Travel: : Heybeliada Island, Turkey
Islet in the sun
The writer visits a lovely Turkish island with no cars but plenty of shaggy dogs.
It’s a 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?
Istanbul has 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.
Heybeliada, I notice, seems overrun with shaggy dogs, cute, solemn-eyed canines and feral mongrels alike.
There are 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.
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 Google.
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.
Heybeliada is 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, Heybeliadaand Kınalıada are open to visitors.
Isles of exile
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& R.
Heybeliada has 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.