Sunday, November 11, 2012
Igor's Last Cruise
It was my final day and I decided to go out to the Princes Islands. That's Princes, not Princess. See, back in the Byzantine days, they always had problems with succession. Sometimes, younger, more able sons would get the imperial nod, leaving older siblings to stew and plot. Of course, the easiest thing to do was to kill them or throw them into the empire's deepest dungeons. The more humane alternative was to exile them to the Princes Islands where they would spend their days praying and not trying to overthrow anyone. Most of the time, it worked. They also served the same purpose after the Ottomans took over in 1453. The sultan had several wives and a small army of concubines that yielded dozens of children. Many spent their lives on the Princes Islands. There were far worse ways to live.
These days, the islands are really in Istanbul. I mean, for the entire trip (an hour and a quarter), the city was off to the left - highrises, skyscrapers, sundry urban trappings, the works. It just didn't stop. It was always there. It was a very nice way to spend the day. I caught the boat in the morning from Kabataş. The fare was a whopping 5 lira - three bucks. It was full of people with the same idea. There were lots of Arabs, so there were lots of women in burkas. You don't see many Turkish women dressed like that. There were also these weird-looking people who spoke a weird-sounding language. The mystery wasn't solved until I saw them in front of a defunct church on Büyükada, the main island. They were Armenian. Anyhow, this is how it went:
Hey, it's the Blue Mosque (l) and Ayasofya (r) from the water! They're just as lovely as on land!
Lots of cruise ships, all of them way bigger than the boat I was on. Below is the first island on the stop. There's not much going on there and hardly anybody got off.
OK, this isn't my photo, but it gives a nice aerial view of Büyükada.
Here's what it looks like to an American tourist surrounded by women in burkas (whom I didn't photograph, because why?). Still very picturesque, no? There's a monastery between the two hills. I don't think it's still operating, but people hike up to it all the time. I wasn't one of them.
Here's the thing about the Princes Islands in general and Büyükada specifically: except for essential services, police, fire and garbage pickup, etc., there is no motorized transportation. So everybody travels around by horse or bicycle. OK, maybe a few people have electric golf carts, but it's all mostly by horse. And of course, the tourists love this. You can hire one of these feytons for 40 lira (about 25 bucks) and cram as many people in it as it practical. I saw one with seven passengers. They take you around the island. It's strange, but because of all the horses, the central town area of Büyükada smells strongly of horse crap. But you quickly get used to it. You also get used to seeing horses everywhere. I actually didn't hire a feyton because it was just me. That's more of something you do with somebody you have tender feelings for, as it's pretty romantic, despite the strong smell of horse crap.
I met a cat along the way. He had a limp and he was far more difficult to photograph than your average squirrel. He was not cooperative. I had nothing to bribe him with, so I was completely powerless. Still, he was nice enough. This is the best shot I got of him. I also had a dog following me for most of my trek, but I have no pictures of her.
Büyükada also has some really nice Ottoman mansions. A few look like this.
Many look like this.
And several look like this. I believe this one can still be fixed.
For this photo, I was just hanging out at the shore and trying to capture the pleasantness of the afternoon. This is it. That hazy stripe through the middle of the photo is suburban Istanbul. Honestly, it just never stops. Anyhow, I knew that the next day I'd be heading back to Seattle and that in future days, I would forget what it was like. This photo brings it all back. The weather was warm and the sea was calm. A nice breeze was blowing. Soon after I took this I was on my way back to Istanbul. The return trip was also exceedingly pleasant.
I cannot recommend a visit to the Princes Islands more. It is a wonderful place. Just don't go on a weekend because the crowds are cuh-ray-zay. I went on a Monday and it was fine.
Posted by Igor Keller