By the time we arrived in Rome itself, we were hooked on Roman Antiquity. I was already several hours deep into the LibriVox audiobook of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Rachel was taking an Open Yale Course on the rise of the barbarians. Our budding fascination with Romans obliged us to pay our respects to the Colosseum and Forum. They rang the bells to herald our arrival.
Our arrival in Turkey was culture shocking. There were no trash fires in the street. Or free range cattle munching on mounds of garbage and producing mounds of runny dung. There were great garbage collecting machines roaming the streets of Istanbul, painted in a uniform fashion and driven by uniformed gentlemen. Even the filthiest back alleys smelled clean to my scoured nostrils. Don’t get me wrong, I love India and it takes the crown for the most exciting and vivid place I have ever visited. But all this new convenience and hygiene was disorienting.
The urban fauna we’d grown accustomed to in Asia was altogether absent. Cows, goats, camels, swine, elephants, and other domestic animals were nowhere to be seen. No macaques, langurs, or any other monkey for that matter (despite the abundance of fez available). Suddenly, our entire arsenal of mosquito repellent became a burden when we discovered there were no mosquitos to speak of, and even if there were, there was no malaria, dengue, and other life threatening pathogens to dread. Even stray dogs were hard to come by. Apart from the odd pigeon here and there, the only animals prowling the streets were stray cats (in abundance, in one afternoon we counted almost forty).
The big city traffic seemed timid and silent in comparison with the horn-please blind-corner-passing livestock-clogged mayhem of small town India. Even though it’s one of the biggest cities in Europe, the skies of Istanbul were blue and the air fresh. India, by contrast, was always smothered in a haze of smog, no matter how remote the location. I still suspect permanent lung damage, to be honest.
We decided to take one of those touristy double decker city sightseeing buses to scoot around town and get the lay of the land. I remember turning to Rachel and saying something like, “This is starting to feel like a vacation” as we glided pleasantly past Hagia Sophia, the warm springtime sun glinting off her sunglasses. It was only then that I started to appreciate the amount of effort it took to get by day-to-day on the subcontinent. At some point I’ll be struck by nostalgia for the endless surprises and adventures of India, but up on that bus, I think I actually relaxed for the first time in months. A little comfort and predictability never hurt anyone.