A Morning Run in Istanbul

At 5am the alarm on my phone goes off. I tap the screen to turn it off. I stretch my feet. From off the floor I pick up the running clothes I’d laid out the night before, and tiptoe quietly on my stiff feet out the bedroom.

After I’ve emptied my bladder, I put on my running clothes, then go into the kitchen where I have a drink of water. I only eat something before I go out on long runs; runs that will last longer than an hour. I tuck my keys and a ten lira note into my pockets then head out and ride the elevator down.

At this time in the morning, it’s still dark in Istanbul. Few people are out on Ergenkon, with the exception of the handful of men at the taxi stand next to our building. They acknowledge me, at this point they’re used to seeing me, the lone runner in the early morning in the neighborhood.

As I walk briskly to warm up toward where I’ll begin my route, I pass the börek place where I will stop on my way back. Yavuz will either be sitting at a small table outside drinking tea with someone or inside cutting up the börek for a customer. We’ll say “good morning” to each other and wave. I asked him once what time he opened and he said 4:30am. He will be there serving up börek with the help of one or two other people until sometime after noon.

At that time of the morning, the streets and sidewalks of Istanbul are clear. There is plenty of light from the lamps overhead. It’s a peaceful time in this city of 15+ million people. That’s why I prefer to run at that time of day. No crowds to push through. No traffic to look out for when crossing streets. It’s almost like having the city to myself. Whether I’m in Nişantaşı, Taksim, Harbiye, Karaköy, or Cihangır running in the early morning is a way to see the city without being pressured to hustle. You don’t feel like you have to keep moving with the crowd, or hurry up to catch the tram or the ferry, or carefully time your walk across the street to avoid the cars, trucks, and scooters.

That might sound odd or contradictory, but when I’m running I don’t feel hurried. I’m enjoying the feel of movement, the view of my surroundings, sometimes the scents (especially now with so many flowers in bloom), and (often) the music I’m listening to on my iPod Nano.

The simple serenity of putting one step in front of the other. Just me and the stray pedestrian here and there, or the worker hosing down the sidewalk in front of their restaurant in preparation to open for the day.

Sometimes, depending on the street, I’ll see a couple of transgender sex workers still out, probably hoping to get one more client before the sun comes up and scares away the People Who Only Do Certain Things at Night. If my route takes me down past Taksim and onto Tarlabaşı I’ll see a handful there, too.

Once, after I’d finished my run, a few transgender sex workers were still there at a bus stop not far from our apartment. One looked my skinny legs up and down and said something in Turkish to me with a big smile. I have no idea if they were flirting with me or mocking me. I just smiled.

In the early morning, the only crowds I have to dodge are those that form in front of the entrances to clubs. While it’s Opening Time for the places that serve börek, it’s Closing Time for the places that serve alcohol to beat-based music. I’ve never been attacked, but something about the volatility of drunk young men coming out of clubs at that hour of the morning always makes me wary.

One time, a young woman wearing clunky high heels and a mini skirt, who was stumbling on one of the many cobblestone walkways here, mocked me for running. She was swinging her arms like a runner and laughing and looking at me and saying a whole bunch of things I couldn’t understand. Her friends were laughing, too. I wanted to say, “So says the drunk-ass bitch who can barely walk.” But I don’t know how to say that in Turkish, yet.

If I’m going around Maçka Park (which is often), the free-roaming dogs are either laying down or sniffing around for something to eat. The park is on the side of a hill leading up from the Bosphorus, passing the construction for the new Besiktas football stadium, and up to the posh Nişantaşi neighborhood with its Gucci, Hermes, and Armani stores. I can see the murky Bosphorus and the lights of the Asian side of the city through the trees in the park.

In the winter months, my runs were completed before the first Call to Prayer. Usually at some point on my cool-down walk the prayer would start. Now that it’s spring, the Call to Prayer comes sometime after I’ve woken up and before I’ve made it out the apartment. It no longer has the jarring effect it once had on me. It’s simply part of the aural landscape of the city, like car horns, the zipping of scooters, and the restaurant proprietors shouting “Buyrun! Hoşgeldiniz!”

Still sweaty, but no longer breathing heavy, I’ll go into the börek place, greet Yavuz, shake hands, and choose some börek to eat for breakfast. Once he’s loaded up a to-go container to the point of overflowing, I’ll place the ten lira note in the tray on the counter. He’ll hand me the börek and put the change on the tray. We’ll say goodbye and I’ll walk the short walk (less than 40 meters) to my apartment.

