Belated Beauty of Istanbul

It’s been almost six months since I was on my mini-RTW backpacking trip, and while there were definitely cities that I fell in love with immediately while on the road, I’ve lately been surprised at some cities that I’m yearning to return to… but failed to impress me the first time around.

Istanbul immediately comes to mind as an example.

Completely stunned by how marvelous Morocco had been, Istanbul felt very underwhelming in comparison. The first thing I did when I arrived was find the square with the Blue Mosque and soak up some rays, waiting for the time to come when I could finally pack up and go meet my host. And thus, I wasted my only day of sunshine in Istanbul.

The rest of the days I was in the city were gloomy, cold, and wet; weather definitely contributes to how you take in a city. Especially in how you don’t photograph a city.

Scarves Grand Bazaar Istanbul Blue Mosque Istanbul Turkey

But now, sitting on my full-sized mattress laid out on the ground because I’ve become THAT poor person, I find myself thinking about Istanbul surprisingly often. I miss the seamless melange of cultures there, the great swaths of apartment buildings lining the Bosphorus, and the perfect smell of authentic kebab spices that you can only find in Turkey. A fusion occurs in Istanbul, one between modern society and the deeply ingrained traditional values that the country treasures so much.

I miss returning to my host’s cozy, bachelor pad of an apartment after a slow day of meandering Istanbul’s streets, welcomed back by his roommates’ playing Modern Warfare on the TV in the middle of my bedroom–their living room. Rushing to finish shampooing within the 5 minutes before the temperature of their water boiler dropped below comfortable. Closing the door to their living room and creating a pseudo-room of my own… a feeling that I hadn’t experienced in a good month since leaving Grenoble.

I miss the feeling that I would get sometimes while in Istanbul, where I would be sitting in the bus and I would glance up, mistakenly thinking that I was now in the center of New York City. And other times in small residential neighborhoods, I would be swept back into central Europe with its traditional cobblestone streets and its cafes on the street corner. There were even some times that I was wandering the neighborhoods around my host’s apartment that I could have sworn I was back in Taiwan.

That is how unique Istanbul is.

Bosphorus Istanbul Turkey DCIM109GOPRO topkapi palace instanbul turkey Blue Mosque istanbul turkey DCIM109GOPRO

(Another example of my dumb selfie face.)

DCIM109GOPRO DCIM109GOPRO topkapi palace instanbul turkey topkapi palace instanbul turkey topkapi palace instanbul turkey Blue Mosque istanbul turkey

Istanbul is so unique as a city that I wish I appreciated it more while I was there. It’s one of those cities with a slow burn. I wish that someone had told me that before I visited so that I would’ve allocated enough time to soak everything in. Once I arrived and visited all the sights, I felt like I had seen everything I needed to see. All that happened in a day; but that’s only the beginning. Like many of the larger international cities, Istanbul’s sheer size allows separate personalities in all of its quarters, quarters that I wasn’t able to completely explore and appreciate because of the scant 3 days that I allowed myself there.

What I thought was (maybe) boredom at the time was really boredom at all the traveling I had to do in order to get to a certain part of the city. Even then, I wasn’t able to dedicate enough time to unearth the character of each neighborhood before hopping back onto a bus and traveling to another must-see. I found Istanbul hard to capture via camera because it was hard to express its vibrant personality through a few sweeping photos. It’s one where you have to dissect it with micro-photos of the people, a mural of a wall, a close-up of the locals’ washing their feet after exiting the mosque for a daily prayer; details that resonate with me even today, 6 months after my visit.

Linking up with Bonnie and Courtney :)

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  • Courtney @ Adelante

    Waaah! I was only there two days ago and I already want to go back so badly!! One weekend definitely wasn’t enough to soak all of it in. You’re right though, Istanbul was a really hard city to photograph! The whole weekend I kept telling my friends that Istanbul is one of the least photogenic cities I’ve ever been to (but still one of the coolest). There are so many experiences you just can’t capture on camera, like the hauntingly beautiful calls to prayer from the mosques, the hustle and bustle of the bazaars, and getting scrubbed down at a Turkish bath by a half naked, 200 pound Turkish woman yelling at you (LOL). What I wouldn’t give to go back though!

    • Mishfish13

      Ahh! I knew you’d love it :) I think it’s so not photogenic because things are so… big there? What makes it Istanbul is more the feel maybe. Oh man! Those calls to prayer were so constant during my whole Morocco-Turkey leg that it felt weird not hearing it anymore when I returned to the EU. LOL I’m glad you got to experience a hammam, definitely one of the weirdest experiences ever!

