The World is an amazing place .... go and be in it

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A right royal high

The last time I rode on a horse drawn vehicle was when I was twelve and the local country show. Then it was a lumbering dray piled high with square bales of straw that you sat on, which scratched your legs and pricked your backside. It wasn't the most pleasant of rides from what I remember and didn't go for very long. So when I saw the beautiful fancy carriages with red button cushion and wicker seats, chrome lamp holders and a pretty frill around the canopy, I just couldn't resist climbing aboard and playing princess for a day. And what more fitting place to do this than the gorgeous Princes Islands in the Marmara Sea, just off of Istanbul. These Islands had been high on my list from the very beginning of my trip planning. I was fascinated to find Turkey had three Seas within a very short distance and connected by very narrow waterways. The Black Sea flowed via the Bosporus to the Marmara which flowed via The Dardanelles to the Aegean . I decided to try an take a trip on each of the seas and when I found out about the Princes Islands I just knew I had to go there.


It was a gloriously sunny day as we made way to Kabatas to catch the ferry and as I alighted the Cable Car and spied the Dolmabahce Palace, I almost threw my days plans away and headed for this impressive building of absolute opulence. Thankfully M steered me back in the right direction and I earmarked Dolmabahce for another day. Once again we were gobsmacked at the size of the crowds at the ferry terminal. The LP Guide warns to give the Islands a miss on weekends as they are a hot favourite destination for the locals on those days, so it makes me wonder what day did the researcher do their trip, and if this is Monday, then Sunday must be an absolute squashathon! We paid the bargain price of 4Lira for the ride, then squished onto the ferry, fought for a seat, guarded it ferociously and enjoyed the views along the Asian side of Istanbul. Massive mansions and stunning Public buildings lined the shoreline, behind sat skyscrapers and blocks of apartments, it looked like there was some serious money there. From time to time, the ferry docked and took on more passengers - I have no idea how they all fitted - then the ferry dipped out towards the sea.
We could see quite clearly the Islands and it didn't take long before reaching the first island. There are 9 Islands in the Princes' group and the ferry stops at 4. The first Island was very hilly with sweet little white houses 'climbing' up the hills poking themselves over the green shrubbery that covered the hillside. Brightly painted boats lines the shoreline. The ferry stopped and a couple of people disembarked, not even making a dent in the crown number. We sailed on to the next, again only a few alighted. It was obvious those left were for the two 'touristy' Islands and it was very obvious the crowds were going to be big. Heybeliada came into view and we debated whether we should visit two islands or one for the day. (I am hopeless at making a decision and sticking to it....always wondering if I going to be missing out or making a wrong choice). From where we sat it looked very quaint with lots of white mansion size homes on the hills, lush trees and shop fronts lining the foreshore promenade. We pushed and shoved our way to the gangplank and with about 20others disembarked. As the ferry pulled away and we stepped through the turnstile, we instantly felt a peace and fell in love with Heybeli (as the island is fondly known). There was very little noise, just a bit of music that was coming from a shorefront restaurant and a jingling of bells somewhere from behind. To our left was a huge building with an amazing tiled mosaic which covered it whole front. I raised my camera to click away and received a "No Madam" which made me jump as I hadn't seen anyone around us. Right next to us on the other side of the fence was a chap in full military uniform and a very large gun. Turns out, right beside the public wharf is the navel academy, and it's two main buildings are gorgeous - impressive Victorian style architecture with beautiful laced fretwork and mosaics. I cannot get over the beauty of Turkey's mosaics, the colours and designs are out of this world! Besides the grand buildings, the grounds are also beautifully gardened.
M and I walked down the promenade, past rows of inviting restaurants offering dishes of fish and mezzes to be dined on under bright flowering arbours. In the public space of the promenade sat rows of bench seats and on closer inspection I clapped my hands in delight to see they were open books. As a lover of books and undertaking the occasional day of work in my local bookstore, to see this delighted me to no end.
The 'covers' of the book seats featured famous Turkish writers such as Huseyin Rahmi Gurpinar, Ahmet Rasim and Ilhan Berk - how I wanted one for my garden! We decided to find the 'points of interest' listed in the LP and our first choice was the Monastery which was on some hill according to the book. I looked around for a map, but unable to find one we just set off for what looked like a hill. In fact the whole island is all hills! Up, up, up we went, wandering (and puffing) along beautiful tree lined streets filled with the cutest houses covered in flourishing flowers and divine fretwork.
I couldn't stop gasping over the extreme gorgeousness of the homes, even the ones whose grandeur was quietly fading. So much so to the extent that M took to pointing out any little fault and untidy garden he could find as he had grown tied of me saying "Oh my goodness, look at that balcony.... would you just look at that door handle.... oh hunny you've just got to see this window ledge.... I want to paint our house this colour, no that colour". And so on.
As we went higher and higher the views became more spectacular and it also became exceedingly hot. We were getting sunburnt big time. Finally we had reached the edge of the village and forest and shrubbery closed in but we couldn't find the monastery nor any signs directing us to it. There also wasn't anyone in the streets to ask. It was very quiet in the 'burbs'. We turned back around and walked to the other side of the village and then back towards the forefront.

