Tuesday, May 6, 2008

From Istanbul, boat excursions: part I

I couldn't figure out how to divide up our stay in Istanbul for blogging purposes. One recurring and relaxing theme was trips on public ferries, so I'll start with those.

The weather was lovely almost every day and thus perfect for a boat ride, short or long. The IDO ferry system is extensive, and we used the very low priced services to go to the enchanting Prince's Island of Büyükada in the Sea of Marmara, a zigzag cruise up the Bosphorus, all the way to the edge of the Black Sea (the private boats don't go as far), and as a restful way to get to the top of the Golden Horn.

The trip to Büyükada on the regular ferry takes about an hour and a half, with intermediate stops at three smaller islands. We first chose seats outside but it turned out to be a smoking area, so we retreated indoors. Before doing so I took advantage of the great views of Istanbul as we sailed away from the city and also shot some pics of folks on the boat. There were some foreigners like us, but for the most part it was jam-packed with local daytrippers armed with picnic goods, all destined to enjoy a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the sun.

People continuously threw bread to the seagulls, who seemed to follow the ferry for most of the distance between stops to take advantage of the free lunch.

When we arrived on the island near lunchtime, we first strolled around the village, trying to decide where to eat.
We finally settled on Milto, one of the oldest restaurants on the island, a family business dating to the 1930's, if I remember correctly. The food was good but the setting was decidedly the appeal, being right at the edge of the water. It was still cool enough that we wanted to sit in the sun as opposed to under the covered area closer to the water.

After lunch we strolled up the island's picturesque streets, marveling at the gorgeous mansions that lined them. This island was once the summer retreat of many prosperous non-Muslims and non-Turks--Greeks, Armenians, etc.
The population balance has changed but our friend Sevan's parents (Armenians raised in Istanbul) tell us that the winter population is around 10,000 but in the summer it can apparently swell to 200,000. They themselves make up part of that seasonal boom, as they spend four months there every year themselves, but live the rest of the year in Nice. Maybe next trip we can visit them when they are on the island!

There are no cars allowed on the island, so bikes and carts prevail, along with carriages. The carriages can be hired to take you anywhere you like to go or on a standard tour of the island. Deliveries are made not by truck but by bicycle, hand cart, horse cart or even on a person's back.

If you only have a couple of days in Istanbul, there may be other items on your see-and-do list that would rank higher than Büyükada; but if you have a week or so, you should definitely reserve a day for such a delightful excursion.

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