I’m swearing off cities

I mean it, I’m swearing off cities.

I’ve complained about Paris often enough, but until then I thought my frustration with it came from the fact that I’m living here, instead of traveling through.

I still have warm memories of some cities, like London, but to be honest nothing I ever lived in a city could ever compare to the simple fact of sitting in front of a beautiful natural landscape, surrounded by the quiet sounds of a forest.

Still, when I planned my trip to Turkey, I never dreamed of skipping Istanbul. I planned on spending my first two days there before getting on a night bus to Cappadocia.

When I arrived at the Sabiha Gokcen airport and took the shuttle for Kadıköy, Istanbul’s asian side, I looked outside the window and thought : “Funny, it looks just like Paris”.

When I climbed my way to Taksim Square from the docks I thought : “Still looks like Paris”, and right after that : “Oh, a cat ! Kitty, kitty, kitty !”. (Explanation : there’s a lot of strayed cats in Istanbul and I usually lose my mind every time I see an animal).

When I walked the length of the famous Istiklal Street for the first time, pushed around by tourists and noticing at least two Burger Kings and two MacDonalds, I didn’t even say anything.

When in Sultanahmet, I realized that the Grand Bazaar was actually a shopping center, I turned around.

Before everybody gets all riled up, this is not a hate letter against Istanbul. I’m just using this example because it’s the most recent city I’ve been to.

But, let’s think about it for a minute : why are we traveling ? For me, and I think for a lot of people, a big part of traveling is learning about another culture and different people. How the hell are you supposed to do that in Istanbul ? Or any other big touristic city for that matter.

In this kind of city, you’re supposed to learn about the culture through the monuments and museums, but do you really think you know anything about actual Parisians if you’ve seen the Eiffel Tower ? Do you really think you know anything about today’s Turks because you’ve visited the Hagia Sophia ? The examples could go on forever.

Although learning about past history and culture is interesting, I’m not a historian or an architect, and so all the information I’m interested in is already available on my computer. When I travel, I want to discover something real, something true, to experience the people and the places as they live, as they are right now.

In Istanbul, I met more tourists than locals, I didn’t know what to eat because I didn’t know where to look for traditional food, I heard more english than turkish in the streets, every activity suggested by my guidebook asked for an entry fee, and there was so many people that I found myself elbowing my way the same way I do in the subway at home.

On the other hand, I hadn’t been two hours in Cappadocia that already I was getting my first taste of Turkish Tea in the shop of an old artist who explained to me everything about the marriage customs in Turkey when I asked what were those “pompoms” hanging from the ceiling.

Istanbul is not really turkish anymore. Just like Paris, London, New York, Rome, Bangkok, Sydney, … They’re museum-cities. When you get in there, there might be a few locals holding the desks, but it’s mostly crowded with foreigners, looking at relics of a time long past.

And I’m not traveling for the past. I’m traveling for the present.

That is why, from now on, I’m not feeling obligated anymore to visit the capitals or big cities of the countries I’m going to. I’m not saying I won’t set foot in a big city ever, I’m just saying that it won’t be a compulsory stop, not matter how famous the city. For example, I’ve just booked a ticket for Romania and you should not expect a guide on Bucharest.

I’ve hesitated for some time before writing this post because I was afraid of people calling me crazy, telling me that I’d obviously not visited the right cities, or that I’m close minded, etc. But in the end, since my decision of skipping cities is going to have a visible effect on this blog pretty quickly, I thought I might as well explain my train of thought and hear your take on it.

So, would you ever consider skipping the capitals in your travels or do you think I’m crazy ?

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