Tuesday 2 September 2014

Turkish Delight: The Wandering Prince

One of the Princes' Islands

Horse-cart station at Buyukada

Fatih's Tourist Police


I had reserved a whole day during the trip for visiting Prince's island. In all the Top-10 lists of places that must be visited in Istanbul, Princes’ Islands are placed near the top end. Many people that I met in Turkiye were of the opinion that the islands are a world in themselves, distinct from Istanbul and probably the best thing about it. A Pakistani friend who lives in Ankara these days told me that he felt the most peaceful in Istanbul while visiting those islands.

Walking through hippodrome, I saw some tourists taking pictures with the ‘tourist police’. I was amazed at the efficiency levels of Turkish municipalities especially when it came to cleaning up. Thousands of people descended upon hippodrome during Ramadan daily but there was no sign of trash come next morning. The tram from Sultanahmet took me to Kabataş from where I hopped on a ship towards Prince's island. It took us almost an hour to reach the place, as we traveled through the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara. I didn't find many English-speakers on the ship but I had gotten used to this situation by then. The most memorable moments during the journey were the showmanship and performance of the Captain of ship. He demonstrated little tricks using citrus fruits and urged the passengers to applaud him. Most people on the ship were families out for a day-trip and picnic.

The Prince Islands are an archipelago off the coast of Istanbul, in the Sea of Marmara. They consist of four large islands, Büyükada(Big İsland), Heybeliada, Burgazada and Kınalıada and many smaller islands. I disembarked the ship at Büyükada. 

The first thing that got my attention at the island itself, was a huge flag of Fenerbahçe football club(current champions of the Turkish league). I had no idea what to do after reaching the place so I roamed around to assess the situation. I found a horse-cart station where one can hire a horse-cart with a driver who takes one across the island. The short-tour was supposed to cost 70 (yetmish) Liras, which I thought was a bit expensive. I found a cheaper and healthier alternative nearby. There were multiple shops that let one borrow a bike at the rate of 5 Lira per hour. I have loved riding a bicycle ever since I was a child. I used to roam around my city on a bicycle and have a few scars to show for my efforts. 

I got a bicycle on rent and start pedaling on a random road. It was easy at the start but I was faced with a dilemma within a few minutes. The road was not horizontal in character, in fact, it had an ascent.It was not like the plain streets and alleys of my city. While biking upstream, my bicycle almost gave in. I have never used the gears on a bike and have no idea how they function. As a result, i was exhausted within 10 minutes of starting my Island adventure. 

I opted to walk along the bike until i had little energy or motivation left for it. I was panting for air, sweaty and very thirsty. The return journey went very smoothly because I didn't have to pedal and used only the breaks to control my ride. I went back to the bicycle store and a guy there urged me to try again. I took a different route during my second attempt and spent almost an hour cycling around the place.During this ride,a guy asked me for directions in Türkçe to whom I replied that I don't understand Türkçe, in Türkçe (Türkçe Bilmiyorum)  :P 

Büyükada is a primarily residential area visited by people who want to enjoy picnic. There's a small beach-like place as well where I found people swimming and sun-bathing. The horse-carts run wildly on the road and bikers are at a risk of getting trampled by the horse-carts. 

I had to wait for almost half an hour to board the ship back to Kabatas. At the station, I saw an Arab guy wearing a stupid T-shirt which said, "No means Yes"(I found it stupid because it was a polar opposite of feminist slogan "No means No"). The ship that brought us back, stopped at all the small islands en route. It reminded of the old, rotting public buses in Pakistan that stop after every five minutes, irrespective of space for passengers. Some passengers tempted the seagulls during our voyage and the birds kept flying close to the ship, looking for bread crumbs. I talked to an Englishman on the ship who was a frequent visitor to Istanbul. He recommended that I should read "Forty rules of love" by Elif Shafak as I was going to visit Konya. I found two senior citizens sitting side by

Later on, I spent some fun time with Meltem, Furkan and Özge. I confided in them that I had not had a proper Turkish meal since I landed because of what happened last year(I coughed for almost a month and a friend of mine got terribly sick). They encouraged me to try the dishes so I asked them about Iskander, Piyaz and Simit. Özge told me about her fondness of waffles(from Mado), irrespective of flavors and that she liked watching different people(and that,according to her,was the reason why she chose to do volunteer work). Furkan revealed his love for history, and how he was learning Italian to be able to understand historical documents. We also discussed political prospects of Fatih's mayor, Mustafa Demir(whose whole family is into the profession of dentistry). Furkan and Özge were of the view that Fatihullah Gülen(Pennsylvania-based Turkish preacher who has established schools all over the world and was a former ally of the AK party) was a "traitor". Meltem confessed her fondness for dystopian novels including "1984" by George Orwell and "A brave new world" by Aldous Huxley. 

We encountered a guy from Konya who was studying Sharia'h at the university and knew about Pakistan. He could understand English but had trouble in talking the language(a common problem for many Turkish students that I met during my stay). He told me that he was more interested in Arabic than in English. Afterwards, we had an unpleasant experience with a middle aged man who tried to shame me for not fasting, and pooh-poohed the volunteers when they told him to keep his opinions to himself.  

I was supposed to travel to Ankara the next day and I wanted to get the ticket beforehand. I decided to use the tramvay to go to Otogar. Boarded the tram from Sultanahmet and got off at Aksaray, walked a bit till the İstasyanu and got on the tram for Airport. It dropped me off en route at the Otogar. During the ride, I saw a girl checking Facebook, zooming in on the picture of a guy and looking at the girls in the background. It was so "girlish" that I almost broke into a chuckle, but restrained myself somehow. Got off at the Otogar, got the ticket and took the return tram to Aksaray. Walked from the station to YousufPaşa and went to Karakoy and from there to Taksim. 

I had seen books by Elik Shafak at a chic bookstore in Isteklal Street and I got a copy of it. I felt very hungry after my exertions during the day and had initially planned to find some Piyaz as appetizer and then to have a meal from Fat-burger. I chanced upon a shop in Isteklal that had an open salad bar, so i decided to skip Peyaz and to enjoy some salad(Salata) of my own liking. After enjoying salad i was moving towards Fatburger when I saw a shop titled "Patato"( In Türkçe  the word for 'potato' is ‘Patates’). I ventured in and found a dish called Patso, which was basically french fries in a panini bun with ketchup and mayonnaise as topping. I decided to give it a try. It was not a princely meal but it was enough to satiate my hunger. 

On my way back, i encountered a few people selling Che-guevara merchandise and some Turkish magazines. I also saw an office-building owned by the Turkish Communist party,located right next to a mosque :P . 

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