It has taken me far too long to write this post, and for that I do apologize. I kept thinking that I wanted to write about Paris and I couldn't think of anything to say about the city that hasn't already been said ad nauseum already. As I deleted draft after draft, I realized that what I actually was trying to write about was why we travel, not just to Paris, but to everywhere.
My favorite kind of travel are city holidays, as evidenced by such recent visits to Prague, Munich, Sofia and Paris. I'm most happy walking through a city's street, visiting its cafes, revelling in its museums, watching its people. I'm not interested in anything so-called "outdoorsy" unless you consider walking outside "outdoorsy". I like to notice the way people dress, what they order to drink at cafes, what a country holds in its museums.
Many people, of course, travel to see things. We go to see the Louvre, or the Eiffel Tower, or the Sultanahmet Mosque. We go to these places to be awed, to be imbued with just a smidge of the grandeur that these buildings and monuments add to the world.
We go too to obtain a bit of "cultural capital." We go to say we have been there, to show off the photographs we have taken of famous sculptures or monuments or landmarks, even if we know absolutely nothing about them other than that they are famous for some reason or another.
I saw this first-hand at the Louvre, where you are, sadly and inexplicably, allowed to photograph sculptures and paintings. Even if you're not supposed to use flash, many, many people do. It saddens me to remember people actually touching sculptures with their oily fingers, and complaining that someone stopped a moment too long in their lingering and ruined their photograph (never mind that everyone has digital cameras nowadays).
On our first night in Paris, I caught my very first glimpse ever of the famed Eiffel Tower and my first thought was: yuck. I mean, really? That montrosity? From afar, seeing only the top half of the tower with its antenna sticking out the top, the dark tower seemed hideous, completely out of place with Paris's Baroque, Gothic, and Art Nouveau architectural masterpieces.
Then I got closer to the tower and decided it was the most beautiful manmade monument I'd ever seen. When sorting through the more than 500 photos I took during the week we were in Paris, I discovered that I had taken dozens of the Eiffel Tower, more than any other site, more than I took at the Louvre even.
There's some essential truth about travel in that, isn't there? That from afar something can seem scary and ugly and unwelcoming and then, the closer you inspect it, the more you begin to fall in love with it.
I also travel, I'll admit it, to eat. Especially things I don't eat in Turkey. On this trip, I made sure to partake of the duck confit, the spicy sausage sandwiches, and yes, copious amounts of champagne and bordeaux.
Instead of hopping on one of Paris's famous public bicycles or the city's metro, we opted instead to walk everywhere. On one day, we clocked about 6-7 miles walking from Les Halles to Champs Elysses, to the Eiffel Tower, through St. Germaine and the Latin Quarter, then back over to the Louvre, all the while zigzagging through interesting streets and stopping in cafes for fuel.
That was how we stumbled across a restaurant where we had the most amazing bœuf bourguignon lunch (we later saw that the restaurant was listed in our guidebook, but we felt pretty cool for having "discovered" it first). Most of the time, we followed our instincts to find shops and restaurants, but we did consult the guidebook several times for recommendations.
Which brings me to one of the great undertalked about benefits of living in a foreign country: when you travel to yet another foreign country you're already (sort of) wise to the tourist trap. Living in Turkey not as a tourist but not as a local either has taught me how to size up a potential cafe or restaurant or how to gauge the quality of a souvenir shop. These are things you don't even realize you've picked up on when you're abroad (out of Turkey, I mean) until you pass a restaurant with a sign proclaiming its authentic Indian food, and you say "no way". You can't get "authentic Indian food" for 10 euros, sorry, at least not in central tourist areas.
For expats living in Turkey, going abroad also means going shopping, and I don't mean for touristy trinkets and miniature Eiffel Tower statues. We bring back suitcases filled with stinky cheeses, hunks of ham, bacon and wine. We stop at duty free and pick up hard-to-find liquers such as Cointreau or crème de cassis so that we can partake of a kir on the balkon and pretend we're in Paris again.
I ended up coming back from Paris with a removable-bottom tart pan, a muffin pan, a springform pan, ground mustard seed and celery seed, things I never in a million years would have purchased in France if I lived in the US. When I was in some of Paris's specialty kitchen shops looking for bakeware that I can't find here in Turkey, I marveled at the Americans buying whisks! Whisks! Which you can find for $2 at Target! Gah!
But people are different, and they do crazy things like buy whisks in Paris instead of macaroons or chocolates and, hey, if that makes you happy, then that's what matters, right?
I'm curious to hear from you guys though: why do you travel? If you're an expat in Turkey (or elsewhere, for that matter) what is it like for you to travel to another foreign country from here? I'd love to hear your thoughts.