We’re had houseguests this past week, and more are coming, so I haven’t found time to write about the weekend we spent on Bozcaada until right now! I hope you’ll find this worth the wait.
Bozcaada is a small island off the Aegean coast of Turkey–one of only three that Turkey got to take back from Greece in the aftermath of WWI and at the start of the Republic. It has a really long and fascinating history, which I will largely gloss over now.
The island has been inhabited since prehistory, and it appears in Ancient Greek mythology before it shows up in the actual historical record. Accounts vary, but one prominent myth theme is of a prince named Tenes who was the victim of his stepmother’s anger and jealousy. She had tried to seduce him; when he refused, she cast him into the sea. He survived, though, and washed onto the shore of the island. The islanders received him as a king, and renamed the island Tenedos after him. (In Greece, the official name of the island is still Tenedos). Years later, Tenes’ father discovered his wife’s betrayal, and set sail on a journey to find his son and seek forgiveness. When he arrived at Tenedos, he tied his boat to a mooring, but Tenes took an axe and cut the rope that bound the ship to shore. Today there is (apparently) a Greek saying, “the hatchet of Tenes,” which indicates a resentment that can never be eased.
Non-mythological Greeks also lived on the island. They were vintners and traders, and there are local coins dating from the Archaic period that show bunches of grapes and wine vessels. Some of them have Tenes’ axe on the obverse.
Greek people continued to live on Bozcaada during the Classical and Hellenistic periods, and stayed there under the Roman and later Byzantine empires. The Ottomans conquered the island around the same time they took Istanbul, and Turks and Greeks lived together relatively peacefully after that. Today, there is still a very strong Greek influence on the island; the village there is divided into a Greek quarter (actually a half) and a Turkish quarter (half).
All that historical background aside, Juan and I went to Bozcaada with one of my work friends, Büke, for a very contemporary reason: to participate in a 10K race.
It started Thursday evening at midnight, when Juan and I caught our overnight bus from Istanbul to Geyikli. We arrived at seven the next morning, and bought our tickets for the ferry from Geyikli to Bozcaada. It was a little cool and cloudy, but we made the best of our day, starting with a walk through the island’s quaint village:
After exploring the village a little, we rented bicycles and pedaled off through the countryside. (Can you say “countryside” when a place is very small?) Bozcaada is still a wine producer, and the vineyards are truly breathtaking. There are also several sandy beaches for swimming and relaxing. We visited this one:
In the evening, we cycled back to our hotel and returned the bikes, then turned around to find dinner. We ended up at a place called Lisa’s Cafe, which is owned by an Australian woman who’s been married to a Turkish guy for the last 25 years. Her Turkish was great, but she also seemed happy to have occasion to speak to someone in English. We sat outside enjoying breeze off the water and sharing a cheese plate for quite a while before we decided we should probably order dinner at some point, too!
In (completely unnecessary) preparation for the next day’s run, we both ordered spaghetti–I had a plate with Romesco, and Juan had one plate with Bolognese, and another with chicken and mushrooms. Lisa really cracked herself up asking repeatedly about our food, as in, “How are your three spaghettis?” ”Are you enjoying all three spaghettis?” ”Can I get you anything else besides your three spaghettis?” Etc.
As we finished our three spaghettis, Büke arrived on the island, and met us at Lisa’s. Turns out Lisa could, in fact, get us something besides our three spaghettis. We all shared a piece of homemade lemon cheesecake. So there!
Saturday was race day! Because the island is so small, there were no real concerns about closing streets to traffic. That means the start time could be later in the day. In the morning there was time for Juan and me to explore the island’s fortress.
The fortress is incredibly well preserved (and doubtless restored). There is disagreement about who first built it, but it was used, destroyed, and rebuilt multiple times by the Greeks, Venetians, Genoese, and Ottomans. The plaque visible above the entrance commemorates a restoration made in the 1815 under the reign of Sultan Mahmud II.
We left the fortress in time to change for the race and soak up the excitement at the start line. New Balance was sponsoring the event, and they did a great job. I was feeling nervous as the race approached, because I knew it was hilly, and my legs didn’t feel very perky after the previous day’s bike-ride. But hanging out under the New Balance tents and picking up our race swag really helped me relax.
We couldn’t find Büke at the start line, but it’s okay–she knew other runners there, so she wasn’t alone. I was going to include a race photo here of us at the beginning of the course, but I was stealing the picture from the official photographers’ website without paying for it, and my conscience got the better of me. They should put a watermark on their photos or something! Anyway, here, just imagine a lot of people on a sunny road, looking determined. Juan and I stayed together for the first minute or so, but we’d agreed in advance that he would run at his pace, not slow down for me. He beat me by almost ten minutes!
I’d been running on hills in Istanbul to prepare, but I wasn’t being serious about training at all. The course was tough for me!
But all three of us prevailed:
Fun fact: I finished 34th of the women (486 total), and Juan finished 34th of the men (594 total).
After the race and a shower, we decided to rent bikes and go back to the beach. The cycling and swimming made it a triathlon day (in spirit, not in distances)! I swam, too, this time. Wow, the Aegean is cold!
In the evening, we went out for a nice meal with some of Büke’s friends from her running group. Around 10:00, Juan and I started yawning, so we didn’t make it out to the bar afterwards. Büke, however, is a real trooper.
The next morning, we went to brunch at a famous inn called Rengigül. Büke had recommended it to us for Friday morning, but Juan and I couldn’t find it on our own and had to wait for her guidance. In our defense, it doesn’t have a sign outside. Rengigül is run by an extremely feisty 70-year-old woman who had walked the 10K the day before. Her place is completely magical.
Breakfast was an absolute feast!
Bozcaada, like everywhere else, has culinary specialties, one of which is jams. They are particularly well-known for tomato jam and poppy petal jam. But there are many, many others.
When it was time to leave, we had to rush to catch our ferry home. And we missed it. Once again, Büke saved the day and rearranged our entire travel schedule with new bus tickets connecting in different cities than we’d originally planned to pass through. But we still made it back to Istanbul in time for a good night’s sleep.