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Echoes of the Ottomans: Bozcaada

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I had been dreading the drive to the Bozcaada ferry because I try to avoid driving four straight hours on the highway on our road trips. Usually I can find an interesting stop to break the drive into two parts but in this case all I had were a couple of ancient Aegean villages called Yeşilyurt and Adatepe that were close to the end. I wasn't sure it was even advisable to stop given that we didn't have clear confirmation of our spot on the ferry. The drive was as boring as I had anticipated, especially as time constraints forced me to stick to the highway instead of taking the more scenic coastal roads. Our only close view of the Aegean was a rerun of our approach to Cunda four days earlier.

As we rounded the Gulf of Edremit the GPS found a shortcut through the city of Akçay. In a downtown neighborhood called Sarıkız we stumbled on a market that was still going strong in the late afternoon. It's virtually impossible for us to ignore a street market especially one which is practically guaranteed to cater exclusively to locals. We found a parking spot figuring that we would just get a quick look and jump back on the road but of course we stayed for more than an hour. The market was on the other side of a murky creek that was lined with dinghies and small fishing boats.

The market extended lengthwise parallel to the canal and then spread out at the end in an area where several cafes benefited from the foot traffic. There wasn't much for us to buy except for sweet red peppers, one of my favorite raw snacks. The teenaged vendor got a little irritated when I had some trouble understanding the price he quoted. We got some refreshments for the kids and moved on. By now stopping at a village was out of the question if we wanted to catch the ferry at the time we had reserved.

Getting on the ferry to Bozcaada was the last of my major logistical anxieties on our Turkish itinerary. So far we had been successful with the auto rental in Istanbul as well as the Chios ferry and auto rental and it seemed possible that our luck had been too good to continue. I had completed an online reservation for the ferry but hadn't received an e-mail confirmation, so I had nothing but a screen shot to indicate we had paid for out tickets. Once we arrived at the port I didn't see any sign of a ticket office so we got on the line of cars waiting to pass through the boom gates. When our turn came I had my screenshot ready but the agent just waved us through without asking for it. I have no idea whether they just assume everyone who shows up has a ticket or if some camera automatically read our license plate. I wasn't about to ask so we parked our car with the others waiting to board and got the kids a snack at the crummy fast food cafe inside the gates.

Only two out of the dozens of populated Aegean islands were awarded to Türkiye in the Treaty of Lausanne. The smaller of the two, Bozcaada, was known by the Greek name Tenedos in antiquity and was mentioned in Homer's Iliad. Aside from that I knew little about the island except that it was primarily a destination for Turkish domestic tourists and rarely visited by international travelers. The requirement for a Turkish ID for ferry reservations probably discouraged international tourism, intentionally or not. Of course given our warm reception in the parts of Türkiye we had already visited I had no worries about feeling unwelcome. The few passages devoted to Bozcaada in our guidebook and the information I had been able to find online indicated that the island would be a fascinating stop. Just as with our trip to Chios the ferry journey was quite short and we were hardly settled on the boat before the outline of the island became visible through the dusk.

I had chosen a hotel far from Merkez, the only town on the island, mainly because it was half the price of the expensive accommodations in town. The first issue we had to address was dinner as we were quickly approaching the time when restaurants might be expected to close. There were some interesting restaurants scattered around the island but the vast majority were in the center of Merkez. We decided to take the conservative approach rather than risk being shut of of dinner entirely if our chosen restaurant in another part of the island was unexpectedly closed. Parking was virtually impossible in the streets but we were fortunate to discover the parking lot of Bozcaada Castle just as someone was vacating a space. As we parked several other cars passed through but didn't have any luck finding a spot. The center of Merkez was quite a lot like Cunda with clusters of colorful, atmospheric restaurants with outdoor tables. We made our selection which proved to be less than optimal with rather unimaginative preparations of seafood. We spent much of the meal fighting off the very aggressive cats that were attempting to leap onto our table using our thighs for leverage. The kids were in a particularly jovial mood and decided it would be fun to stagger through the streets singing like drunken British package tourists on the way back to the car.

Outside the city the island was quite dark and devoid of signs of habitation although the road itself was in good condition most of the way. Eventually the GPS instructed us to take a dirt road that disappeared into blackness and we had no choice except to obey. About half a kilometer down this road we arrived at a cluster of illuminated buildings where a young man seemed to be waiting for us. He escorted us to the basement of one of the buildings which had been converted into a suite with two renovated, spacious bedrooms. We were quite relieved to have not encountered any problems after this unnerving excursion into what seemed to be a rather desolate landscape. In the morning we stepped outside to find ourselves in quite a beautiful and verdant establishment that was covered with an immaculate carpet of greenery. We made our way to the dining area for yet another generous Turkish breakfast and then the kids played in the hammocks while Mei Ling and I took care of the packing. It seemed like a shame to have spent less than twelve hours at such a pleasant accommodation but we only had a few hours to see the island before taking the ferry back to the mainland.

