The 5 Things That Surprised Me About Istanbul

I am finally braving the piles and piles of photos that are virtually in my SD card to share with you my amazing trip to Istanbul.

I know, it’s about time.

Well, there is much to tell. But I thought I’d start with some things I did not know about Istanbul. This trip was originally supposed to be to London, where I would meet up with my travel buddy R. But somehow we ended up changing destinations to Turkey, which was fate because I’ve always been curious about this country.

On the other hand, because it was last minute we didn’t have much time to research. R and I actually first started discussing potential places to go…the day we left for Istanbul. But just jumping into this historic city head first was thrilling and gave us a chance to learn certain things first hand.

So before I get into all that we experienced and saw, here are some things that surprised me about Istanbul during our five glorious days there:

1. MOSQUES EVERYWHERE – This may be one of those “duh!” statements. I knew there were many famous mosques, I just didn’t realize how many other regular mosques there were.

If I had done my research before my trip, I would have known that there are over 3,000 mosques in Istanbul. It was beautiful seeing five mosques from my hotel window, especially at night when the minarets were lit up. Stumbling across so many mosques was also a god-send when you needed to use the bathroom. Or a quiet place to calm yourself in the midst of the beautiful chaos that is Istanbul.

2. THE HEAT – Or should I say, the lack thereof? Summer in Tokyo is a million times more stifling than in Istanbul, or so the Iranian man sitting next to me on the flight to Istanbul told me. I thought he was kidding.

But lo and behold, he wasn’t. I always imagined Turkey to be so much more hot than Tokyo, and temperature-wise some places might be, but the lack of humidity made Istanbul feel quite cool. July is apparently their hottest month, and during the day it really was hot, but I was wearing sweatshirts at night because of the cool wind!

3. MEN LOVE CHILDREN – Living in Tokyo, it seems like we all tend to keep to ourselves when out in public. Especially in very public places, you just don’t go around tickling the feet of a stranger’s baby (unless it’s a dog, maybe).

Well, in Istanbul you can because everyone loves babies, it seems. Especially the men! It was interesting riding on trains and ferries, seeing teenage guys acting all fly until a baby starts fussing next to them, and they all hurry to entertain. Or a grumpy old grandpa would eyebrow tricks to make a child smile.

And it goes both ways, the parents don’t seem suspicious of strangers when it comes to their children. They will just say, “Oh she likes you!” and sometimes even ask for a picture (yes, I entertained my share of babies on ferries and in mosques). I have to say I love how everyone appreciates children in Istanbul. We were there during the Ramazan Bayrami holiday, when many families are out and about, but I didn’t see one child have a tantrum. Did I miss all the tantrum throwing kids in Istanbul, or is Istanbul possibly the village raising a child?

4. STRAY CATS AND DOGS – Although we have our fair share of cats roaming my neighborhood, the number of stray cats in Istanbul was still surprising. In the city, the islands, pretty much everywhere!

What I wasn’t used to were the stray dogs, which I’ve never seen in my neighborhood, or anywhere in Japan, really. Not only were they stray dogs, they were BIG stray dogs. Big beautiful labradors and huskies. I didn’t see a single chihuahua or toy poodle. It’s quite the surprise when you glance over and see a huge dog staring at you. I almost screamed a couple of times at first but you get used to it after awhile, especially since they are all tame and friendly.

5. NOT VERY MANY PEOPLE SPEAK ENGLISH – I know, I know. Japan shouldn’t be talking. And no, I don’t expect every place I go to be full of English speakers. I admit that I absolutely failed at learning Turkish. Shame on me. I did try. But I will do better next time, promise.

But what I wanted to say here is that despite not very many people being able to communicate in English, they were enthusiastic about helping us out using slowly pronounced Turkish words and huge hand gestures. Everyone was fantastic. We were rescued by local people countless times.

They say that it’s the people you meet that make a place special, and it was exactly that for us. We were truly blessed.

Have you ever been to Istanbul? Were you surprised by anything?
We had an amazing time! There will be more Istanbul photos on the way! xx

6 thoughts on “The 5 Things That Surprised Me About Istanbul”

  1. I had several students in Tokyo that absolutely loved Turkey for various reasons. It has been a joy seeing and reading about reasons.

    I saw a video presentation recently that discussed how the Japanese language is characterized by all those suffixes tacked on to the ends of words. The lecturer in the video said that that aspect of language, called agglutination”, is shared by languages that follow the old silk-road route such as Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Kazakh, Turkmen, Azerbaijani, and all the way to Turkey. Well, you can see a map at this Wiki Altaic Language site. Anyway, the lecturer said that because of the structures of their languages it is much easier for a Japanese person to learn Turkish than English. So, hang in there. I am sure you checked out Amazon for some learn-Turkish books.

    I can tell what great and kind people the Turks are when I see the top you are wearing. Because, according to this, attendants at mosques, other than Hagia Sophia?, probably provided you with some kind of covering.

    I am so looking forward to more of your take on Turkey!

    Ah, culture shock! Even in today's globalizing world.

    I am sure you have been going through a gamut of travel books such as Lonely Planet, DK and the like. But for something a little broader check this one out, and all those five-star reviews!


  2. I started reading โ€œTales from the Expat Haremโ€ today. I am four stories into it and think it is super. I am looking forward to your returning to Turkey and eventually adding your story. And for now, more of your recent travel and photos.


  3. That is so interesting, I didn't know that Turkish would be easier to learn for a Japanese-speaking person. It would be lovely to learn though, it sounded very beautiful.

    Yes, usually with mosques you need a scarf, which I carried around with me everywhere. It worked as a shawl when it got chilly outside, which was wonderful, too. But for people who weren't carrying one around, most mosques did provide a cover gown or scarf for visitors. It was really nice!

    I am very late in all my posts but will have them up soon! ๐Ÿ˜€


  4. Babzy, it was a beautiful and stimulating country. I think you would like it, too! And it's only a few hours from you by airplane, which I am very jealous about ๐Ÿ˜€


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