What You'll Find in This Post:
Istanbul is one of the best places I have ever visited, but I believe I’ll save the bulk of my statements til the end. For now, I will start off with a quick list, a reminder of some of the situations and experiences that colored and defined my stay in Istanbul:
In Fatih, near Chora Church
I am excitedly pointing at the blue water, but if you look closely, there is an airplane flying overhead.
I got stuck in a Turkish airport after missing a flight on an airline I’m convinced is cursed. I distinctly remember emailing my teachers and essentially telling them “I have my finals ready to submit, but I’m stuck in a Turkish airport with no Wi-Fi,” politely requesting a 24-hour extension.
Istanbul was very, very affordable. Out of the four Qatar exchange students, four of us visited Istanbul in part because of its affordability.
In the apartment
The AirBnb was . . . eh. The neighborhood was great, and the apartment was swell, but the host, their assistant, their absurd impromptu fees, and everyone’s communication skills left much to be desired. Contending with the AirBnb is the main reason I missed my flight. Although, perhaps the fire I may or may not have accidentally started in the electric tea kettle makes up for it a little bit.
Drinking çay at Çiya Sofrası
The food was great. True, the street corn was sad, I learned I don’t like chestnuts, and some lahmacun made my partner sick on the very last day, but otherwise it was awesome (especially if you’re vegetarian).
The rainbow stairs near Dolmabahçe Palace
The photo I took at Topkapi Palace right before some Turkish women asked to take a photo with me
Being black in Istanbul, or a person of color in general, was unpleasant. It wasn’t aggressive or violent, just annoying and laced with ignorance (the clueless kind of ignorance that comes from simply not being exposed to other types of people). It was unlike American racism in that it was less life-threatening and much easier to tolerate.
Overall, though, the people in Istanbul were very kind and personable. That in itself was a unique experience.
I may not have liked the boat rides, but they always offered up some beautiful scenery
You can get almost anywhere on the metro, the buses are a 50/50 hit or miss (the “miss” being the possibility of them not showing up at all), and ferries are an incredibly efficient way to travel and a great way to learn how easily you get seasick.
I climbed on the Walls of Constantinople and every time I write that down the memory feels more and more impactful.
Istanbul even allowed me to bond with this Hello Kitty camera on the Bosporus
Now, that all that is laid out, let me conclude with this: Istanbul was colorful, dynamic, surprising, engaging, and fun. Yeah, I definitely had my down moments—from exhaustion to crumbling logistics to ignorant remarks from strangers—but all of those things taught me more about myself and a bit more about the world. Istanbul provided me with a really beautiful micro-macro learning experience.
And you know, of all the places I’ve been to so far, Istanbul is the only one that I would simply visit again, emphasis on the idea of simply. What I mean is, when I think about going back to Morocco or Qatar—places I know I’d love to see again (and coincidentally have already seen again), my thought process is always I’d like to go back but or I wish I’d seen this while I was there or I will never ever do that again. There is always some kind of stipulation, a major change that I would make to the original experience. When it comes to Istanbul, I don’t feel that way; the things I would change about my experience are somewhat inconsequential, like choosing a different airline or packing slightly different clothes.
My time in Istanbul and any changes I would make to that experience just feel simple. And if I had to, I would relive the entire Istanbul experience all over again, with all its ups and downs. No hesitation, no stipulations, no “buts” or major changes. I loved Istanbul . . . maybe because I felt like it loved me back, just a little bit.