An Offbeat Experience in Istanbul – Biking Buyukada

By Lakshmi:

“A Turkish Idyll Lost in Time”, read the enticing headline of an article introducing readers to the tranquil island of Buyukada, a two square mile  island in the Sea of Marmara.   Less than a month later, on a clear but somewhat chilly August morning, we were on a ferry watching the Istanbul skyline fade away and the small town of Buyukada welcoming us.

For many years, Istanbul held this special place in my heart.  The history was fascinating, the Turks I knew built an even greater longing to visit, and the yummy Turkish food, especially the Imam Bayildi and Baklava we had sampled in Washington and Germany, left me craving for the authentic culinary experience.

Alas, when we arrived in Istanbul in August, it was overrun with tourists.  Every place we went, we had to stand in long lines and crane our necks to see things.  Travel to us is all about blending into the place, experiencing at least a slice of the local people and life, and unfortunately, every place we went to felt like a giant contest to get in line with half of Europe who seemed to be in town.

It was in this frame of mind that we set out to Buyukada, hoping to get a dollop of old world authentic Turkish charm.  And the island did not disappoint.

As we got off the boat and sauntered onto the island, we were immediately drawn by the small town feel….horse drawn carriages, bikes, people afoot and no cars.  This was already feeling good.

After a quick pick-me-up cup of coffee, we headed over to rent bikes.  Our goal?  Spend the day biking across the island, stopping to take in what our hearts fancied.

The day was indeed the ideal antidote to the rest of our trip, giving us a palette of audio-visual treats.

  • The Ottoman era mansions lining the streets were old, beautiful distinctive structures with architectural interest and ample greenery and foliage.  Many an affluent family from the mainland own a home here and rentals are popular among authors and poets.
  • The horse-drawn carriages transporting people to the two peaks, the clickety clack of the horses’ hooves creating a consistent background score throughout the day
  • Children racing one another, yelling and laughing
  • A set of teenagers racing their bikes, trying to pause, gawk and overtake us
  • People weaving through the market place eating lokmas (turkish donuts) and ice cream
  • The spectacular views from Agia Yorgi, a tiny hilltop church
  • The mares resting for a potty break on the roadside, their smells melding with those of the fragrant flowers carried by the fresh breeze
  • The many small restaurants each vying for our attention by yelling out their menus
  • Just us sitting at the top of a peak, with nothing but the ocean in front of us, reminding us of how gratifying even a small moment can be

As we watched the sun going down, we returned our bikes and made our way to a ferry packed to the brim with people heading back to the mainland.  As Buyukada gradually faded away and the distant lights of Istanbul twinkled on the horizon, we reflected on the day and agreed that this would be one Istanbul memory that would stay with us forever.

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