I was three months old the first time I traveled to Istanbul. My grandma bundled me up and took me on my first transatlantic voyage, while my parents stayed in Michigan. She brought me to the city that our ancestors had called home for centuries, and we repeated the journey once, twice a year until I was seven. I saw the city a dozen times, and then I didn't return for sixteen years.
I was left with increasingly vague memories of the cities. Ice cream cones and family and ornate gates along the Bosphorus. Running off in the middle of an Art Nouveau hotel with my toy plane and hiding in the gift shop with another adventurous three year old. I remember walking by the water and listening to my great uncle tell me about clocks stopping to mark Atatürk's death. I remember bookshops and börek and watching episodes of the Smurfs while dunking petit beurres into overly-sugared tea. I remember cool summer evenings and trees and ferryboats, and none of the things I saw when I finally traveled back.
I found a completely new city when I returned to Istanbul last April. The Istanbul I'd romanticized through my childhood seemed to have disappeared and been replaced by a sprawling, over-populated metropolis. The charm was gone, and everything about it seemed to be loud and suffocating. It took hours to get anywhere, and I hated it.
I stubbornly vowed not to return, but then I guilted myself into a few weeks ago. My grandmother wanted to travel back. I agreed, and I'm glad that I did.
I went back with low expectations and my memories full of the packed, noisy city instead of the quiet calm of my childhood, and I was pleasantly surprised. We spent most of our time in Beyoğlu and along the Bosphorus and away from the crowds, and I was pleasantly surprised.
We took a ferry to an old summer palace, Beylerbeyi, and walked to a nearby town for lunch. We chartered a boat and sped along the Bosphorus. We had lots of coffee and good food and visited 1920s haunts, and my three days in the city pleasantly zoomed by.
I wouldn't say the city has gone back to being what it was when I was a child, but my visions of it are no longer as disconnected as they were after last year's trip, and I look forward to visiting again soon.
(For more photos of my trip, see my tumblr tag for Istanbul and my Instagram.)