Constantinople, not Istanbul

Today I bought tickets for Istanbul.

In August, my husband and I will have been married ten (10) years. That seems momentous somehow. How can I possibly be old enough to not only be married, but to have been married a DECADE. So although this isn’t the time of life of the greatest free cashflow (hello daycare!) sometime last summer I decided that we would go.

In our decade of marriage, we’ve really had three kinds of travel vacations: family, beach and exotic. Family speaks for itself. That’s our backpacking, trips to Victoria, hanging out in Atlanta, etc. That usually happens once or twice a year, although perhaps not this year. Beach? We’ve made three of those. We went twice to Cozumel, Mexico — once before we had kids and once when I was pregnant with Grey. We really like snorkeling. When I was pregnant with Thane, we went to Belize to snorkel there, which would’ve been more fun if I hadn’t been wrestling with a herniated disk.

Three times, we’ve done “exotic” travel. When Grey was about 6 months old, we went to London because I’d never been and because (I think really) I wanted to prove to myself that my life of adventure wasn’t over because I’d procreated. Grey threw up about 6 times a day every day we were there. We have not traveled internationally with kids since. For our honeymoon, we went to Greece. We spent two? Three days in Athens? Then another blurry 5 or so on the island of Aegina, discovering that we liked snorkeling together and could be entirely content with a schedule that had us both reading two books a day. Then, in 2004, we went on a trip that was the best week of my life. We went to Vienna for a week. Ah! What can be said! There were museums and weapons and friends and Hungarian Goulash and alpine meadows and fortuitous pfeiffer-steak and it was just the best week I’ve ever had. We took a train through the alps to Vienna, because I had longed since my sophomore year of college to gaze up at the glimmering tongues of flame of the Pentecost, writ in gold, on the mozaic-strewn St. Marks, where Giovanni Gabrieli wrote music to fly over the heads of worshippers. And we did. We stood in St. Marks and heard music and saw mosaics and it was amazing.

We have figured out, with this scope for comparison, those three exotic and three beach vacations, that the journeys of the mind (and museum) are more worthwhile. Beach vacations are fun. It’s enjoyable to read and relax and snorkel. But it’s like the difference between candy and a meal… the nourishment of the other travel is so much greater. It may not give quite the quick hit, but it’s worth it.

On reflection, the destination for this adventurous 10th anniversary trip was decided by a pair of books, the Sarantine Mosaic series by Guy Gavriel Kay. I read them in Victoria last summer. In college I’d taken a course in Early Christian and Byzantine Art, and amazingly we’d studied Byzantium as part of it. I’d loved it. I drank it in. I dragged my new husband to every church I could find in Athens, including quite a few that were by no definition Byzantine. These two books really touched on an authentic feeling of what it was to be Byzantium (although it’s a fictional setting, it’s clearly Byzantium. I highly recommend the series. Keep your eyes open for Procopius!) And I wanted to dig deeper, and drink more fully from that history.

So it came together — a journey to a place of great history and depth. Byzantium. Constantinople. I want to stand in Hagia Sophia, great wisdom, and see what she has become and imagine what she once was. My husband has placed a vote for The Sinking Palace. We’ll be staying at a hotel that overlooks the Bosporos. I’ll likely bring along the Iliad, and perhaps we’ll make a day trip to Troy.

Can we catch lightening in a bottle? Can anything ever be as amazing as Vienna was? I don’t know, but it seems like there’s no better place to find out than Constantine’s New Rome.