Sunday, June 17, 2007

On to the Sea of Marmara (Turkey)

Yesterday, I spent a whopping 2 Lira to board a ferry bound for Büyükada, the largest of the Prince’s Islands. The islands, located in the Sea of Marmara, are very popular with Istanbulers during the summer.

My adventure began at 8:30am as I jumped in a cab bound for Sirkeci, the theoretical departure point for my trip. When I arrived, I asked three separate people where the boat was and all I could understand was that I was in the wrong place and that I needed to be at a place called Kabataş. I called a friend of mine who told me that my new destination was very close to my apartment. I jumped back into a taxi and traced my steps back to the port. I arrived at 9:10am and the ferry had just left at 9:00am. The next ferry left at 10:40am. I sat in the weighting area and noticed how everyone was already lining up at the gate like racing horses. I decided to join them. At 9:40am, the race truly did begin. As soon as the door was opened, the pushing and running started. I joined in thinking they must know something I didn’t. We ran into the boat, and leaped up the stairs for the prime seats on the outer deck in the shade. I snagged a great seat next to the edge. During the next hour, more and more people showed up. Of course when the Americans arrived about 15 minutes before departure, all the seats had been long taken. After we had set sail, I noticed a woman standing with her young daughter. I decided to give up my seat and her husband placed his hand to his chest in the Turkish way of saying “thank you.” I went to stand by him and we struck up a conversation, although his English was not too good. We conversed the rest of the way and finally were able to find a seat after passengers had disembarked at the first three island stops. Sea gulls glided next to the ferry dive-bombing pieces of bread that passengers hurled into the air. A seventy-year old man followed the ferry on a jet ski as we closed in on our destination. He ramped up the waves created by the wake of the boat.

Upon arriving at Büyükada, my new friends and I decided to grab a bite to eat. Mehmet, the father, told me that he needed to briefly visit a friend of his and would be returning shortly. His wife, daughter and I were left eating by ourselves. We tried to communicate, but neither of us understood the others language. Body language would have to suffice. Upon his return, Mehmet acted as translator while we drank some Turkish tea. When it was time to pay, Mehmet informed me that he had already taken care of the bill. What an incredible act of generosity. I thanked him profusely and then we went our separate ways.

My first order of business was to acquire some means of transportation. Officially, the islands do not allow cars, but I did see a few while I was there. The options for travel on the island included renting a bike, renting a Phaeton (Horse-drawn carriage), or walking. I chose the former for 3 Lira/hour. The bike was not in the best shape, but it would do. I started my journey by following the road where most of the carriages were traveling. I figured they probably knew where they were going. Unfortunately, the bike would not change to the lowest gear, so steep hills were quite challenging. As I progressed up the side of the island, my view became more and more spectacular. Off in the distance were the other members of the Prince’s Islands along with the Asian side of Turkey. I circumnavigated the island and then decided to brave the steep climb up to a monastery. Up and up and up I climbed pushing my trusty bike along the way. “Why did the monks need to be at the top of the island,” I wondered. The beach is quite nice… AND closer. Finally, I reached the top and was rewarded with an incredible view. In order to enter the church, I had to put on some pants, since no one was allowed to enter with bare legs.

After returning my bike, I decided it was high time for some nourishment. I really haven’t drunk as much milk while in Turkey, so I thought it would be a good time to go dairy and get some ice cream. I chose the waffle cone that had been dipped in chocolate and coated with pistachios. I chose three flavors and traded my 5 Lira for the tantalizing cone. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with the ice cream. This is the second time that I have given in to one of my weakness for ice cream and the second time that I have been disappointed. I don’t know what it is, but the flavors are not very strong.

After two hours of intense biking, I needed a nap. My first option was a bench next to the police station. I decided to continue my search when I saw a policeman holding a machine gun. Finally, I found some nice grass where other Turks were lazing in the shade. I found a nice spot and drifted off to sleep. When my cell phone alarm sounded, I knew it was time to head back for the ferry. I waited in line along with the hundreds of people around me like a herd of cattle. When the gates were opened we all began to run towards the ferry to stake our claim. It seems that no matter where you are in the world, people are basically the same.


Joel Montgomery

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