FARIT (Friends of the American Research Institute in Turkey) has been sponsoring guided tours to destinations near and far for years. Since we’ve lived in Turkey, Kay and I have subscribed to quite a few. Although organized touring is not our favorite way to travel, we make an exception for FARIT’s because a) the number of participants is not large, b) they attract an international group of well-travelled, well-educated participants, and c) they are led by exceptional guides. This last feature has special importance for us.
We had been told that Bruges was just like Ghent but with more tourists. The part about tourists was spot on; however, to us, Bruges felt very different. Bruges is a handsome city, to be sure.
There is probably more historic architecture there than in Ghent, and like Ghent, Bruges has its share of canals. Their difference is in their levels of liveliness. Ghent with its large student population and active locals seems like a real town, whereas the center of Bruges seems to have been given over almost entirely to tourists, many in large groups. The result is that the streets of Bruges have a museum-like feel. Of course, these opinions are based solely upon the impressions of only a few days and might change with longer acquaintance.
You might wonder how we arrived at our itinerary of the Benelux cities. Well, no rigorous thinking was involved, and there was no magic in the number 4. We simply read cursory descriptions of the towns and cities we had in mind and then relied on intuition guided by experience to determine how long to spend in each. Of course, we were somewhat constrained by the parameters of time, money, and physical endurance. Thus, we chose to spend an average of four days in each place. Our stay in Lisse was shorter since our only goal there was to experience the beauty of the seasonal flowers, while we spent an extra day in both Antwerp and Brussels because of their size and interest.
In our traveling lives, Western European destinations have always loomed large. We’ve returned time and again to the big countries – The United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy. When we’ve thought of the smaller places, it’s often been with the idea that one day we’d go there. Well, that day came this spring for the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, collectively known as Benelux.
“Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back.” Proverb
The land of Tunisia, on the North African Coast, sandwiched between the giants of Libya and Algeria has long been on my bucket list of countries to visit. Why? Because of what I’ve read of its history and heard of its culture. I have friends who have spoken glowingly of the weeks and months they’ve spent there. And the fact that of all the countries that experienced the Arab Spring, Tunisia is the only one seeking political change that has at least partially achieved it.
What makes Berlin so attractive to us? Kay and I are city people, and when I ask myself why, I am reminded of what Dr. Samuel Johnson said centuries ago about his own city of London: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” If I replace “man” with “man or woman” and “London” with the names of the any of the world’s renowned cities, I have answered my own question. Great cities appeal to us because of their great variety. To “great” I’ll add “surprising.”
No! July is probably not a good time to travel in Croatia or anywhere else in Europe below the Arctic Circle. Nevertheless, we do travel then, each year to attend our literary society’s annual two-week conference somewhere on the continent. Recent venues have been in Poland, Spain, Italy, France, and, of course, Croatia.
Finally! After 82 days, more than 10, 000 miles of driving, and 27 destinations we’re glad to be home in Istanbul. It’s hot now, and in a few other ways life isn’t perfect, but it is comfortably familiar. Walking again – to the neighborhood stores and restaurants – feels natural here, whereas where we’ve been for the last three months, outside of a shopping mall or a recreational area, it felt strange to walk, and we walked very little.
William Ronald Gurdjian passed away the night of June 17, 2018 at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He was 78 years old. It is an understatement to simply say he was a friend of mine because ours was one of the longest and deepest friendships of my life, dating back to my early days in Detroit. Kay and Ron loved each other, too, but that came later.
O the miles we’ve traveled and the sights we’ve seen since I last wrote about the April leg of our American journey!
I write to you today from Chicago where Kay and I are resting a few days while visiting my family. Soon, we’ll be on the road again to complete the journey.