gorgeous morning, a brisk wind rifling the surface of the Sea of Marmara, the
sun still in a mild mood though we have crested the mid-day point. I’m on the deck of the Baris Mancu and I’m
wondering if I’ve done the right thing. I mean, Istanbul has more things to see
and do than a few days` activity can
possibly warrant. I have yet to see the Dolmabahce Palace, yet to stroll along
the Galata bridge, yet to visit the Museum of Innocence.
So what am I
doing on this boat, having taken an impulsive decision to head out to one of
the Prince Islands for a day trip? Is it going to be one precious day wasted, a
day I cannot afford on my tight Turkey timeline?
ALL PHOTOS: SHEILA KUMAR
And then my
attention is caught in the most startling way. A seagull flies low, literally
beside me, and he (or is she?) seems to be looking straight into my eyes. I
blink, in bemused fashion, then the gull moves in closer. Omigawd, I think,
shrinking, only to discover the bird has deftly taken the piece of bread from
the hand proffering it, next to me. And then, as if to say thank you, it
performs a graceful one-wing fly-past. This, I decide, is NOT going to be a day
takes a little over an hour to reach Heybeliada Island and I`m hungry; it’s all that sea air, probably.
So, the moment I get off, I go in search
of lunch. This is the easy as pie: the dock has an array of seafood cafes
and bistros, and I pick the one with the most cheerful
awning (blue and white) and proceed to feast on what is possibly the best repast
of my Turkey trip. I partake of some
freshly fried fish, nibble on a lahmacun, which is basically Turkish
pizza, wash it down with a glass of ayran
and top up the meal with a poncik, delicious pastry smeared with jam and dusted
with icing sugar. Replete, I am ready to take on Heybeliada now.
cats coming out of the stone work, little marmalade kitties inside the Hagia
Sophia, tabbies on ancient stone steps, fluffy white felines preening beside
the statue of a lion at the Topkapi Palace, just about everywhere. Hebeliada, I
notice, seems overrun with shaggy dogs,
cute, solemn-eyed canines and feral mongrels alike.
two striking buildings on the island.
One abuts the jetty, the Naval Cadet School, on the grounds of which stands the Kamariotissa, the last Byzantine church to be built
before the conquest of Constantinople. The other structure
that catches the eye sits atop a high hill, looming above the tree line, the 11th-century
Aya Triyada( Haghia Triada, the Holy Trinity) Greek Orthodox monastery.
There are no
cars on Heybeliada , thanks be. I decline to take a phaeton ride and decide to
explore the island on foot, all 2.35 sq kms of it, or almost all of it. Upon
reflection, this really is the best way to see the place. I pass pine copses at
regular intervals, I walk past sloping meadows with daisies nodding their
bright heads in the breeze, and every few hundred yards, I come upon smiling men
and women who could so easily be Greek/Armenian, both from their attire,
headkerchiefs and weatherbeaten
features. These people are friendly and ready to chat but for the
insurmountable language barrier.
And a little
felicity with words would have gone a
long way here. Because I come across a row of clapperboard houses, stately
residences but strange residences, some of them at least. Quite a few of these Ottoman
style houses have half of their
structure in spick- and -span condition and the other half is flaking, worn, with shutters hanging loose.
Some of them had the nazar embedded
in the door or hanging from a piece of ribbon on a window. These schizophrenic abodes
are intriguing as hell but there isn’t a soul around who can satisfy my
curiosity in any language I can understand. Ah well, I think, there`s always
So, on I
walk, rubber-necking like mad. The sun sends dappled columns down from the
treetops. Mimosa trees shed their blossom softly and I walk on a yellow-petal
carpet. The air is not quiet; there is the noise of the wind in the trees, much
birdsong and the occasional clip -clop of the buggy horses as they trot past,
the swish of cycle tyres as bikers bike past. Every few yards, I glimpse the
blue ocean, and stand transfixed. Parts of the isle are a riot of flowers: blue and pink hydrangeas,
giant orange gerberas, violet, blue and yellow wildflowers.
a saddle between hills, the second largest of the nine Prince Islands that lie in the Sea of Marmara, to the southeast of Istanbul. The largest isle is Buyukada,
the others are Burgazada, Kınalıada, Sedef Adası, Yassıada, Sivriada, Kaşık Adası
and Tavşan Adası. Today only Büyükada,
Burgazada, Heybeliada and Kınalıada are open to visitors.
These are islands with a fascinating history. Princes
and lesser royals were exiled on one or the other island during the Byzantine
period. Over the centuries, these enclaves have served as prison, convent, seminary,
retreat, school; now of course, they are where the seriously wealthy come for some R
a summer and winter population. During the colder months, only about 3,000
people live here; in summer, that number swells to 10,000, when owners come back
to their holiday homes.
soon, it is time for me to head back to the pier to catch the boat back to the
mainland. Since I have time, I settle
down to a cup of Turkish coffee in the piazza, and watch a well-dressed madman talking long and
earnestly to a bust of Kemal Ataturk.
And I reflect on the fact that Edward
Barton, the second English Ambassador to be sent to Constantinople by Elizabeth I of
England, chose to
reside on this island to escape the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. Wise man,
indeed, though one wonders what could have constituted h. and b. back in that
On the boat
back to Istanbul, I am treated to another show by the seagulls. This time a
phalanx of them soar, swoop, dive in for the bread from many hands, fly in
formation, generally keeping us well entertained.
gulls do their thing, I have an epiphany.
Sometimes, a day spent walking on an island is just what the madly-
dashing- hither- and-thither tourist needs.