Beyond Gallipoli: Sea of Marmara and the Prince's Islands
To most Kiwis, and Aussies too, Turkey means one thing: Gallipoli. The battlefield is the focus of their visit, and most aim to be there for the Anzac Day ceremonies. It is, without doubt, a memorable and meaningful experience — but it can also be hard going: not just because of the emotion, but more prosaically because of the crowds, the lack of sleep, the discomfort, the sheer effort it takes to get there.
Even afterwards, back in Istanbul, there's no let-up. No-one, in all its long, long history, has ever called this city restrained. Noisy, colourful, jostling with people, energetic, it assaults all the senses 24/7, and while that is exciting and stimulating to begin with, after a while what you need is a bit of downtime.
You could do a day cruise up the Bosphorus — but that's crowded, too, with a mad scramble for the desirable outside seats, and it's a clamorous experience at the lunchtime turnaround spot, with restaurant touts vying loudly for your custom.
Wiser people opt instead for the Sea of Marmara and the Prince's Islands, edged with pebbled beaches, where terracotta-tiled wooden houses, some grand, some modest, cluster by the water and creep up the hills into the woods. These summer retreats are a soothing ferry ride from the suburb of Kabatas at the end of the tramline from the city.
* Istanbul: The other place Gallipoli pilgrims must see
* Turkey: Visit to Anzac Cove gives an insight into Gallipoli
* Should we be going to Gallipoli?
Most city escapees stay on the boat till the last, and biggest, island, Buyukada. Cleverest of all, though, are the people who step ashore at the third island on the route, Heybeliada. Here the small pretty town, home to just 3000 souls, is draped across the saddle between two hills, one of them surmounted by a historic monastery.
On the jetty, a dog sits unconcerned on the wrong side of the fence along its edge; others lie sprawled fast asleep in the middle of the road, confident of their safety. With good reason: private cars are banned, and the main traffic here is faytons, small carriages drawn by horses hitched in pairs, their hooves muffled on the cobbles with special wooden shoes.
Forty lira buys a 20-minute tour of the central island, away from the cafes and restaurants of the waterfront. It's a peaceful clop past picturesquely-peeling nineteenth century wooden houses rising above neat gardens of roses and wisteria where cats gaze back impassively at passers-by.
In a pine-shaded park on the other side, there are picnics going on and cyclists taking a breather in the shade; nearby, a bride in a frothy pink dress poses for photos holding a bunch of colourful spotted balloons. The occasional electric scooter or invalid carriage cruises past carrying bulky cargo, not all of it human; but most of the traffic is either other horses trotting briskly up the hills, or tourists and locals wandering much less energetically along quiet streets past gingerbread villas, many of them shuttered holiday homes.
At the top of the hill, priests in black robes and hats walk across a lush green lawn in the grounds of the monastery. The gardener drops a wheelbarrow-load of cabbages into the goat and sheep enclosure where the animals jostle greedily at the bottom of the wall. In the hen run next door, a peacock displays his magnificent tail to an unimpressed rooster, the free-range chickens meanwhile busily scratching around the garden's beds of bright tulips.
A bust of Ataturk gazes benignly at the entrance to the monastery building, an inscribed quote describing this scene perfectly: "Peace at home, Peace in the world."
Across the Sea of Marmara, the mosques and skyscrapers of the city rise above a haze produced by the opposite of peace. Over here, down in the town, small boys chase a soccer ball along the waterfront near a tree hung with prayer ribbons, and people relax outside cafes over pastries and small cups of formidably strong coffee.
Three cats sit hopefully by the table of an old couple dining at a fish restaurant, giving them the eye, while a big dog lies patiently outside the door of the butcher's, trusting in the owner's — eventual — kind heart.
Later in the afternoon, at the jetty, the foolish ones arrive on the return ferry from Buyukada, not knowing what quiet pleasures they've missed as they were jostling in the crowds there. They are just pleased that the simit vendor comes aboard with his basket on his head, selling his sesame seed-coated bread rings on the open decks. A popular snack, this time they're not for eating — by people, anyway.
