I went for a stroll the other day. By the mid afternoon all I’d managed to do was drink coffee and read. I don’t like weekends when I don’t manage to go anywhere and just sit and read in my room, so I decided to go for a stroll. I needed to go to a used bookshop to pick up a book I had seen the week before but didn’t have any money and I needed to find a cafe to check my email. I found my book, which is a collection of essays that Joyce’s acquaintances wrote about about his life as an exile. I’m not very interested in Joyce’s work, but am intrigued to pick away at this book. He worked in Italy as an English teacher for Berlitz and faced problems very familiar to the struggling English teacher. Evidence that ESL has always been like this and will always be like this.
Having found my book and not seen anything else of interest in the English titles of the used bookshop, I made my way out in search for somewhere to check my email. My standard place to go is the Mephisto bookstore and cafe, but I’ve been going there much too often. I go there a few times a week and they know me by now. This is fine, but they don’t speak much English and I hardly speak any Turkish, so I’ve become a regular and they know me but there’s never any communication which is sometimes awkward. Attempts at communication always end up in confusion, embarrassment and frustration, and I didn’t want any of that today. I wanted an anonymous cafe. As I strolled up and down Istiklal, however, I noticed that in all of the cafes, there was not a seat to be found. I was not pleased.
So I went strolling. I went down the hill by Galatasaray, because I know there are a few coffee chains down near Kabatas that I could sit in in anonymity. On my way down I stopped in to see if the Museum of Innocence had opened yet, but it was still under construction. Down at the bottom of the hill I walked past Istanbul Modern, towards Kabatas. Alas, even down here all the cafes were packed as well. This is what happens on nice days in Istanbul, all the cafes are packed to the gills. So I pondered what to do. Since I was at Kabatas I figured I would hop on the tram and go to Eminonu, since it had been a while since I had been there. Eat a fish sandwich or two and wait until the evening when the cafes would slow down and I could get a seat. As I headed for the tram, though, I looked out and saw the park by the Kabatas pier. The day was sunny and clear, it wasn’t too cold or windy. The park looked pleasant, so I decided to go have a look.
I didn’t have my camera with me, and if I had had my camera with me I wouldn’t have been able to capture it. The view at the Kabatas pier is very peaceful. The Bosphorus stretches out ahead and up to the left, the Marmara Sea is to the right. Topkapi palace, Hagia Sophia and the Sultanahmet Mosque are visible before Beyoglu obstructs view of the rest of the old peninsula. There are a few benches in the park right on the Bosphorus, but they were all occupied by either young men drinking cans of beer or lovers looking out at the sea. Dozens of cars were parked in front of the pier as well, and some couples choose to look at the view from the privacy of their steamy-windowed cars. There are cafes on either end of the park and a boy with a tea tray was walking among those gathered. It was a calm day, so the waves weren’t too choppy, but every once in a while one crashed and water splashed up on the wall. The sun was setting; it was behind the buildings of Beyoglu to the right, but it was still casting its rays across the sea. The buildings of Uskudar all had turned orange from the setting sun reflecting in the windows, and the ferries crossing the Bosphorus briefly shone as their windows caught the light.
The sky was changing to shades of orange and pink, and I looked to the right at the silhouettes of the domes and minarets of the Hagia Sophia and the Sultanahmet Mosque that make Istanbul such a beautiful city at sunset. As I was admiring the scene, a flock of seagulls took to the skies, their silhouettes joining those of the city. It was all a bit too much to try to see at once, and I let my eyes lose their focus in an attempt to better view the scene as a whole. I decided to walk down to the Galata Bridge, so I left the park and turned back to the road, pleased that I had been able to witness another wonderful Istanbul sunset.
By the time I reached Karakoy and started to cross the bridge, the sun was down. It was not quite dark but would be soon, and the grand mosques on the other side of the Golden Horn were lit up. The air smelled of the sea, frying fish, and roasted chestnuts. It had been a nice day, so the bridge was packed. Chilled fishermen were stamping on wooden crates to add to a small fire, which they were huddled around warming their hands and drinking tea. I walked through the crowds of fishermen and tourists on the bridge and turned to the left to walk through Eminonu. I turned around at Sirkeci and decided it was time to start heading home. The ferries for Uskudar and Kadikoy were departing shortly, so throngs of people were rushing to the gates to catch them before they departed. On my way back over the bridge I bought a fish sandwich, which I ate on my way up towards the Galata tower and a cafe on Istiklal street.
It had been a long time since I’d either seen the sunset or had done the walk over the bridge and through Eminonu, eating a fish sandwich. The stresses and difficulties of the job or of living alone so far from home are diminished when I can enjoy peaceful moments like these. Whenever things become difficult, I can always go down to the sea, walk across the bridge, watch the sunset, eat a fish sandwich, take a deep breath and reflect.