11 April, 2010

İstanbul, day 3: Tophane to Galata Bridge

I already mentioned that pricey burger. Dusk fell as i walked back through Bebek, and a headache grew worse. But before we hop on the bus, i pause to remark that if you are ever in İstanbul, please visit Bebek. It's hip, and crisp, and as dusk falls the wealthy homes light up and moored sailboats bob on the Bosphorus, and you just have to soak it in.

So now we're on the bus, which carried me back to bustling Beşiktaş - and on which i met Adem, who is studying to be an Imam. Intuition tells me i'll be writing more about him in the future, since this friendly fellow was as eager to use his rudimentary English as i was to practice my Türkçe - and we exchanged names and cell numbers. Beşiktaş was crowded, and when i disbarked at Kabataş pier i headed wearily south on foot. Çay, if i could just have çay. And a bathroom.

Latter (or should i say bladder?) problem solved, i noticed the lights of a small cafe. I should explain that between Kabataş and the southern edge of Tophane there is precious little life. Along the Bosphorus this is a commercial district, and even in some parts of Istanbul the sidewalks roll up early. Everyone had gone to the game, i guess. But there was this cafe - one of the many nargile (hookah) cafes Tophane is famous for - and, oddly enough "smoke nargile in Tophane" was also on the List. Feeling a bit under the weather, i drank çay instead. The cafe was sparsely populated - perhaps eight guys beside myself and the proprietor, half-watching an Atletico Madrid match. Four friends were playing OK, which next to backgammon is the most popular game in Türkiye. I haltingly asked if i could watch - and they drew me up a chair, offered me a drag on their pipe, and proceeded to half-explain the game. Two glasses of çay later, i left with a business card: one of these fellows has a friend at the American embassy. Let us know when you're in town again, they said. How's that for Turkish warmth?

Long day almost at a close, i searched for an internet cafe. Tired of crowded Istiklal Caddesi, i wandered through Karaköy to the Galata bridge, with a new goal: Fatih. It would be a legendary walk - when i calculated later, i covered at least 33 kilometers, 21 of which were on foot. Fatih proved disappointing, save friendly conversation with a Kurdish shop owner when i stopped to buy a candy bar. Near Topkapı, all the web cafes close by midnight. So i wandered back across the bridge. Along the way i met many fishermen. On a Saturday, even at midnight the bridge is crowded with them, dangling lines where the river meets the sea and warming their hands over portable campfires. This, i thought, is another of those things i'd never had met if i used a guidebook. Except for fishermen and the passing tram, the bridge was empty.

More than twice as i stopped to steal a photograph, the fishermen saw me, invited me to join their circle, warm my hands, and on one occasion, share their Jim Beam. I left with MSN addresses and the promise to send along pictures. And then it was back to bustling Istiklal, as street musicians tuned up, and a thoroughly unplanned, unexpected nightclub adventure. No rest for the weary!

Last shot, perhaps my favorite photograph out of over a hundred for the day: smoke wafts from the cart a balik-ekmek seller in Eminönü, as behind him an array of headscarves for sale flutter in the night breeze.