You can see the bleachers of Ali Sami Yen stadium from our apartment. On our first Sunday it is warm and we eat dinner with the windows open while a match is played. A swell of football chants accompanies each forkful of pasta. We grin at each other. We have six months in Istanbul.
There is a police presence on match days but tellingly their riot helmets are in a pile while the officers lean against a fence casually drinking çay. As we’ve found often while travelling, local concern about crowds and violence is somewhat overblown.
We are frequent diners at a fish restaurant bordering the stadium. After six months of cycle touring, we savour the feeling of becoming regulars. Prompted by a few nights of especially loud music from the empty stadium, I drop into the restaurant to ask about the noise.
Its late and the restaurant is almost empty. They offer çay and I’m told that there are rehearsals taking place in preparation for the stadium’s final game. A lone customer turns to me to explain the restaurant sits on the same piece of land as the stadium. It is likely to close to make way for a shopping complex.
The following night we watch fireworks from our windows, then turn on the television to watch the final match. There is a slight delay in coverage so when the local team, Galatasaray, scores we know before it is broadcast. They win 3 – 1.
Why spend so many nights of our trip in one place? Its for a thousand experiences like this.
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