I graduated from university this year for the 2nd time. This time was special, I studied something I loved and that made all the difference in the world to my level of commitment. As a congratulatory gift, my parents and I decided to take a trip. The destination was my choice. Can you imagine.... "Where do you want to go?" hmmm... ok let's try and narrow THAT down. Well the first step was to grab a book of potential tours. Long story short, I found my self drawn towards Greece. I suppose my background in archaeology added to the appeal knowing I would be seeing ruins and archaeological sites thousands of years old. I imagined the columns just vibrated with history and life. However, I did not want to see JUST Greece. There were so many options and I couldn't choose just one, so I decided on a combined trip of Turkey and Greece which included a mediterranean cruise... how quaint.
In preparation for my trip I decided, like most travel junkies, to do some pre-trip reading. Naturally I found myself a fantastic map of Athens complete with the metro routes. This was entertaining... for a while. It did not take me long to memorize the underground and location of the Plaka. The next step was to buy a cheap guidebook to Greece. I found out all of the best and expensive places to stay as well as all the famous landmarks you just HAVE to purchase a souvenir from. What I needed was something a little more inspiring that would really make me appreciate the culture and give me some context. I started with a book I'd had on my shelf for ages, "The Good Tourist: An Ethical Traveller's Guideby Lucy Popescu. Popescu breaks the book down by country and highlights the human rights, environmental, and ethical concerns of various global locations. Since I already knew quite about about Greece and Greek traditions, I focused on Turkey for my reading pleasure. From Popescu's book I was able to travel to the land of carpets and mosques with an appreciation of what the people in this incredible country face each and every day. The best part about this book is a section at the end of each chapter which highlights recommended reading before, during and after your trip. From this list, I made my next selection, "The Bastard of Istanbul" by Elif Shafak. This novel features a group of woman from different backgrounds, Turkish and Arminian. What these woman value most is their family and bringing them together around a table of good food and good company. Reading about the different generations of these women and discovering how their values surrounding religion, women's rights, and men have changed was eye opening. Finally, I found this selection at my local library, "Istanbul:The Collected Traveler" by Barrie Kerper. Kerper has collected articles and musing from lovers of Istanbul which provide a colourful backdrop of this amazing city. The best part of this book is the A-Z of Istanbul in the back. Under "T" you will find the words Turkish Toilet, an essential topic to investigate before departing from your comfy loo at home. This book kept me very good company along my adventure, in particular a day I spent in my hotel room under the weather.
My point is, before your trip do some research to find out what sites you MUST see, as well as catch a glimpse into the lives of the people who reside there every day. Choose a lover's guide to take with you which will help you find the beauty in simple experiences like finding the perfect cup of Turkish coffee, you will remember these experiences much more than standing in line to see a museum. Also, become acquainted with the ethical concerns of the nation not only for your own safety but to appreciate the struggles locals face and become a more ethical tourist when choosing what to see and spend your precious pennies on.
After my little bit of research I was ready to embark on my fabulous vacation...which begins as soon as you leave for the airport. Sometimes getting there is half the fun.