a lot of skinny horses today! The carriages have no brakes but have a long draw-bar to help the horses hold the load on the decent. So they spend half of their miserable life slogging up the hill and the other half with the carriage clipping their heels and hanging on their harness. It’s a dog’s life (so to speak). You can also hire bikes.

Phaeton on Buyukada

A destination for many visitors is St George’s (Orthodox, Christian) Monastery, at the top of the highest hill, too steep for the shagged-out nags but not for us. There were shonkey donkeys for hire for the final, steep section but no-one was using them when we were there. From the top we could see the extraordinary expanse of the urban spread on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Eastern expanse of Istanbul from Buyukada

The monastery is reputedly a place where infertile women go to pray. We did see some quite fervent praying taking place. As we were both wearing shorts, we were obliged to put on trousers and skirt provided at the door to ensure respectability. We looked extremely stylish, but sorry, no photo.

We timed our arrival badly as it was closely followed by that of several minibus-fulls of VIP ladies accompanied by a police escort and ambulance (just in case). No idea who they were but they quickly tired of the monastery and adjourned for lunch so then it was out turn.

After descending, a swim seemed a good idea and we found a place that provided beach access, umbrellas and plastic sun beds. But the beach was not free and we paid 5 lire each (about $3.50) to use it. We felt un-Australian paying to use a beach! Having paid, we inspected the water which was murky and gungy, so we requested our money back and left. Nearby earthworks and rubbish tip probably explained the poor water quality. The tip was also the location of the semi-permanent equine accommodation. Australian beaches are not rivalled by any beach we have seen.

It was rush hour in Istanbul when we returned. The quays and waterfront areas are packed with people most of the time and more so around 5pm. We bought balik ekmek, a popular snack of fried fish in bread with onion and lettuce – yum but be careful of bones.

A major traffic jam was created by clearing the road along the waterfront to allow unknown VIP and entourage to drive past. Serious security everywhere and a serious motorcade. The car that mattered had the Turkish VIP car #2.

A chance for a swim in the Bosphorus below the Topkapi Palace was too good to pass up. We had seen swimmers there before and as we passed, a party of men who looked like swimmers were walking along, ready to go in. Because of the strong tide, they left their things downstream, walked up, then swam back, although there’s not much swimming effort required. We did the same. (Rosalie was the only female participant.) Water temperature and cleanliness good. According to Ian’s research, 1 cubic km of  water flows each day from the Black Sea to the Marmara.

One Response to “Buyukada”

  1. kjm Says:

    “We timed our arrival badly as it was closely followed by that of several minibus-fulls of VIP ladies accompanied by a police escort and ambulance (just in case). No idea who they were but they quickly tired of the monastery”… infertile VIPS and ambulance for immaculate conceptions?


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