The only actual tourist site that Bozcaada is known for is the castle. Aside from that the island is best known for its wineries and beaches, neither of which we were particularly interested in. After exploring the map of the island we decided to visit a lighthouse at the western tip of Bozcaada that seemed to be a popular place to watch the sunset. Of course we would be long gone from the island by then but it was still likely to be a interesting place.

The island roads were much less intimidating in the sunlight and it only took us fifteen minutes to cross the island. The last stretch of road on the GPS turned out to be impassable without four wheel drive so we had to park in a clear area of high ground above some sandy beaches. We set off on the rocky path that coursed above the limestone cliffs with amazing views over the Aegean.

Eventually the rocks disappeared and the path narrowed to a sandy trail that occasionally passed precariously close to the steep cliffs. I kept a firm grip on the boys in the more perilous stretches. A long line of wind turbines stretched into the distance reminding us that we were in for a long walk. Ultimately we arrived at a chain link fence that prevented us from reaching the lighthouse, and we had to be content with the crumbling ruins of a concrete shack.

We took a meandering route back towards Merkez which took us through stretches of dusty scrubland and past the occasional farmhouse. Soon we became aware of a tall hill to our north that had some kind of apparatus at the top. It seemed like a good vantage point for a view of the entire island so at every fork in the road we chose the direction that appeared to bring us closer to the hill. Eventually we reached a turn off from the main road that had the word Göztepe painted on it. After proceeding along this road a short distance it became clear it was taking us up the hill. Instead of asphalt the road was paved with a strange type of grey brick and soon it narrowed to a single lane and became very steep. We had a strong feeling the road was not intended for public access and that we weren't supposed to be driving but we both felt a strange compulsion to continue, even though we would have had a significant problem if another vehicle had met us head on while driving downward. There was nowhere to turn around whatsoever so we just tried to ascend as quickly as we could and pray that our four wheel drive wouldn't fail us on the sharp incline. Eventually we reached the top where there was a fenced off building and some electrical equipment which was likely comprised of satellite or radio receivers. We could see a patchwork of brown and green extending below us all the way to the southern coast of the island. It was quite a remarkable view but then we had to face the descent which was even more hair-raising than the drive up.

This time the parking lot outside the castle was completely full. Cars were parked in every conceivable place and a steady stream of hopefuls was passing through the lot to check if anyone was on the way out. We probably would have had to try our luck elsewhere if Mei Ling hadn't noticed the hat vendor whose van was taking up one of the spaces. We somehow managed to communicate with him that we wanted to block in his van for a couple of hours and he didn't object, as he apparently wasn't planning on going anywhere. He turned down my offer of a hundred lira but we insisted on buying one of his overpriced hats.

The Bozcaada castle seems from outside to be a well-preserved medieval fortress. We learned from the sign outside that it had actually been restored in the 1960's and before that it had been razed and rebuilt half a dozen times dating back to the reign of King Priam of Troy. This was still the place where we felt the closest to the Homeric island of Tenedos, where the Greeks hid their fleet to trick the Trojans into thinking they had abandoned their siege. The island continued to have strategic importance as it passed through the hands of the Persians, Romans, and Venetians before ultimately ending up in the hands of the Turks.

Sloping paths brought us to an upper level of the fortress which was surrounded by thick stone ramparts. From the arched windows within the walls we could see across the Aegean to the hilly coast of the mainland. Along the shallow bay north of the fortress we could see the whitewashed, red-roofed houses of the town and three stone windmills on a section of high ground.

There was a small market right outside the castle walls that had a surprising variety of vegetables and artisanal goods like honey and preserves. It wasn't clear how much of the produce was grown on the island and how much had been shipped in from the mainland. We came across the guy who had met us at our hotel the previous night, probably doing the daily shopping for the hotel kitchen.

There was still time for lunch in Merkez before we had to take the ferry back to the mainland. This time we gave a wide berth to the busy commercial street that led from the ferry station and focused on a quieter, more residential section in the northern section of the town. There were still plenty of cafes and small boutique hotels here with the typical colorful Aegean vibe. We were hoping to eat at a guest house called Rengigül Konukevi that was famous for its breakfast but when we finally located it we learned they didn't serve any other meals. The owner was super friendly however and gave us advice on where we should eat.

The restaurant the hotel owner recommended was closed so we had to scramble to find something before the next ferry departed. We came across a cute-looking tapas bar and decided to give it a shot. It had awesome furniture and decoration and a little porch in the back with views of the bay and the castle. Unfortunately the food was surprisingly awful. The cook had an odd proclivity to slather the dishes with mayonnaise, a touch that had not been advertised on the menu.

We made it to the ferry without much time to spare and I headed directly to the upper deck for a final look at Bozcaada castle. We had only spent about eighteen hours on this island but I was quite happy with our decision to place it on the itinerary. Another night would have been ideal but forgoing that wasn't the biggest sacrifice we had made on this rushed itinerary. Soon the island was receding into the distance and the mainland was drawing closer. Our time in Türkiye was approaching its conclusion.

Posted by zzlangerhans 09:50 Archived in Turkey Tagged road_trip family family_travel travel_blog troy tony_friedman family_travel_blog sarıkız akcay

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