      Thanks for visiting :)

  • Cynthia

    What an interesting post… I loved how you wrote about your home-stay there and that sometimes first impressions aren’t always the lasting ones. I guess Istanbul really just needs a lot of time to let resonate, yeah? I kind of felt that way about Reykjavik. I spent a week there, it was freezing/snowing in April, and I didn’t have the time of my life like all of the tourism campaigns promise. But years later, something stuck and I am left with the overwhelming desire to get back there and try it again.

    • Mishfish13

      Thanks, Cynthia! Yeah, it’s just weird how impressions work. Ooh, I’ve always wanted to go to Reykjavik. I never had the chance while I was abroad and there’s always those cities that, looking back, I wish I had more time to visit.

  • Melanie Fontaine

    I think there are just some places that take longer to fall in love with just as there are some places that we will never really love! And I certainly know the feeling of thinking that you haven’t appreciated a place enough (I kind of feel this way about Thailand), but I think it also just comes with expectations. Istanbul is a city that many people seem to fall head over heels in love with upon arrival and I think with these expectations, it can be an underwhelming experience if you just don’t feel that way – especially if you have just come from another amazing place! :) I’ve been wanting to visit Istanbul and hopefully to combine it with a visit to some other places in Turkey (I only recently found out how much there is to see there!), but if only there was enough time to go everywhere! ;)

    • Mishfish13

      Haha you summed it up perfectly! Although Istanbul for me was kind of more on a whim, so I didn’t really have any expectations for what I would find! Much like much of my trip haha. I’m interested to hear more about your general take on Thailand though! I feel like I haven’t really read that much about it yet :)

  • Sammy @ Days Like This

    Beautiful post!! I think anywhere would be hard to visit after Morocco – it’s such a vibrant country. I am looking forawrd to visiting Istanbul and Turkey on a whole next year.

    • Mishfish13

      Haha you and I both know, Sammy! Have you already planned a date for the visit??

  • AmyMacWorld

    I love stories like this–where you don’t even realize how much a place has stuck with you until later, usually when you aren’t there anymore. Istanbul seems so intriguing to me–my friend is teaching there and I might just have to visit!

    • Mishfish13

      YOU DEFINITELY HAVE TO, AMY! If you couldn’t tell already, I’m a big fan ;) And thanks so much for visiting :)

  • Chiara Pannozzo

    Istanbul is definitely on my list of places to visit. I love the idea of everything about it, the culture, the food, the vibrancy. I’ll definitely need to get there soon x

    • Mishfish13

      I definitely recommend it, Chiara! :) Thanks for popping by!

  • Kate Jordan

    I LOVE the camera lens you’ve used here!
    I felt very much the same way about France when I lived there. I didn’t really appreciate it at all and then once I left, I realised the beauty of it. Sometimes you have to leave to appreciate what you had!

    • Mishfish13

      Thanks Kate! :) It was my GoPro and felt like I was cheating a bit here haha. It’s a pity whenever you bump into these cities because you don’t get the same adrenaline bump you do with the cities you fall in love with immediately… just a lingering wishfulness haha.

  • Elle

    I’d love to go to Istanbul sometime! But I know what you mean about the weather – I still have this dislike of Paris since it rained the whole time I was there and everything we did had that air of damp misery over it. And I really only appreciated Busan as my second home once I left. I love that first shot of the scarves – I love seeing different textiles and crafts when I travel.

    • Mishfish13

      Yeah, it really removes your rose-colored glasses when you have to trudge through mud again. And thank you! You’ll love the future post of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar then ;)

  • Rachel

    What great colours in those photos! Istanbul’s such a beautifully vibrant place, I have to return soon.

    • Mishfish13

      Thanks, Rachel :) I can’t wait until I get to go back

  • Tiffany(The Together Traveler)

    The colorful scarves are so beautiful! I have a layover in Istanbul next month and desperately wish I had the time to actually stop through and see the city.

    • Mishfish13

      Thanks, Tiffany! Ahh next time maybe?! Hopefully you love wherever you’re traveling to :)

  • GiGi Eats Celebrities

    Turkey is by far ONE OF MY FAVORITE COUNTRIES in the world!!!!!! Going to New Zealand and Australia in a week though, so we shall see if I change my mind ;)

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Hahah that is a tough decision, but I won’t be disappointed if you choose NZ & Australia ;)