Is this really it?

A year ago, if you asked me if I would leave Istanbul before the end of 2013, I would have said “impossible”. Well, that day may come tomorrow when I fly back to Chicago for Christmas. Today may very well be my last day in Istanbul for a long, long time – and it feels so surreal.

I’m not going to outline my possible future plans here just yet. I haven’t made a solid decision and I could easily be right back in Istanbul in a few weeks. But a lot of factors brought me to this point – a desire to see another part of the world, being set back nearly a year by my freak summer illness, the political climate in Turkey, the uncontrolled growth and change in Istanbul (and has it ever changed since I moved here).

When I booked my flight, I thought, “I’ll go do what I have to do, however long it takes, and come back when I’m ready. It’ll be easy.” Wrong.

The past couple of days, I’ve been savoring every moment. Everything could be a “last” for quite a while. My last plate of mantı, my last ferry ride across the Bosporus, my last walk down Istiklal, my last cup of çay.

This huge, bustling city of 18 million people has gone completely silent for me. Out on the streets, I’ve managed to tune out the noise of the traffic and the murmur of the crowds for the first time since arriving here in 2010. The tiniest sounds are now exponentially louder than the incessant horn honking of a taxi or a dolmuş. I can only see the fine details and smell the familiar smells.

I walk past places and memories instantly pop into my mind. The steps at Şişhane where in December 2010, I was walking with Ayşegül on a rainy day, holding onto her to prevent her from slipping, and I slipped and fell flat on my face instead. The Starbucks in Moda where I met with Selen several times a week in March 2011 when she was a beginner and was afraid to speak to me, and now nearly 3 years later, her English is amazing.

And of course, the most difficult part has been the goodbyes with some of the best friends I will ever know. I don’t have to elaborate on that. It’s a good thing it’s been raining. It hides everyone’s tears.

This is my home now, and it always will be. I learned to enjoy life here. I could confidently say that I will never love one city more than I love Istanbul. It’s a city that has a different charm in the sun, rain, or snow. Fair enough, most cities can be charming in the sun or snow, but how many cities can you say are beautiful in the rain? Only the special ones.

3 years and 2 months. That’s a lot of time to get to know one place. But at this point it feels like it was all a dream. One long, wonderful, frustrating, agonizing, comical, happy dream that I never want to wake from.

Istanbul – maybe it will take a month to return, maybe a year, maybe more – I’m not finished with you.

Sunset on a ferry from Kadıköy to Karaköy in İstanbul. Turkey

Sunset on a ferry from Kadıköy to Karaköy

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