It was here I saw the gorgeous carriages and the horses. A bygone era. I knew before coming that motorised vehicles weren't on the island except for service vehicles, but we had no idea how funky the service vehicles would be.

The local garbage truck was an oversized golf buggy with a tray, the same with the Telecom vehicle and the local electrician rode a bike with a trailer, complete with ladder and tool box - it was all so quaint and delightful to see. And goes to show you don't need a gas guzzler to get the job done! We returned to the village centre, found the street with all the shops and discovered a fabulous little bakery which made amazing coffee. I was finding the Turkish coffee a little to strong for me, we Aussies seem to love our milky coffees more than the strong thick black substance that is a favourite in Turkey. That said, I will drink Turkish tea until the end of is sublime.
We decided to catch the next ferry to the Budyukada and just as we turned the corner to the terminal we found a map of the island of Heybeli. The owner of Deniz Café had made up his own maps, complete with all the significant sights to see, an overall history of the island and her famous sons. As for the monastery, we had no hope, not only were we in the wrong area, it's a fair stride up an enormous hill or better still a good bike ride away. As we boarded the next ferry, a huge crowd alighted and made way for the restaurants on the promenade - it was lunch time. There was still a fair size crowd on the ferry and absolutely no chance of finding a seat... or for that matter, moving much further from the entry way as it was very hard to go anywhere on the boat. Not that we needed to worry as it was a very short ride to the next island - Budyukada. Where as Heybeli was laid back and docile, Budyukada was the total opposite. It was like arriving at Disneyland the moment we stepped off the Ferry.
Colour, music, commotion, spectacle was everywhere. Huge crowds milled around the street junction near the terminal, most were mesmerised by the ice-cream sellers dressed in gold braiding, calling in loud voices and putting on a show that was wowing the crowd. Holding a long stick with ice-cream on the end, the seller would go to hand the cone over to the customer and just as they reached, he pull it away, or tap the ice-cream on their nose, or take the ice-cream and leave just the cone in the customers hand. No matter how quick the eatee tried to be in grabbing the ice-cream, the ice-cream sellers sleight of hand quickly teased and gently tormented them to the delight of the crowd, and to the customer. Eventually they got their ice-cream, along with big smiles that would have stayed with the customer for quite some time. For it was not everyone that received the ribbing, and that would have made them feel possibly even more special or charmed. Near the clock tower we found the carriages (also known as feytons) and asked for a 'big tour' of the island.
There was a steady line up of both customers and carriages and no time for the obligatory tourist photo as you got into the carriage - time was money! Off we went at a quick trot, all in a row with a jingle of tack and bells. I loved it.
We clip-clopped past mansion after mansion, each one incredibly grand with stunning gardens and all so very close to the road that we received a very good look at them. Soon we were out of the town and following the coast road through shrubbery and pine forest. At times the road came near the cliff tops and we could see down to the beaches. At the other end of the Island our carriage stopped to give the horses a rest and for the driver to have his cig and tea, then it was off again but by now it was starting to drizzle and the plastic sides were brought down which took away some of the glamour of the ride. Further around the island the sun broke back out, up with the plastic and once again the views were spectacular. Part of the way round we came past a type of 'memorial wall' only this was on a fence and it had a lot of plaques with the names and details of soldiers who had been killed because of terrorism. It was quite sobering to see as there were so many plaques. I knew nothing about this and was curious. Later I looked up what this was about and was shocked to see that Turkey had been dealing with an ongoing conflict since 1984. As a person who takes an active interest in world events and news, I was annoyed that this was not something that had come onto the news 'radar' in Australia, and it made me feel a little ignorant.
Back at the village we alighted the carriage and wandered off to find lunch. Thankfully we had missed the lunch time rush with most of the restaurants empty and the activity now happening in the souvenir shops. We found a little Kabap shop in a side alley with the tiniest tables and chairs to squeeze into and ordered the house speciality Kabap in a big fresh bread bun. As soon as we were finished we were given the 'scoots' as this was obviously a very busy place with customers waiting to squeeze in.
We took the fast ferry back to Istanbul, this time paying the princely sum on 5lira each. Not only was it fast for the price, but we received an entertaining show from the purser and attendants. After popping around to service tea to anyone who wanted it (nothing unusual in that) they then proceeded to demonstrate for the passengers a number of kitchen appliances -such as a peeler.... which peels vegetables and fruit... as I watched I felt like I'd been whisked into TV Shopping Channel land.... and then to my amazement passengers began putting up their hands to buy the peeler. About 20 were sold. The most bizarre thing I've ever experienced on public transport. The next item was a juicer and we were given a display how capable this little corkscrew juicer was on Lemons- the offsider attendant was the unlucky chap who had to drink the juice straight and his face said it all. The display was quite entertaining and to my horror, I found myself intrigued and thinking, hmmm 10lira for a juicer, wow that's pretty good. M looked at me, saw my interest and knowing I liked to juice things, laughed and said, "You want one don't you!"

Within forty minutes of leaving the islands we were making our way around the Spice Bazaar near the New Mosque, which incidentally was built 1597 (only just yesterday.....), the smell and visual explosion was like a sensory overload and I didn't know what to do first, smell the spices or try and choose an array of Turkish Delight.  

My sweet tooth won. 

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