An Accidental Visit to the Princes’ Islands

When life gives you passage on the wrong ferry, look out the window and enjoy the ride.
When life gives you passage on the wrong ferry, look out the window and enjoy the ride.

My mom and I had been talking about visiting the Asian side of Istanbul for the entirety of our trip. We’d seen it shortly, on a guided tour, and we’d taken a bunch of ferries here and there, although not by ourselves. We woke up on a Saturday, a beautiful day, and had our plans in hand, literally, in the form of my Frommer’s day-by-day book: an Üsküdar walking tour.

At the pier, we went up to the nearest machine and put in our money, but it didn’t work (so I thought). So we went over to another machine, which mysteriously charged 5 TL for a ferry token as opposed to the 3 TL that I remembered, but with the help of a very friendly Egyptian tour guide, got ourselves tokens for there and back.

Princess Island, said a slightly misspelled sign (unbeknownst to us). Isn’t that where the tower is, about the Princess, near Üsküdar? You know, that lighthouse story? Found it!

While we were waiting for the ferry (we had about 45 minutes wait time), we sat around surrounded by people, bemused by the sleeping cat taking up its own seat in a room seriously lacking in seating. The friendly tour guide found his way back to me and asked, “so are you going by bike or carriage?”

I’m sorry, this seat is taken.

My reply, “um… walking?” With a bit of a strange look on his face, he proceeded to list off the prices for bikes and carriages and how the Turks would attempt to rip us off for not speaking English, informing me of the appropriate amounts. I, a bit confused as to why anyone would want to take an overpriced carriage around Üsküdar, just nodded my head and thought, um, what? As he walked away, a thought crept into the periphery of my mind: wait, where are we going?

Of course, actually asking that would be stupid. We bought the tokens, paid, and were waiting the boat. Of course we know where we’re going! The thought tickled my mind, regardless.

“Mom… I think we might not be going to the right place.” My mom’s face flashed with panic, we’d both been looking forward to the Asian side and all of our plans had been made. The boat was boarding… we were slowly being herded aboard, unsure, and as we were pressed into the cabin we proceeded to find seats. With some space to ourselves, I opened up my tour book and searched for Princess Islands in the back. Missing. Where Princess Islands would be, I found the Princes’ Islands. As the realization clicked, I showed my mom where we were actually going, which we knew nothing about. It definitely wasn’t Üsküdar.

All of the pieces fell into place: the long wait for a boat, the more expensive tokens, carriages and bikes, Princess Islands being one too many ‘s’s and a missing apostrophe.

I began reading… an hour and a half by ferry?! We sat, unsure whether we should get back off the ferry or just how much of a detour this would be. I kept reading about the attractions on the Princes’ Islands and realized that it could be a really cool place to go. “We should just stick it out and go to the Asian side tomorrow.” My mom wasn’t convinced, but once the boat made the setting off sounds, our fate was sealed. We’d waited too long to make a decision and the decision was made for us. I handed my mom the book so she could look at the pictures and see what there was to do.

I think if we’d known that flower crowns were available in this entire affair, we’d have been much less hesitant.

Eventually she agreed and became a bit more excited for the Islands and much less nervous about the fact that we’d just accidentally ruined our entire day’s plans. With an hour plus to go, we slept.

At the Island, we figured out that the carriages were horse and buggies that actually took people up to a walking path to a 15th century monastery in the mountains. We could also bike there, although the hills are steep and I’d hate to think just how long it would have taken us, seeing as I’m about as out of shape as I’ve been in months. Horse and buggy it was, because we definitely weren’t walking and hey, when in your life do you ride in a carriage behind two smelly horses, an old Turkish dude, going to a 15th century monastery?

Yep, never.

After our monastery visit, some lunch, some tea, some baklava, some sightseeing of old and absolutely beautiful homes along the way and an occasional sighting of stray dogs doing hilarious things, we were tired but happy… the Princes’ Islands had become an excellent detour.

On the way back, we even made friends with a family from Lebanon who happened to be staying in the same hotel as us. We ended up meeting them for breakfast the next morning.

And, the next day, we spent our day on the Asian side, exactly as planned.

Have your plans ever gone completely awry, only to morph into something spectacular?

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