imaginings versus reality

When I travel, I conjure up a whole magical city in my mind.  Usually this city is very small and accessible, easy to navigate and not overwhelming.   Often this figment of my imagination is my undoing.  When I went to Bangkok, I imagined a place very exotic, based loosely on the movie Brokedown Palace, and on stories Mike told me about his lovely memories of growing up in Thailand.  I imagined bustling pedestrian-only streets filled with Thais and multitudes of foreigners in colorful and exotic clothing.  I imagined a place strikingly strange, colorful, and enticing.  Instead I found in Bangkok a mostly Western city with some elements of Thai-ness, but not to the degree I imagined.  I found traffic-clogged streets, pollution and nothing that really spoke to my heart.  Except the food.  Astounding food.  And lovely, relaxing & cheap massages.  

Now on my way to Turkey, here’s what I imagine: a much more colorful and exotic Cairo. I imagine blues and greens and mosaics and magnificent mosques and a dancing turquoise Bosphorus, with Hagia Sophia dominating the landscape in every direction.  I imagine the somehow comforting call to prayer 5 times a day.  I imagine a city glittering with a fresh breeze.  I imagine friendly and gregarious people.  I also imagine a bit of a dark underside, based on a movie I saw right before I came to Korea; though it takes place in Germany and Istanbul, the main characters are Turks: Head-on.  It was a dark and painful love story.  Another movie I want to watch that I’ve heard much about is Distant, another melancholy movie.  

The book I’m reading now, The Black Book, makes me imagine a place of heaviness and density, a place of shadows and mystery, but I don’t want to let that place take over my imagination; I’ll keep that place on the fringes of my mind.  

I am writing all this so that when I get to Turkey, I will see how it measures up to my dreams.  The reality in travel is many times absolutely antithetical to what you imagine it to be.  This was not the case in France; where everything was as I imagined, from years of reading Ernest Hemingway, or even better.  England was great, but in a way different from what I imagined.   

There is a Turkish guy I met here in Korea.  He is shockingly innocent for his age of 35.  He believes the Quran to be absolutely perfect.  He loves Turkey and loves his mother, who he says is an angel.  And he is very kind-hearted and shy.  I wonder if he is representative or an anomaly.   I guess I will begin to find out in two more days, when I arrive in Istanbul, suitcase in hand, ready to learn about this ancient world, new only to me.  

One of my stops will be in  Cappadocia, in eastern Anatolia, land of cave dwellings and fairy chimneys, where volcanic eruptions formed rocks which have eroded into spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms. The people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved the soft rocks out to form houses, churches and monasteries. Göreme became a monastic center between 300—1200 AD.  This sounds like a romantic spot and guidebooks even give warnings that in this magical spot,  local men may flirt with women and try to form relationships with them, only to pull out sob stories later of how their sick mothers need money for operations, etc.  I probably won’t have to worry about this happening!  

Next stop, Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish. The city contains hot springs and travertines, terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water. It is located in Turkey’s Inner Aegean region. The ancient city of Hierapolis was built on top of the white “castle.”  People have bathed in Pamukkale’s pools for thousands of years.  

My next stop will be in Ephesus, an ancient Greek city, and later a Roman city.  In the Roman period, it was the 2nd largest city behind Rome.  Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia cited in the Book of Revelations.  It is also thought the Gospel of John may have been written here.  It also has a large gladiator’s graveyard.  The house of the Virgin Mary is supposed to be the last home of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  It is a place of pilgrimage that has been visited by 3 popes.  

Finally, I plan to return to Istanbul, where I will try to take a cruise down the Bosphorus and visit the Grand Bazaar.  Here I imagine gold, silver, beautiful painted tiles, Turkish carpets, mosaics, all allure.  The stuff of dreams….  

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