My last visit to Istanbul was over 20 years ago. Did it change?, I thought when I booked for my fifth trip to Istanbul. 20 years is a lot!
My first trip to Istanbul was short after the third coup in the early eighties. I was a student for the first time in a country where the army played a big role and looking back I think I was partly unaware. There was a soldier on every corner of the road in Istanbul and there were hardly any tourists. It was a strange time and as a student, I was very excited, curious, eager to learn more about the world.
In 1990 or 1991 after quite some travelling in Turkey during the years, I decided that I was at last really fed up with the behaviour of Turkish men who wouldn’t let western women any freedom; I will never go again, I said, and focussed since then on Turkish Cyprus as one of my favorite places to be.
However, not every decision can last for a life time and now I am back, enjoying to be back really! By now I have walked around Istanbul all day in snow and wind and I found it both familiar and renewed. Familiar is the way of life, the simits and marrons and lots of other stuff one can buy in the streets, the friendliness of the people, the silent and thankful smiles when a tourist appears to speak some Turkish. Renewed is the pavement of the roads, the electricity that I remember, at that time, had open cables everywhere, quite dangerous in a busy city. The city is definitely a lot richer, the pavement of streets has been taken care of and the garbage in this intensely lived city is now none compared to my memories of the 20st century. Religion is more present in daily life than it was before, but women seem to be more free in the meantime.
A city that has existed for so many ages wouldn’t radically change: it keeps it character but it develops, that is my conclusion. And it is nice and beautiful as ever!