On a day where the sun is shining and the ground is glistening with droplets of sweat, both tourists and locals make their way to the infamous park that hugs the Sea of Marmara. Just across the Bosphorus on the Asian side of Istanbul, where the streets are more crowded and less organized, if at all possible – the park is alive with smokers and alcoholics and of course those with neither a bottle or a full pack of cigarettes.
Families with their children, friends with friends, and couples linking arms all sprawl in the grass – everyone enjoying each other’s company while watching active persons along the water. Too cold to swim, people rollerblade and few run while others pass a frisbee. A similar dynamic as the quad on Syracuse’s campus, cliques of people form like patches on the grass. Unlike the quad however, visitors and tourists raid the local food market before entering the park and come fully stocked with bottles of wine and packs of Marlboros.
On a day when I visited, it was ‘national pillow-fight day’ and a meager forty participants flocked an area away from the water. Feather pillows in hand, individuals pummeled one another while bits of cotton and feathers covered the ground. The only downfall was the fistfight that I stumbled upon afterwards – perhaps the idea of a real fight was enticing.
Despite the occasional quarrel, it’s a pleasant atmosphere compared to the always-busy streets and the hectic traffic. Although the air still has a faint cigarette perfume that lingers, the wind helps to clear the dense pollution and the stench. People spend a leisurely day at the park, reveling in a natural environment with active individuals, which isn’t a sight regularly seen in Istanbul.
By the end on the afternoon, visitors flee to the nearby cafes, while those who have had too much to drink wander back to the busy streets to catch a ride with the ‘dolmus’ – yellow taxi-vans that run like buses. Faces are colored by the sun and recycling bins are full to the brim with wine bottles and beer cans. Ferries continue across the Bosphorus; before returning to the busy life on the European side, the sun sets and Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque glisten as reminders of the charm that makes Istanbul so unique.