Doug and Elif’s wedding wasn’t until 6:30 in the evening so the 7 of us had most of the day for exploring, so we decided to venture to the largest of the Princes’ Islands. The ferry ride was an hour and a half, leaving from the southernmost end of the European side of Istanbul and it stopped at each of the smaller islands before dropping us of at the main island a bit before lunchtime. I had been thinking this would be a light energy-expenditure day so I (and Jeremy) wore jeans, which we soon learned was not the best idea as the monastery, the main attraction on the island, is at the top of the mountain. When you stepped off the ferry there were bike rental shops and horse-drawn taxi carriages waiting for all the tourists coming off, we tried asking one of the drivers if they went to the monastery but I think we ended up annoying him or something and he said no he didn’t go there (we later found out that the base of the mountain where the monastery is was in fact exactly where he, and all the other carriages, were going…lost in translation, oh well) so we decided to walk.
We knew that we had to go up but we didn’t see a specific or marked path to take so we just took the first “up” we saw, which was a small side stairwell that ascended about 40 feet up the mountain, we followed that, then another path through the residential area and then ended up out on what appeared to be a park path that also ascended at a non-trivial grade. There was lots of dusty paths and scrubby pine trees, a few very nice views, but definitely far from the seaside residential area we had just came out of. As we arrived to the top of the hill/mountain (it seemed more mountainous the longer we climbed) we came upon one vista and to our chagrin, saw (what we thought was) the monastery two mountains/hills away, damn. So we continued on back down the mountain and came back into a residential area which soon turned into a regular paved road and we again encountered the horse-drawn carriages, at last we had reached the base of the mountain (turns out the tower we saw was a more modern structure). So we, along with many other tourists, began the trek up the mountain, it only took 15 or 20 minutes to get to the top, probably a 30% grade most of the way up, but seems a lot longer when you’re a bit out of shape 😉 We looked around the outside of the monastery, then headed to the restaurant to rehydrate and refuel while enjoying some pretty spectacular views of the sea and distant Istanbul. We ordered beer, melon (I think it was honeydew, some of the sweetest I’ve ever had), I ordered fried eggplant (no breading, just the vegetable fried) with a yogurt sauce, a few of the guys had sausages. Overall it was a very tasty meal, probably made even more tasty due to the fact that we were hot, tired and hungry.
We made the trek back down but opted to follow the carriages most of the way down, which kept us in the residential area the whole time rather than re-ascending the nearby mountain…essentially we had gone over when everyone else had gone around the base of the island. We hopped on the ferry and were back in just enough time to get cleaned up for the wedding, hopped in taxis at 5:30pm and headed down to a pier at the Bospherous to wait for the hotel water taxi to bring us across the water to the wedding/reception site, a beautiful old, white stone hotel right on the banks of the Asian side of the water.
The boat that picked us up was quite swank, all wood trim inside so as we climbed in and rode across in our suits and dresses it felt very James Bond-esque. When we got to the other side we were led through the hotel lobby to a covered open-air patio where cocktails were being served. Apparently the theme was green drinks (according to Doug they were the hotel’s specialties), mojitos, green apple martinis with cinnamon stick garnish, and a bright green vodka-based drink (no idea what the mixer was, something sweet and candy-like). There were also pistachios, hazelnuts and (oddly) corn nuts on the cocktail tables and small appetizers were passed around (a salmon and avocado on a cracker, eggplant in a pasty shell and a bruschetta). We stuck together for most of the cocktail hour but were separated into twos and threes for dinner which was on a lower open-air patio right on the water, it was truly a gorgeous setting. Jeremy and I sat with some of Elif’s cousins and their significant others (one, in fact, was getting married the next day). Doug and Elif came down the stairs around 7:30 and danced their first dance together (didn’t recognize the song), then dinner was served as the bride and groom went around greeting and visiting with each of the tables. The first course was a series of traditional mezes, followed by a seafood canelloni, then beef medallions with potatoes and green beans. Wine was freely being poured the entire time and after the main course everyone had worked up enough gumption to get up on the dance floor as the dance music started playing (during dinner they were playing a great mix of Harry Connick Jr. and jazz). Nearly everyone at the reception (about 150 all told) were dancing. There was a fun mix of both American pop music and Turkish traditional dance music. We were encouraged to join during the traditional music, all of us joining hands and going in big circles around the bride and groom, and generally just having a fun time, language was no barrier here. After a half hour or so of dancing they cut the cake (a chocolate cake with a cream/strawberry filling) and served Turkish tea or coffee. During this time the trays of vodka-based shots were also making their way around, emboldening those on the dance floor. Everyone danced until about midnight, when the party wrapped up and we headed back to the hotel water taxi (after a celebratory passing around of a bottle of raki before we boarded). We arrived back at the hotel, agreed to meet up at 10am for the next day’s touring adventures and headed to bed.