“This skirt was not meant for this kind of hiking.”
“I don’t think this is a trail!”
“Since when is roasting in the sun considered a nice way to spend the afternoon?”
These and other such trivial complaints erupt from most of the group when our walk turns into an off-roading adventure on Büyükada island, the biggest of the Princes’ Islands. All but Ben, our impromptu nature-hike guide, seem remiss about leaving the paved road for a “trail” most would recognize as the path drainage water makes when it slides down a very steep hill. However, none of us turn around at this point so really WE are at fault for the ultimate destination of the path. Or if you look at it differently, we are all to be praised for what we found and the unintended adventure that followed that afternoon.
Flash back a few hours. After looking to the sage wisdom of our guide books we decided a trip to the famed Princes’ Islands would be a lovely way to spend a Saturday. The biggest island of four, and also the furthest away by ferry, Büyükada is known for its darling waterfront main streets, Ottoman age summer houses, and most of all the 16th century monastery that sits on the apex of the island’s hill. Intrigued by the short description provided by the guide book we decided to go to Büyükada, experience the the quaint downtown, and amble up the hill to see the ancient Christian relic at the top.
So here we are, pathless dirt in front of us, browning shrub behind us, and we are way past ambling, something closer to trekking up, up, and up. A cute tradition on the island is to take a small horse drawn carriage that can be hired at the main square to carry you to the monastery. Up until this time we had been attempting to share the road with these transports, although it was more like swerving quickly to avoid death by trampling. The farther we climb the fainter the sounds of horse-hooves against the pavement become. Then we hear none. …Curious. Thinking we were the only group adventurous enough to hoof it up the hill ourselves sans paved road we continue forward. Upon reaching the crest we see a dilapidated Ottoman style structure bigger than any of the mansions we have seen on the island thus far.
“Is this the monastery? It looks abandoned” someone wonders.
The group consensus is no, but then what is it? No idea. A rusted fence runs around the perimeter of the building. There is a creative array of old bicycles, tires and other metal items stuck patching the holes in the cross-worked fence. Still unsure of what we are looking at, we do what any other tourist does: we take a group photo! Hoping for a better look we walk along the fence and to take in the full scope of this enormous structure. We make it to the other side of the building with no more insight to add when we notice more buildings fallen into disrepair and move to investigate. I suppose disrepair is the wrong word to use considering what we are looking at is little more than a pile of bricks next to which is a stack of hardened bags of cement. Better to say that at one time there had been disrepair, and a possible intention to remedy the situation which never came to fruition. Walking on, we fall deeper into the rabbit hole of strangeness. More piles of rubble, steps leading upward to nothing and horses. Yes, suddenly there are rogue horses attempting to graze on crumpling bricks, which apparently isn’t very nutritious judging by how tightly their skin is stretched over their ribs. We saw horse droppings on our “trail” earlier, but assuming they had come from all the carriage horses we hadn’t thought much about it. Turns out these rubble dwelling ghost-horses left them. Things are starting to make sense. But wait, where is that monastery that was suppose to be at the top of this giant hill? Down this rocky path straight ahead? Nope, that leads to a cemetery. Down the hill to the left? Wrong again, that where we saw a cow tied to a refrigerator. Ok, to the right then. Three strikes, walk to the right and you will plop right into the sea.
Just as well, this dystopian wonderland has a magnificent view of the other Princes’ Islands as well as the Asian side of Istanbul. We start down the hill for the ferry, recounting all the weird things this day has unexpectedly brought. This time when we come to a paved road we take it. Further down there is a break in the trees and that when we see it, the elusive monastery, atop the other hill. The guide book’s short description said nothing about two hills! It just said hill! Everything made sense, what we had seen was not meant to be seen. Although we were disappointed we didn’t make it the monastery which is apparently very beautiful and a perfect place to make a wish, we saw something few others see, which is actually pretty awesome.
Curious as to what that building was if it wasn’t the monastery? We were too. Turns out it was an abandoned Greek orphanage. An orphanage! On a hill in the woods! Surrounded by a piecemeal fence made of bicycles! Sinister, you are thinking? Our thoughts exactly. But we really learned a valuable lesson, guide books will leave out the strange and possible creepy sites, which are perfectly interesting and historical in their own right.
Lesson of the day: when a clearly marked road is laid out in front of you, don’t take it! Instead veer left, up the hill, past the cow tied to the refrigerator, for a less seen view and a story for the masses.