Easter Sunday on Burgazada

Burgazada is the third-largest of the popular Princes Islands, found just off Istanbul’s southern coast in the Sea of Marmara. Around 2000 people live there permanently, but its population swells considerably in the summer… and on sunny Sundays, like the one we stupidly chose for our visit.

While boarding the ferry at Kabataş, we were shocked by the crowd. When the sun is shining, a single idea pops into the collective mind of Istanbul: “Princes Islands!” This was the first truly warm weekend of the year, and we had expected a mob, but not like this. We crammed on the ferry, lucky to snatch a seat, then watched with increasing dismay as it filled to capacity. And then continued filling. 30 minutes past the scheduled departure time, people were still squeezing on, occupying every conceivable inch of space: the floors, aisles, railings, laps.

And this was just at the first stop! The ferry also picked up passengers at Kadiköy, where hundreds more people somehow managed to find space on the already-overflowing boat.

Despite the crush, the atmosphere on the ferry was festive. After a long period of rain and cold, the sun was finally shining, and people were in good spirits. In the aisle, a guy jammed on his guitar while friends and strangers found room to dance. A group of Turkish students challenged each other to backgammon. And despite my distaste for dangerously overloaded ferries, I found myself curiously content. I wouldn’t say the boat ride was “fun”, but it was certainly entertaining.

Any stress began to evaporate the minute we arrived in Burgazada. Friends of ours were visiting, and we wasted no time in finding a four-person phaeton (a horse-drawn carriage) to carry us off to the far side of the small island. By the time our rickety journey ended at Kalpazankaya Beach, we were rejuvenated and ready for some amusement. “What should we do first?” I asked.

“Drink rakı”, came the immediate, unanimous reply. Exactly the answer I’d been hoping for!

So we sat down to a great meal of meze and grilled fish at Kalpazankaya Restaurant, where we had a lovely view over the Sea of Marmara, Asian Istanbul looming surprisingly close on the horizon. (We had to fight for a table here — be sure to make reservations if visiting on a weekend.) After eating, we relaxed on the beach a bit and then began a slow, leisurely walk back to the port, about two kilometers away.

There wasn’t much to do on Burgazada; the island’s only museum, dedicated to novelist Sait Faik, was closed for renovation. But I suspect that “doing things” isn’t really the key to enjoying the Princes Islands. We admired the sea, played with stray cats, took pleasure in the lack of cars and city-noise, and wandered around the lively port area before boarding the ferry back home.

Location on our Istanbul Map

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Not Hemingway's Spain

    I remember being extremely nervous about the ferry capacity, until, that is, the moment I saw the guy carrying the tower of simit making his way through the crowd. I figured, if he can manage to get around as if it was business as usual, we must be fine. Excellent videos here! I love the seagull shadow video! That was cool. But watching the ‘people dancing on ferry’ scene again, I’m struck by how the touron (a.k.a. ‘guiri’) who gets up and dances was wearing the most hilarious cliché of a tourist hat, as were her friends. Way to blend in! But kudos to her for enjoying the fun!

  2. joel

    hi guys,you have great site and wonderful photos. i’d like to know what is in the plate of meze that looks like bits of fish. i can’t make out what all those “scraps” are.thanks.

    1. Mike Powell

      We’re not 100% about that, either… Our best guess while eating it was octopus. It definitely had that kind of taste and consistency!

  3. Diane

    you must go to ephesus

    1. Mike Powell

      It looks wonderful! We’re hoping to make a day trip or two, but there’s so much in Istanbul we haven’t found the time, yet!

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