Short-listed for the 2015 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship.
Meet me at 19:30 at Sultanahmet. Come up from the elegant gloom of the Basilica Cistern, or down from the chattering alleys of the Grand Bazaar, or through – if it’s late April – the flame-petalled tulips that congregate outside the Blue Mosque. Step off the sleek tram that pulls into the Sultanahmet stop. Wander, replete with humus and charcoaled chicken and flatbread, from a table nearby.
Dart boldly across Divan Yolu, ignoring exhortations to spend a lira on roasted corn, to step aboard a Bosphorus cruise, to sample soft nougat rolled in pistachios.
Where the tramlines curve gracefully away toward the bright peace of Gülhane Park and beyond, to the spice market at Eminönü, to Galata Bridge draped in fishing lines, to the grand sweep of Istiklal Avenue up to Taksim Square, that’s where I’ll meet you.
Sultan Pub commands the corner: hiding in plain sight. Forgive its neon sign and its naff name and its tourist-trap location. Catch the eye of the host who strides back and forth outside. Return his warm handshake if you’ve been by before (he’ll remember). Follow his outstretched arm as he passes you along the human chain formed by his colleagues, each of them smiling and welcoming. The terrace, they’ll ask?
Say yes to the terrace.
Up the stairs, they’ll say, all the way, and you’ll climb and climb and curse me for suggesting this.
One last climb, a glorified ladder.
Meet me beneath the Turkish sky at a little table – one of only eight – covered in incongruous gingham.
Now ignore me entirely. Turn yourself instead to the 160-degree vista before you. Sweep your eyes up spires and down domes from the Aya Sofya to the Blue Mosque (minarets just beginning to glow), with the sea and the hazy shape of Asia, rose-tinted in the sunset, in between.
Absentmindedly order an expensive glass of local wine from one of the blue-shirted staff who are, by now, calling you friend, and understand that it’s not the wine you are paying for.
Watch the light fade over the water. Trace the leisurely trajectories of distant ships.
And after 8, fall silent as the call to prayer rolls out through the evening, now from the Blue Mosque, now from the Aya Sofya, as you – tiny, transient, blessed – eavesdrop on a thousand-year-old conversation between two mighty structures.
Sip the last of your wine as the muezzin’s voice fades off into the unseen edges of the city.
7:30, my friend. Don’t be late.