Surviving two milestones

When I warned a couple weeks ago that posting would be sparse, I didn’t think it would be quite as sparse as it has been. That is the result of two milestones — turning 50 and doing so during my first real travel abroad. While suffering from a moderate case of jet lag (as I write this, my body thinks it approximately 4:30 p.m.) and domestic airline hell, I am back. Posting will pick up as I start getting caught up with two weeks of newspapers, magazines and blogs. In the interim, a few brief observations from my travel abroad:

  • The almost indescribable beauty of cities like Venice and Istanbul makes me deeply regretful of my lack of prior foreign travel.
  • Walking the streets of Pompeii and ancient Ephesus, visiting the Doge’s Palace in Venice, the Athens Acropolis and the medieval city of Dubrovnik provides far greater perspective on our brief history as a nation and relative accomplishments.
  • The approximately $5 to $8 per gallon gasoline and prevalence of small autos, motor scooters and motorcycles says much about American views of energy and our energy policies.
  • The extent of Americanization/globalization: a “McDonald’s Pompeii,” an Athens replete with Marlboro advertisements, a freeway Burger King en route to Ephesus, the “It’s Miller Time” signs bar awnings in Athens and Istanbul.
  • Turning 50 in Istanbul led to a variety of comments in light of recent terrorism there directed at British tourists. For example, “Don’t get blasted/bombed on your birthday.”
  • Homeland security? Each of the three pieces of luggage we checked for our flight from Atlanta to Barcelona was searched by the TSA. None of the four pieces we checked for our return from Istanbul was searched by the TSA or Turkish security.
  • Wondering how many of the people wearing shirts and hats emblazoned “Canada” were Americans trying to be “inconspicuous”?
  • The rudest and most discourteous security personnel after dealing with security and customs officials in Spain, Italy, Croatia, Greece and Turkey? Without a doubt and winning by the widest imaginable margins: the TSA personnel at New York’s JFK Airport.
  • Despite the various tours of ancient and medieval sites, the most memorable moments may have occurred in Istanbul: hearing the call to prayer while walking between the “Blue Mosque” and Hagai Sophia and then echoing throughout the city in the following pre-dawn darkness with the lighting of the mosques, minarets and other historical sites creating an unbelievably beautiful scene.

The most important part of travel [abroad] is when you come back home, because that’s when you see your country with new eyes.

Lewis Black, Black on Broadway

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