Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mornings in Maçka

The older gentleman with the high-waisted shorts doing jumping jacks and hip swivels by the side of the path.

The two younger men walking their matching woolly dogs.

The woman who runs with her shoulders pulled up close to her ears.

The tall, lanky man with white hair who runs with a big grin on his face.

The girl out for a power walk in the "What breaks your heart?" T-shirt.

I don't know any of their names, but they are my people, part of the motley crew of runners, joggers, walkers, and calisthenics-doers who come alone, in pairs, or in small groups to Maçka Park in the quiet hours of the morning. The low hum of traffic can still be heard from the other side of the trees, and the peace is occasionally broken by the thwack-thwack-thwack of a helicopter descending to drop off some VIP at the nearby Ritz-Carlton hotel.

The Maçka Park running track.
But in a city where exercising still often seems like a mark of extreme eccentricity, where going out for a run means dodging cars, stumbling over torn-up pavement, and trying to ignore hecklers and leering eyes, the park is a small oasis, a place where you can stretch, sprint, or shuffle to your heart's content among a like-minded cohort. It's a little bit of sanity and humanity in a sad and difficult world. If the city ever tries to pave it over and put in a mall, I'll be the first one out in front of the bulldozers.

Photo via and its article "10 best running routes in Istanbul."

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

City for sale

My initial, indelible memory of arriving in Istanbul for the very first time was speeding in a taxi at night under the illuminated Valens Aqueduct, its stone arches towering overhead as the domes of mosques glimmered in the distance.

Nice spot for a meze joint.
Now the Istanbul Municipality reportedly wants to "restore" the 4th-century structure and plop a restaurant on top -- along with a walking path, which would admittedly be kind of cool, and an observation deck (h/t @nblaser18). With a cheesy nightclub already inside Beyoğlu's medieval Galata Tower, malls going up left and right, and the mayor promising an aerial cable-car ride across the Bosphorus, there seems to be no fighting the total Disneyfication of Istanbul. Herewith, a few modest proposals for embracing the inevitable:

Yedikule AVM -- Seven towers, seven different shopping experiences!

Chora Çay Bahçesi and Kıraathane -- Sip your tea and smoke endlessly on the tranquil grounds of this former Byzantine church. The card rooms inside are the best-decorated in town.

The Aya Sofya Experience -- Why gaze up in awe at what was once the world's highest ceiling when you can show that old dome who's boss on Istanbul's tallest climbing wall? The athletically challenged can go inner-tubing through the newly opened underground cisterns below.

Rumeli Hisarı Et Mangal Piknik Alanı -- Celebrate the Conquest every weekend with a cook-out inside this 15th-century fortress on the Bosphorus. Book well ahead for a private spot with a sweeping view inside one of the old look-out towers.

Dolmabahçe Döner Dünyası -- The world's biggest and most glamorous kebab shop, bar none.