My Friend Doubts Topkapi Palace can be understood any better through my firsthand experiences than her armchair tourism via books and videos. In other words, I have a friend who wonders why I travel. She believes that she who reads extensively can gain as much as I do who endures the travails of airports, suitcases, and hotels. Not to mention sunburn, windburn, and heartburn.
Joys of an armchair tourist
I can even argue her side of it. When I discovered Jason Goodwin, an author living in London whose history of the Ottoman Empire, Lords of the Horizons, is almost as readable as a novel, his work transported me to Turkey for only a few dollars. Then I discovered his series of 5 crime novels set in 1830s Istanbul about Yashim the Eunuch and I was hooked. I started with #1, The Janissary Tree, which details the sights, sounds, and tastes of Istanbul complete with vibrant scenes in Topkapi Palace where the sultan and his family lived.
When I read Goodwin’s words, I’m absorbed into an exotic historical Turkey where I care terribly about people with problems remote from my personal experience. One click on the Internet and I’ve got it. So staying home would be emotionally compelling, cheaper by far, and vastly more comfortable.
The thrill of first-hand encounters
So how much does it matter that I actually walked through the private rooms of the Topkapi Palace harem? That I know none of the women’s rooms have windows? That I could see how the only way the sultan could get to the harem was through his mother’s chambers (so who ruled the palace)? That I worried if they were warm enough with the tiled fireplaces?
That I wandered the palace rose gardens in late bloom and felt the mist of an autumn rain drench my hair and shoulders? That I admired the cedars in the front courtyard standing tall against a sky kept remote from the female inhabitants of the palace?
That I bought silver jewelry in the Grand Bazaar copied from designs from the Topkapi Palace museum? That I experienced combinations of color and design that in memory continue to dazzle my eyes? That I’m an i-Phonographer who fell in love with the visual aspects of Turkey’s vibrant cities and fabulous architecture, yet do not aspire to publish in glossy print?
This I know: That for the weeks I travelled the roads of Turkey, felt the wind on my face, and ate the fabulous food of the land, I had experiences that indelibly shaped my perspective. Neither my body nor my heart is the same as if I had stayed at home and read a book or watched a documentary. My spirit can better connect with what I continue to learn about the land, all because of my physical first-hand encounter.