Awww man, our last day, it’s hardly sinking in. As we went down the elevator to breakfast this morning neither of us could believe we were starting our 15th day in Turkey. Its felt so fast, less than a week ago we were riding a hot air Balloon, and a week before that on the water in the south, those days feeling ages ago. And yet at the same time it feels like we just left home yesterday and don’t we have so much more travel yet to do?
We’re pretty tired of Istanbul at this point. It’s not Istanbul so much, or the people or the things to see, more just me and Jenn aren’t really urban people. I’d much rather be at the edges of the cities, close enough to go do things, but far enough to not have to deal with the hectic, frenetic traffic and intensity, or the crush of people. Today we decide we’re going to leave the city and have one last day near the water and head out to the Princess Islands 25km south of Istanbul. We’ve been warned that during the summer months, especially on the weekends, the ferry can be overcrowded to the point of being scary, and that the islands are awash with people from Istanbul, but with Ramadan in full swing, we’re hoping it will be a bit more low key.
We catch the tram from near our hotel across the famous Gollata Bridge and a few more stops down to the ferry terminal, and from here catch the public ferry. It makes one stop on the Asian side before trucking along to the islands stopping at 4 in total. Our stop is the island of Heybeliada which makes me think of “Hey Belinda” every time I hear it, though the name often gets shortened to Heybeli. It’s a favorite beach and picnic spot apparently.
The ferry is hardly full at all, and we’re left largely on our own. Jenn takes a nap because moving vehicle, and I read the history section of our Turkey guidebook. We’ve left anything of value back in our room, and it’s just this book and my waterproof camera to keep us entertained on the ferry rides. The scenery is pretty though, and all of the islands are lush and green with very well kept properties dotting the hillsides. It’s like Catalina if Catalina wasn’t dry and desert-like.
As soon as you get off the ferry you’re met by people from “Green Beach”, a privately run beach resort sorta thing, trying to sell you on going to their place. We pass them up and follow the locals as they walk past town and out along the main road. On our way we see many horse drawn carriages in like a depot of sorts. I’d read that there are no vehicles on town other than those run by the government, much like with Catalina back home. The road leads us to a public park, though here, like everywhere, you have to pay to enter. The park is mostly deserted, but there are picnic benches under practically every tree. It’s easy to imagine that once Ramadan has passed that this place gets full of weekenders having a good time. If the ferry to Catalina wasn’t so expensive you better believe I’d visit regularly.
We find the beach associated with the park and walk down the stairs to a tiny little strip of sand and yet another turnstile. But I paid to enter the park already! We pick out a pair of plastic lounges and read a bit while the sun gets a little higher in the sky. It’s not nearly as hot as it was in Fethiye, and the water is a fair bit chillier. I wonder if colder water from the Black Sea is coming down from the Bosporus and mixes in these waters cooling them. We get up to our waists and decide we’d rather just lay out. Out of the water isn’t a ton better, there are little sand fleas jumping on is. I can’t tell if they’re biting or not, but neither of us is very fond of the idea of getting eaten up before flying home. We’re at the beach for a little over an hour before being kinda over it and moving on. It’s almost lunch time by now anyway and I’m already quite hungry.
Back in town we find a nice little kebap place right off one of the main roads and enjoy people watching. The later ferries are bringing more people. The horse drawn carriages are now getting pretty consistent work and every few minutes we see another pair of horses go by pulling some people up the hill on a tour. It seems like a brilliant way to have low ecological impact here, especially since its green enough year round for them to graze. We notice they have odd shoes on with long overhangs off the back of their feet, and that they must have sneakers of some kind on to deal with the pavers and asphalt. They’re well taken care of and Jenn is having a blast picking out her next Turkish Endurance horse.
After lunch we decide to follow the route the carriages are taking up hill as a nice diversion. The town is experiencing a clear rejuvenation. Many of the houses look to have been built at the turn of the last century but since had fallen into disrepair. Near the gleaming city center everything is pristine, but as we walk further out we find more and more houses looking run down, but nearly every single one of them has someone outside cutting wood, painting, or doing something. You can tell Turkey as a whole has seen an upswing in fortunes in the last few decades, and the growing middle class of Istanbul is spending money in Heybeliada. The lush green nature of the island overflows into the neighborhoods with every house covered in green plants and often bright purple bougainvillea.
Along the way we also stopped at a fresh green grocer which is something we haven’t seen around yet, and had a delicious peach and banana.
After walking a while it seems we’ll just see more houses. Jenn is content with our visit and ready to head back to Istanbul. We missed the ferry but that’s fine, another comes in an hour and it’ll give us time to sit at one of the waterfront café and enjoy the view and some sweets before heading back.
We order some baklava, possibly our last of the trip, and some Turkish ice cream which we’ve discovered is amazing if not probably the least healthy sort (it’s so damn thick and creamy!) with some tea and coffee. MMmmm delicious. We can see boats milling about, and Istanbul off in the distance. I think across from us is where Sabiha is. It’s nice. A great way to wrap up the trip.
Back on the ferry I crashed hard on Jenn’s shoulder. I think I made it all of 10 minutes before falling asleep. Somehow she stayed awake and was able to wake me when we got to our stop, the end of the line. To me it felt like no time at all had passed.
Our timing couldn’t have been better though, by the time we were back at the hotel and showered it was just half an hour until we needed to leave to make our showing of the whirling dervishes. This practice of Islam meant to bring the participant closer to God isn’t practiced any longer, and was actually outlawed by Attaturk, but is now performed by dance troops as a way to hold onto history, but also entertain us silly tourists. We made reservations for a performance of the Sema ceremony that they’re known for.
The venue is really pretty, and ancient Hamam that has been converted over to being a dance troop’s venue. It’s well lit, and very professional. We’re sadly not allowed to take pictures, even with flash off, and so I don’t have any to share. The performance was mesmerizing, but very very very long for what it is. Not a whole lot happens. They bow. They twirl for minutes at a time, then they do it again. And again. And again. Eventually it finishes and I’m almost sleep. I feel like the Lonely Planet guide when it recommends this as a thing to do should include a warning that it’s very slow.
Back at our room we unload the camera gear I pointlessly brought with me and planned to go out for dinner. I had read about a Kebap place that’s supposedly the “King of Kebaps” and after some waffling on trying to get there, figure out what train stop we need to get off at and head down to the Gar right next to the hotel. Only the train doesn’t run right now. I remember online reading about plans they had to connect the European side train with the high speed train line to Ankara and the train line to Izmir, perhaps they’re working on that? Plans to the wind, we decide to eat at the Gollata Bridge. It’s apparently one of the things to do, to get a fresh fish sandwich from one of the floating restaurants.
The area down by the bridge is chock full of people and more like what I’d assumed the bazaar to be like. It’s not for the tourists, it’s for the commuters. For a few lira we get a sandwich each, and a couple more a cup of fresh squeezed orange juice. We add some corn that was too dried out, and an over sweet desert. It’s cool though, and quite the experience. We get our food right about as Ramadan’s fast passes and people are sitting all around enjoying their first meal in over 17 hours. It’s like a party. For one of the first times this entire trip I feel like I’m actually experiencing life in Turkey with the Turks and not some Disney façade of what Turkey should be. It’s real people, and real life.
On our way back to the hotel we stop by Hafiz Mustafa again, this time to get some vacuum sealed boxes of Turkish Delight to bring home with us. This is as nice as it gets.