Büyükada Day

Prinkipo or Büyükada, as the name in Turkish tells you, is a big island. It’s also a big tourist destination right now, much to the distress of Istanbul’s weekenders. That’s why you should never go on weekends this time of year without your own private pad to enjoy. My advice is visit between Sunday evening and Friday morning. There will still be some tourists, especially in the vicinity of the ferry port. However, if you grab a horse and carriage, walk or rent a bicycle—as I did at the staggering expense of 10TL/day—you can easily escape for some quiet seclusion in the hills and enjoy a vista worthy of Elysium.

If you do choose to rent a bicycle, be forewarned: there are some substantial hills on Büyükada. Despite knowing this, I somewhat overestimated my level of fitness and attacked the slopes in the early afternoon heat. I was also somewhat overdressed, opting for sun protection over heat dispersion. While I hope to have staved off skin cancer for another day, I might well have died of heat stroke. Three times I passed an old Muslim man slowly wending his way up the hill with a heavy load on his back only to concede to his greater wisdom with a nod of acknowledgement before he disappeared at his tortoise-like pace into the horizon while I huffed in the shade of a magnolia. Eventually I got off my bike and pushed it to the top of the hill where the housing becomes less dense, and the foliage changes from broad leaves into thin needles. Still, I was rewarded with shade, wind, quiet, and such a breath-taking view out across the Sea of Marmara, I’m lucky that I didn’t asphyxiate myself after all the pushing and pedaling. I was probably saved by the extra dose of oxygen in the automobile-free island air. This wasn’t my first time here, but I’d forgotten the extent of the island’s beauty.

It’s just as well I didn’t keel over, as no one was around. I think I spent around an hour up on the hill crest exploring before glimpsing another living soul. There was the occasional clatter here and there, and obscured voices, but it was astonishingly empty. Mostly it was only the wind through the trees that spoke to me. Not a tourist, or even a local in sight, just old houses, some inhabited, some desolate like this slightly creepy one that I stopped to look at. Perfect scene for a mystery/thriller/horror movie, no?

From there on in it was all downhill— in a good way. I coasted my mountain bike down to Club Mavi, a hotel I’ve stayed at before. This time I wasn’t looking for accommodation, I was looking for lunch and a view. Though the menu is not extensive, the food they do, they do really, really well. One thing that hadn’t slipped my memory was the taste of their piliç kulbastı (chicken cutlet) about as tender, moist and delicious a serving of chicken you could ask for. Unfortunately they were out, or so they told me, so I contented myself with sigara boreği (herbed cheese pastry) and a çoban salata of cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, onions. It was mighty tasty, though I’m sure my slog up the hill didn’t hurt my appetite in the slightest. Neither did the litre and a half of ice-cold water I gulped down either.

As this is Turkey, I had some uninvited guests for lunch, who were only too pleased to offer their assistance with the piliç kulbastı that a waiter suddenly appeared with and deposited on my table. As I said, I had an appetite, so my new friends were denied. Post lunch it was time to sit back and enjoy the view, the hammocks and a nice cold one, which somehow, like everything else in the islands, tastes better than in the city. Must be the oxygen.

Come back for Büyukada Evening, tomorrow.