Tuesday 23 April 2019

Mystery, minarets and mint tea

Happy Ferry Face
It started in Bosnia - like most exciting, earth-shattering things do. That country has a magical draw and I need to spend more time there. Of course, it could just be the melancholic thoughts caused by too much beer and burek. But I digress already.

Many years ago I made a friend there, and on the rare occasions we meet, he still manages to challenge and expand my mental horizons; some people just have that effect. May 2016, sat in that dim* Sarajevski Celtic bar, he revealed he was from Turkey and it sowed a thought-seed. He said he was never coming back to Istanbul...but I’m happy he was here to go out for an epic pizza with me, although that’s his story.


After my Ukraine trip last year I wanted to fulfil another dream destination. After several months of procrastination - picking up the pieces of my latest disastrous run-in with love - I announced to the Island-bound one that I was off to Istanbul. She nodded absently, probably thinking of taking her chainsaw to my library for easier packing. 

Istanbul: the city of mystery, minarets, and mint tea - not to mention pepper grinders. One of my most precious possessions is a small Turkish pepper grinder which my dad bought for me many years ago. So there are some fragments of my dad are here too. I remember some of the Turkish ceramics in my Torquay home - in another lifetime.

The planning process needed a calendar, pen, paper, advanced Brexit insight (hahaha), visas, and resulted in a minor nervous breakdown and skin rash. Work still needs me in London regularly, I can’t be out of Croatia for more than 30 days, I need to be in Split from 11th May, Bournemouth in June ... and I have no place to stay in London. And yes, I still appreciate the odd weekend not travelling. Still, all worked out but it has pushed back my trip to Sark, sadly.

With islands in mind I decided to take my Easter holidays on the local Princes' Islands - specifically Büyükada. People say that it is a mere day trip, which is why I knew that 3 days wouldn’t be long enough. Half of the island is forested, whilst the town there is a charming collection of cafes and old wooden villas. From the moment I disembarked in the rain, I was lost. Literally and figuratively; I hadn’t downloaded a map, my apartment wasn’t in the right place on any maps, and I was in love with the place. 

I did what any sensible person would do - I sat in a sheltered cafe, had Turkish mint tea and a large sticky cake.


A few days in Istanbul and a fellow visitor had shown me how to use the excellent public transport system. Practice had mostly involved hopping on and off ferries, and admiring the cityscape from the sea. Although the the uphill underground F1 Taksim - Kabatas funicular was excellent fun. 

The Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus - names with dreams and mythology attached. My water obsession was rewarded on Friday morning when a school of dolphins played tag with cormorants as we sailed past. Not sure how many people saw them because there was only one idiotic person sat on deck in the cold rain (see pic above). These sea creatures made my morning as we headed out to Adalar.

The freshly baked sesame seeded bread rings were pretty good too.

As the rain cleared, my backpack and I set off up the car-free streets to find where I thought my place was. The faded grandeur of the wisteria-scented princely residences was echoed in the soft clip-clop of the many faytons. Many people have little electric scooters but I saw people carrying shopping, bikes, equipment in these elegant horse-drawn carriages. As I headed into up the forest I sensed my apartment was really not close so I headed to the museum to get some directions. Turns out that my apartment was 100m away from my starting point. Least I’d burnt off my (very sugary) cake.

I meandered back into town and had a phone call with my host’s friend. This language makes Croatian feel like a stroll through the woods. My apartment was quirky; this attic had a basement, obviously. But the views were exactly as promised. Although I was tired and hot, I quickly unpacked and left the place because I needed milk, wine and WiFi! I was also determined not to cook** over the weekend because - damnit - I needed a break. 

* Dim - also aptly means smoke in Croatian. 
**I had already broken the stove so I was scared to turn the gas on

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