Inside the apartment, I’ll set the package of börek on the dining room table. I won’t dig into the börek until after I’ve done my stomach crunches and stretching. If I don’t stretch, my muscles will be angry with me later. Once I’ve stretched and drunk some chocolate milk (these days it only comes in containers with a picture of Cinderella on them, which means my daughter won’t touch them because of her distaste for princesses), I’ll sit down to breakfast and coffee, and feel like I’m ready to greet the day.

The Good Stuff: Börek

I have a problem. Two months from now, when I’m back in the States, I do not know what I’m going to eat after my runs.

This is not a small problem.

After a run, you want to eat something tasty and filling that has lots of calories. Oh, sure, plenty of running, health, fitness magazines have all kinds of pseudo-scientific advice about the “5 THINGS YOU MUST EAT AFTER RUNNING” or else you are a poorly trained runner who will never improve or even be a proper runner. Those writers have obviously never eaten börek.

Right now, when I finish my run in the morning, I stop at Cakırca, my neighborhood börek place. There, Yavuz, the man behind the counter, asks me in Turkish how far I’ve run and I reply in Turkish with my distance that morning. Then I select the kinds of börek I want. He chops up a batch, I pay him, and then I’m on my way back to my apartment with a small bag full of the börek.

What is börek? you ask.

A savory hearty pastry that is usually eaten in the morning or at lunch time.

ImageImageImage

Börek can be filled with cheese, spinach, potatoes, or meat. Usually, it’s fried. So it’s crispy and oily. My favorite kinds are the cheese and potato. There are many variations of börek in areas formerly under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Wikipedia has a good rundown of the many variations. One of them I see a lot in places like Simit Sarayi and small food kiosks is sigara böreği (cigarette börek). This börek is is shaped like a long round roll (cigar-shaped) and is popular as a form of fast food.

Turks eat börek with tea or ayran. I often eat it with a couple of fried eggs over-easy and some fruit juice and coffee.

For me, börek has become the perfect food to eat after a run. My wife has even asked me, “What are you going to eat after your runs when we go back to Michigan?” I really don’t know. There are no börek places whatsoever. There are recipes, but they are labor-intensive. Somehow I’m going to have to learn to live without the convenience of a place nearby that makes and serves börek…or maybe we can stay here just a little longer.

Tulips in Göztepe Park

I’d say Spring has arrived. We took a trip yesterday to Göztepe Park in the Kadıköy neighborhood of Istanbul. We were hoping to meet up with some friends. That didn’t work out. No big deal. We spent an enjoyable afternoon in a beautiful park.

Because Spring in Istanbul means tulips. Lots of them. The parks all over the city are filled with them. Tulips came with the Turks from Central Asia. According to Medieval Musings,

For most, the tulip conjures up visions of the Dutch landscape–canals, windmills, and fields of blooming flowers. These popular and diverse flowers, however, had their beginnings in Central Asia, and were brought within the reach of Europe by the Ottomans. Although widely cultivated in imperial gardens, the tulip was immortalised in Ottoman culture in a different form, as a motif widely employed by the imperial workshops during the reign of Suleyman ‘the Magnificent’.

So it’s not a surprise that tulips are still a very important part of Turkish gardens and life.

ImageImageImageImage

As you can see, the tulips (and pansies and hyacinths) are clustered in well-shaped pools of color. Göztepe is one of the best (if not the best) parks in the city. There is a separate section that is rose garden (which is currently not in-bloom). Rare is the weekend day, when the flowers are in bloom, that there is not a wedding couple posing for photos.

tulips05 tulips04 tulips03 tulips02 tulips01

In addition to these beautiful flower beds, there are all kinds of playground equipment to play on. And this giant caterpillar.

goztepe_caterpillar

Our kids love this park. But it is a jaunt to get to from our apartment in Şişli. But the ferry ride across the Bosphorus is a nice excuse to take in the Istanbul skyline and drink tea.

When the kids became hungry we ate a late lunch at a cafe across the street from the park. We had intended to walk down Bağdat Street but Meredith tripped and banged her knee pretty hard. So took a taxi back to the ferry port and headed home, where we iced Meredith’s knee and the kids passed the rest of the afternoon watching Phineas and Ferb videos on my laptop.