There’s a feeling that everybody has experienced who has spent a significant amount of time away from home, be it at summer camp, in another country, at school, or just after a long and stressful day at the office. It’s the feeling of comfort, like you don’t need to worry about how such and such will turn out or how you’re going to get to the next place. You know your home, you know the area, and you feel at peace there. That’s how I felt upon my arrival in Turkey this morning.
While today was a relatively extraordinary day, no single thing felt odd, or threw me off balance (except the one, but I’ll get to that) enough to make me feel like I was in a strange place. Istanbul feels like home. And I love that.
Passport Control didn’t want me in the country. Typical Turkish Bureaucratic Ailment (for more on that, click here), convincing the border guards that I was still a student there, which I am not, and that I should have a residency permit, which I should not. I waited for an hour while they canceled my visa, then reissued it, all the while tossing the job between six different officials and whomever was in the back office. This didn’t phase me. It’s Turkey, and they operate like that.
Taksim Square is vastly different from last year. Entire strips of shops have been torn down and where there used to be endless streams of cars dashing through the square, there is now a vast, empty, plain space that surrounds Gezi Park on two sides, instead of one. There’s a police van with an armed guard and a water cannon turret on top keeping watch over the square. It’s a new face on the same old Taksim. That’s Istanbul… always changing and never changing.
I walked the entire length of Istiklal Cd with my backpack on. I was drenched in sweat, I got stares and confused looks as to why I was following a street sweeping car so closely (it parted the sea of people for me). But it gave me comfort to look around and see so much familiarity. There was no getting lost this time – as there was the first day I arrived in the cold in January of 2012 – no maps. I knew my area, and felt at peace there.
Only one thing caught me off balance, quite literally. That was a fast moving tram that I didn’t see until it was almost too late. But we live and we learn, and now I know that running across the street to see the brightly colored stairs is not a reason to not thoroughly check your surroundings.
So there it is. Istanbul, a city in which so much has changed in one year but doesn’t seem to have changed in the past 600. And with food to die for… just today I got to enjoy Iskender Kebap, baklava, turkish coffee, fish köfte, salmon shish, fresh calamari, mussels and anchovies… and hookah, elma ve nane. My taste buds could not be happier.
So, weirdly enough, I left home, flew for ten hours, and landed at home. Needless to say I’m looking forward to my week here.