All along the rails, eager bird-feeders hang out over the water, holding torn pieces of bread out to the flocks of big sea gulls that swoop alongside just metres away, keeping perfect pace with the boat. The shyer birds wait for human patience to evaporate, diving onto the scraps as they're tossed with exasperation into the water; but the bold birds drop down in an impressive display of wing control and beak-eye co-ordination to snatch the food from fingers, pleasing everybody.
It's cheap entertainment and a fun way to end a day out on the blue waters of the Sea of Marmara. Relaxed, refreshed and re-energised after their cruise, everyone is ready to take on the city again — especially the clever ones who went to Heybeliada.
5 THINGS TO DO IN TURKEY
1. FLOAT OVER CAPPADOCIA
It's a cliche, but for good reason: it's hard to beat the excitement of lifting off at dawn along with a hundred other multi-coloured hot air balloons and drifting en masse over this extraordinary landscape of weather-sculpted volcanic tuff.
Down below, their shadows stretching long, blushing pink and apricot in the light of the new day, are the famous 'fairy chimneys', single, in clusters and crowded along cliffs. Don't like heights? Then go underground and explore the fascinating hidden cities.
2. PADDLE AT PAMUKKALE
Thanks to the Tarawera eruption, our Pink and White Terraces are long gone, but you can see how they looked at Pamukkale, where a cascade of wide, dazzlingly white limestone terraces flows down a hill from the ancient city of Hierapolis.
Stalactites of calcium hang over the edges like drips of icing, and the pools of calcium-clouded aqua water are invitingly warm. Explore barefoot, paddle or swim in selected pools under the stern gaze of the whistle-police making sure you don't stray.
3. STALK CLEOPATRA AT EPHESUS
The polished marble flagstones of the processional way through this resurrected ancient city were scuffed by not only Cleopatra and her squeeze Mark Anthony, but by Hadrian and Saints Paul and John, too. There are columns everywhere, standing and fallen, statues, temples, mosaic floors, even a communal latrine. The magnificent tiered stadium seats 20,000; but most impressive of all is the facade of the library: towering pillars, statues, arches, all carved marble.
Too much hardness? It's all softened by cats and poppies.
4. GET DIZZY WITH THE DERVISHES
Under the dome in a 13th century roadside inn, or han, at Konya, watch four white-robed men spin, and spin, and spin, arms held out, heads tilted back so far it seems their tall conical gravestone hats must fall off, and they must collapse with dizziness — but they just keep on spinning.
And when, finally, these Whirling Dervishes stop, there's no staggering, just a slightly dazed and beatific expression on their faces after their commune with God. The chanting and music beforehand is mesmerisingly lovely.
5. GET BARE AND BUBBLY
It's Turkey, so that means a Turkish bath. Do it the classy way, at the 16th century Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hammam in Istanbul. Surrounded by candle-lit shiny white marble in this beautifully restored building, be washed and exfoliated and then lie on the warm communal slab and marvel at the volume of bubbles that can be magicked from a cotton pillowcase dipped in soapy water for your massage.
It's all calm and friendly, you're led through the process by hand, and you finish up warm, clean and relaxed, having tea in the gorgeously-decorated vestibule.
More information insightvacations.com
Touring there All Insight Vacations' Turkey holidays include luxury accommodation, sightseeing, meals, transfers, transport and the services of an experienced tour director and local guides. Insight Vacations offers a number of holidays to Turkey year round with itineraries visiting Gallipoli including time to pay your respects at Anzac Cove and Lone Pine Cemetery. Insight Vacations' 8-day Turkish Delights holiday is priced from $2025 per person twin share with other highlights including a visit to the Blue Mosque and St. Sophia museum in Istanbul. See insightvacations.com or call 0800 568 769.
Getting there Emirates flies direct to Dubai and on to Istanbul. See emirates.co.nz
Getting around Take the tram from central Istanbul to Kabatas, from where the ferries leave, generally, hourly. Arrive early to be sure of getting on – they can be crowded, especially at the weekend. A return fare will cost less than $10.
The writer travelled courtesy of Insight Vacations.