Bicycle Diaries: Princes’ Islands

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Life in Istanbul is not for the faint-hearted. The city’s official population sits between 12 and 13 million people, but ask any local and they’ll tell you it’s at least 20 million. Thankfully though, there are pockets of serenity amongst the hustle and bustle of the second largest city in the world (depending on how you measure population). One such pocket is the Princes’ Islands, situated in the Sea of Marmara, an easy ferry ride from the Asian side of Istanbul. Keen to soak up the last of the summer heat before the school year begun, some of the new teachers and I decided to head for Büyükada, the largest of the islands and home to some of the region’s best beaches and parks. 

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We arrange to meet in Kadıköy, most of us looking worse for wear after a night of solid partying in Taksim. Thankfully the ferry ride isn’t too tumultuous, and we sit nursing our hangovers, sipping çay and watching the city retreat into the distance. We arrive on Büyükada less than an hour later, and are ejected into a throng of touts selling jewelry and knock-off designer clothes. Fortunately once we’re outside the main throng of the ferry port things are much more serene. We rent some bikes and decide to circumnavigate the island. There are no cars on the islands, which means you can cycle around without worrying about being target practice for moving vehicles – save for the numerous horse and carts that shuttle the less adventurous tourists between the town and the beaches. 

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Passing gorgeous old Ottoman mountains, we decide to stop for a swim to try and cool down from the blistering heat. Unfortunately it seems that Europe’s penchant for charging for sub-par beaches has made its way out here too, and we opt not to pay 10 lira for a 3×3 square of pebbles. There must be a free beach somewhere on the island, so we press on.

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Soon enough we’ve deserted any sign of civilisation entirely, and we’re cycling through pine forests hugging the rugged coastline. It’s easy enough to forget that there are millions of people going about their business just on the other side of the bay. After numerous aborted attempts to sneak into the numerous paid beaches around the island, we end up doing as the locals do and jumping off the rocks not far from the ferry port. The light starts to fade, so we return our bikes and treat ourselves to a fresh seafood dinner. Even though I’ve only been in Istanbul for a few weeks, it’s refreshing to get away from the craziness of my new life, even for just a day.

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