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This week’s guest post for the ‘Day-to-Day’ series comes from Katrinka, an American expat who’s currently working and living in Istanbul. If you’re an expat and interested in sharing the day-to-day details of your city, shoot me a message at thepaperplanesblog @ gmail.com.
Two and a half years ago, my desire to live abroad and travel brought me to Istanbul without much of a plan. I’d visited the city three times and the initial rush of love gave way to something that has been more sustaining: a deep and unshakeable fascination with this place. Now, I have fulfilling work, I travel consistently and I live in a city that never bores. Istanbul is incredible, crowded and difficult and vibrant and vast. I didn’t think I would stay here this long; now, I have no immediate plans to leave.
Istanbul is lively by night but quiet in the morning, so I like waking up early (usually around 7:30) when the streets of my neighborhood are nearly deserted. I live in Kadikoy, a young and hip neighborhood on Istanbul’s Asian side. Every other morning, I go for a run on the Moda seaside right when I wake up. Istanbul doesn’t have much green space or accessible nature in the city center, so the lovely and well-kept seaside is one of my favorite things about this area. While the seaside can get quite crowded around sunset, it’s always calm in the morning.
After running, I stop at a pastanesi, or cake shop, near my flat for a cup of Turkish tea. Called cay, the tea is black, strong and served in tiny tulip-shaped glasses; it’s one of the small pleasures of this country. I like to say that this is a big city of small neighborhoods; the owners at the pastanesi know me and know my order. Though our conversation is limited by my language skills, we can have a basic chat, which is a lovely friendly routine. Sometimes I also pick up a simit, a crunchy sesame-covered circle of soft bread, from a streetside vendor, other times, I’ll buy fresh fruit from the greengrocer on the corner. Fruit is very fresh and seasonal here, so now that it’s summer I eat a lot of peaches and cherries and figs. Come winter, I’ll buy more pomegranates and blood oranges.
I work remotely half-time for an American company called Context Travel, that runs small walking tours for the culturally curious led by local scholars. I oversee their Istanbul and Athens programs. Since most of my work is done at home on my computer and my wonderful coworkers are spread across time zones, my schedule is flexible. I prefer getting an early start, when my brain is fresh. My work schedule changes depending on the day, but usually I will work my four hours straight through, with brief breaks for meals.
Kadikoy is full of recently-opened third-wave coffee shops, so I usually meet up with a friend in the afternoon for a cappuccino and a stroll.
My afternoons vary, depending on the day; sometimes, I work until evening on my blog, other days I’ll take the ferry across to Bosphorus and stop by my film lab to pick up or drop off a roll. Some days I take long walks (especially if I’m having trouble writing) or go on small adventures with my camera, exploring a different corner of this ever-surprising city.
By early evening, my friends with regular jobs are getting out of work, so I’ll usually meet up with them for dinner or drinks or gallery openings or after-hours museum visits or live music shows. This is a city where the life is on the streets and every café and bar and restaurant has tables spilling out front, so even just walking around at night feels exciting and vibrant.
Weekend mornings are for kahvalti, or Turkish breakfast, an elaborate spread of delicious things: cheeses and jams and honey with cream and olives and cucumbers and tomatoes and eggs and spicy sausage and tahin pekmez (tahini with grape molasses), all with fresh-baked bread and endless cups of Turkish tea. Turkish breakfast can last for hours, and I love going with a group of friends and enjoying the leisurely morning. Weekends are also perfect for adventures; one day might find me hiking in Istanbul’s Belgrad Forest, biking on one of the islands in the Sea of Marmara, photographing historical neighborhoods, or just reading a good book in a shaded tea garden.
In many ways, I live a rather normal life in an exceptional city. I work, I spend time with friends, I drink coffee. Sure, sometimes life here can be frustrating—the language barrier can make simple tasks more difficult, and anything involving bureaucracy is the worst thing ever—but I have learned how to stay calm and centered over my years here. And every time I take a commute that involves drinking tea on a trans-continental ferry, with the breeze blowing in my hair and the silhouettes of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque floating by, I can’t help but revel in this weird and wonderful place I’ve ended up in. It’s rarely easy, but it’s never boring.