Thursday, May 1st 2014: Izmir


An inky dawn was just barely settling in over the clay tile rooftops of Şişli, and while it was still, the streets buzzed with nervous energy. The slow trickle of late night partiers returning home mixed with the clinking bottles and rustling bags of garbage collection—the usual 5am routine—was interrupted that morning by an eerie presence. Venturing out to catch an early flight to Izmir, we passed through the gaze of clusters of police officers, brandishing helmets and riot shields as they commanded the corners of barricaded intersections. Hushed activity filled the streets as the rest of the city slept; bus load after bus load crept in with endless reinforcements to help push blockades into place or take their positions and wait in anticipation with the others. It was as if something in the world had gone horribly wrong over night, and a scene from a zombie apocalypse was now unfolding before us.

As Istanbul was suiting up for a day of civil unrest surrounding the May 1 protest ban, we were escaping to the Aegean coast of Izmir as a way to relax before finals while avoiding the impending chaos. Although the protests were not as fierce, the streets of Izmir were still filled with the same nervous energy that clouded our neighborhood that morning. Armored trucks loomed menacingly in the center of the road, guarded by an entourage of officers in full riot gear, while people flowed around the mass remaining reactionless, as if it were a minor inconvenience. Then suddenly, the officers moved into formation, shields up, and marched down the street like solemn soldiers, with the armored vehicles in tow. The company turned the corner, and was gone.

Calm, spacious, and bright, the newly developed waterfront of Izmir proved to be the complete antithesis to the prior events of our day. Swooping Burle Marx-esque waves on the pavement pulled us down the esplanade, which was hugged by a bike lane to one side (the first we’ve seen in this country) and an open edge to the water on the other. In some segments, the edge was slightly raised to a low wall where fishermen rested their poles as they overlooked the bay. The occasional bench made an appearance, but the park remained fully occupied regardless of the seating. People perched on the rocky sea wall, the hard edge of the esplanade, the benches, the large grassy lawn, and beneath spindly, freshly planted trees. The details of the programming of the expansive site varied, but always remained simple; a space to walk and a space to rest, all set to the unadulterated backdrop coastal mountains spilling into the cerulean water. Anything else was superfluous.



We left for Izmir the day of May Day in Turkey.  While waiting for the bus at 5:30 am, we were surrounded by more than a dozen policemen and the roads into our neighborhood of Sisli were blocked off. It was slightly unsettling to see so many people getting ready for the possibility of violent protests that day, and as we checked the news report when we got to Izmir, it was really bad. But on a happier note, since we got to our hotel early we were able to leave our bags and explore a little while our rooms were being prepared.

In the map that we got from the hotel we could see a long waterfront that had several different points of interest, and we decided to go to a small plaza by the ferry station. As we walked around we could feel the energetic vibe of the people and the overwhelming movement of cars that are part of Turkish life in the city center. However, as we moved close to the waterfront you could see the street life changing into a quieter place, as well as an increase in property value. Finally we arrived at the plaza; it had an amazing view of the water, as well as an open space that could be used for different activities, as is designed here.

In this plaza we found some policemen.  However, they looked rather relaxed and were in smaller numbers compared to Istanbul. We walked by them and sat on the concrete edge of the water overlooking the small fish and sea creatures that where swimming around. It was really relaxing sitting there and feeling the air blow by, allowing time to just go by without worrying about anything. But of course, we only had one hour to explore before heading back, so as we walked back to the hotel I noticed that even though the number of policemen was smaller than in Istanbul, they were still getting ready. Luckily for us, Izmir had a peaceful May Day and we were able to enjoy it as we hopped on the ferry for the day.