Istanbul does not do queues. I learnt this while standing in a terminal waiting for the ferry to Büyükada. So many people filled the terminal that I day-dreamed about the dockside giving way, resulting in a few hundred distressed paddlers in the Sea of Marmara. The reality was a crazed dash for the boat. Even old women ran, their black flip flops nearly flip flopping off their white socked feet.
An hour and a half after sailing down the Bosphorus, past Hagia Sophia and the Ottoman-German splendour of Haydarpaşa train station, we docked in Büyükada. The largest of the car-less Prince’s Islands, it amounts to a harbour and a fistful of touristy shops and restaurants. At the top of the twisting roads, trafficked by bicycles, scooters and horse-drawn carriages, is Naya.
Set behind a six foot high white-washed wall, Naya is an eight bedroom “intercultural relaxation centre.” Housed in an aging Victorian clapboard villa with its white paint gingerly peeling, and perched on the side of a hill, it is enveloped by a garden of shrubs. Shaded deck areas house fluffy sofas. They proved good for reading on, for two whole days. The place reeks of relaxation. The headiness of Istanbul, visible on the horizon as a hazy silhouette, became a hypnotic memory.
The Water room was a rush of white, splashed with blue muslin and with a tiny balcony overlooking the garden. Naya is emphatically down to earth. The smiling German hosts were at pains to stress that five-star comfort is not their style. “The coffee maker is there, and the coffee is in the jar next to it.” The long, sturdy table, at which the buffet breakfasts and communal dinners are served, proved to be the focus of “intercultural” activity. Over food cooked by our hosts, to a soundtrack of international lounge music, we conversed with Swedes, Franks, Americans, South Africans, Turks and Germans.
Barely able to leave, we did spend a day cycling the hills of Buyukada. We lazed on a deserted cove at the bottom of what felt like 1,000 steps. We climbed one of the island’s two hills, to St. George’s Monastery. Over a simple lunch on the shaded terrace next to the monastery, with a view of green tree tops to the sea, we knew one visit to Naya would not be enough.