I know this blog hasn’t been around that long, dear readers (all two of you), but I’m going to let you behind the curtain a little bit. I’m going to divulge a dirty little secret about myself that really hit me when I was in Istanbul. Here it goes…
I skip a lot of “must see” attractions while traveling. Especially religious establishments.
Whew! That felt good to say. OK, maybe that secret didn’t seem too scandalous. Until you hear the places I’ve traveled and what I’ve skipped. I visited Florence and skipped the Uffizi. Trekked all throughout Venice but didn’t take a gondola on the Grand Canal. Ventured through Dublin but skipped Christ Church Cathedral. Poked into every nook and cranny in Istanbul but didn’t go inside Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque.
It’s not that I’m against religious establishments, it’s just that I have been to a lot of churches and cathedrals and synagogues and mosques. A lot. They are very intricate and impressive. But I do not have a deep enough appreciation to spend hours and hours there as, say, an architect or art historian might. There are some worth seeing, like Westminster Abbey. But I didn’t even go there until my second trip to London… after I had already seen everything else. Truly, a good portion of my distaste for such places comes from insanely long lines and/or hefty fees to go inside major tourist attractions, and then less payout than I’d like.
Some probably will argue that the Blue Mosque is right up there with Westminster and I was a fool not to go inside. But consider this: if I had waited in that ridiculously long line at the Blue Mosque, I may have missed some of the amazing everyday moments that show what life is like for Istanbul locals in the here, in the now. Like spending time watching these fishermen with their huge poles on the Galata Bridge. All of them craning to see what a fellow fisher may have pulled from the Bosphorus.
Or this little boy scrambling to jump onto the trolley as his friend cheered him on, and then him holding on for dear life.
Or these bohemian musicians treating passersby to beautiful sounds while the guys next to them plan their Friday night.
Or escaping the rain by going to the second story of a restaurant and looking down on the people living their lives, oblivious to the fact I’m watching them. Some were tourists, some were locals selling wares, some were talking on the phone, and some were locals feeding the cat next to the guy on the phone. Love it all.
“People” experiences resonate with me more than yet another religious edifice would. Undoubtedly, I would appreciate the church’s beauty, but it just wouldn’t carry as much meaning to me as other life stories. I’m sure each of the historic buildings carries many, many personal stories worth telling. Unfortunately, they often become lost among the grandeur and spectacle. That’s not what I want. I want to hear about the man who toiled his whole life to paint scrolling designs along one church window, or the woman who brought water to hundreds of parched workers while they built a mosque.
I love telling long tales from my travels about the personal experience. Like the jokes a waiter told and how his job funded travel to see his love in a different country. Or my taxi driver who only sees his family once a year, but works in a different country because he makes four times the money as at home. I envision my stories about another experience in a church would go something like this:
Other person: So did you go to Hagia Sophia?
Other person: Was it cool?
Me: Yep, sure was. Very intricate and beautiful.
Other person: Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard before. So… wanna go get a pizza?
Come on, you can’t tell me you haven’t thought this at least once when someone was telling you about a heavily visited tourist attraction.
As Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) said in Lethal Weapon, “I’m too old for this shit.” What exactly, you may ask, am I too old for? Spending time on things I don’t want to be doing or seeing simply because I think I should do or see them. Life is meant to be lived and experienced how you like, not walked through in an orderly fashion just to check boxes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to avoid all major attractions, because I’ve certainly enjoyed my share (ahem, Edinburgh Castle). I’m just saying don’t feel forced to see commonly visited things that don’t sound interesting to you just because you think you should. If you think you’ll love it, do it! If you don’t think you’ll love it, then by all means, leave it.
I’m going to continue skipping a lot of “must see” attractions on my travels and will continue to experience the little things. I want to enjoy glimpses of others’ laughter, joy, tears, anguish and disbelief. It’s the road less traveled, but I think it will make all the difference.