If you’d asked me a week ago what I thought about my experience abroad I would have said, “I want every moment of the rest of my life to be like the last three months.” On the ferry from Beşiktaş to Kadıköy, while Istanbulites busied themselves with their evening commute, I had that peculiar sensation of having nowhere in particular to be when everyone around you is in a hurry. For two lira, the price of a pack of gum, this ferry takes you across the Bosphorus Strait from Europe to Asia. The idea of crossing continents, a momentous event for most people, is just part of the everyday grind of a rush hour commute for the people of this magical city.
This time has been filled with all the lush clichés of travel narrative. I overcame the depths of disabled despair and had the trip of a lifetime. I fell into the ecstasy of love with countless people, places, things and, above all, foods. Every day was a new adventure to discover the myriad wonders this world has to offer. Words trite enough to make an English teacher queasy, and arguably I’ve been conditioned by the literature to feel this way, but all of it rings undeniably true.
When I first arrived, I was taken aback by the aggressive Turkish nationalism that pervades every aspect of society. Yet, I quickly learned that such passion applies to Turkish art, music, cuisine and especially the polarization of domestic politics. At the risk of making too broad a generalization, Turks are simply a passionate people. The people of Turkey are right to be energized and proud of their country. Turkey has gone from an impoverished backwater to one of the most prosperous, dynamic countries in the world over a period of time that even teenagers can remember.
The problem with living with such passion is eventually you burn out. The same is true for the adventuring of this weary traveler. As much as I’ve loved the thrill of waking up in a new city everyday and of speaking three languages before lunchtime, I’m filled with a basic human yearning for stability. I’ve realized that if everyday is different, then everyday is the same. I’m ready to go home to Boston, home to Georgetown, and to be among my own people. Travel is only a usefully life experience if it can be put into perspective. It is the contrast with the rooted, stable life that makes adventure extraordinary.
Yet, perhaps this is simply a rationalization of the course I’ve accepted as predetermined. That I should be expected to go back to America, to finish school, to work, to marry, and to lead a “normal” life, runs counter to the advice of the wandering souls I’ve encountered in my travels whom I so admire, even envy for their freedom. Certainly boarding the flight from Istanbul is not the final decision on the course of my life, but it feels as if I’ve made a definitive step. I can’t imagine when I’ll again be so free of obligations financial, familial, or otherwise.
I will certainly return to Istanbul, perhaps to work, or simply to travel. Even as I fly across the Mediterranean and then the Atlantic, I can feel the city’s pulsing streets and waterways pulling me back. In September, I wrote that Istanbul is the heart of the world, and now I know that it has molded me into part of its living mass. Even as time floats me away from the city, I yearn for the day that Istanbul will again propel me down the artery of Istiklal and out the vein of the Bosphorus. (Alright I’m getting carried away but you get the idea: blood, passion etc.)
How can I sum it all up in one post? Two days ago, I climbed to the top of Galata Tower to get the best view of Istanbul. (Actually I took an elevator, but, details…). Even in the December fog, the view was breathtaking. I tried to photograph the city. I leaned one way to get the towering minarets of Sultanahmet, and held my camera out at odd angles to try to capture the bridges across the Bosphorus. Nothing came close to the real sight, and in the end I gave up and decided to stand and simply appreciate it for myself. I can give you a glimpse here or a taste there, but my ultimate aim, dear reader, is to inspire you to come experience it for yourself.