Crossroads Tour – Prologue

This story starts today, December 20, 2010, the day of the Solar Eclipse Solstice. The double celestial occurrence portends a most fortuitous day. I receive a gift – an opportunity to take an extended trip abroad, to any country I choose…

I am new to the world of travel and have only been off continent once before. I had promised myself that if another opportunity ever arose, I would begin where I last ended, in Florence. But I have been given a gift of three weeks – the longest I have ever been away from home in my entire life. I want to see as much as I can in the time I’ve been given, without wasting it on planes, trains, trams and trolleys. I buy a map that afternoon, and spend the evening letting my fingers walk across the European landscape.

I could go west to France, or to Spain. Or north into Scandinavia. Or perhaps south to the Mediterranean. Suddenly, for no explicable reason, my index finger took on a mind of its own and traced a route east, and stopped…

… on Istanbul.

Istanbul? Well, after all, it was once Constantinople, the center of the European universe during the Roman and medieval periods, and the crossroads for trade from East to West for several centuries. So, Italy and Istanbul it is. My Crossroads Tour and my next solo grand adventure…

I spend the next several days locating hotels, matching my criteria for historic buildings located in ‘Old Town / Historical Districts’. In Florence it’s the San Friedano Mansion, housed in a 15th century palazzo near the Boboli Gardens and the Medici Palace, with frescoed ceilings and WIFI. In Genoa, a rustic room in the Ducale Genova, one of three rooms in this bed and breakfast in a 14th century tower that once housed a convent. In Istanbul, a small boutique hotel with red rooms furnished with a riot of color that I equate with Turkish culture, again with private baths and WIFI, and with what appears to be a restaurant. The Hotel Han is a converted Ottoman residence, located in the historic Sultanahmet District, within walking distance of most of the things I want to see.  

The next few months are filled with guidebooks and transportation schedules, and what would be failed attempts to learn even the most rudimentary of phrases in both Italian and Turkish. I am amused with my horoscope on April 3 – “a day for making plans and ‘symbolic beginnings’, and which favors trips and long journeys…” A netbook arrives from one of my brothers, and gifts of money from the rest of my family, enough to put towards the purchase of a Turkish rug. Shopping for shoes, and a watch, and power adapters, and a myriad of other things. Income taxes, and news filled with much ado about a Royal Wedding. Gallery orders and commissions to finish. My gardens have become either very lush or a Great Big Mess, depending on your perspective.

I add additional cities to my tour of Italy. In contrast, Istanbul remains the singular destination in Turkey. I register with the State Department to allay fears from a close friend of being kidnapped in that Islamic country. I use the trip as an excuse to finish some stalled projects, most notably my estate plan. ‘In case I decide to not return,” I jokingly say to my family and friends as they are each given a packet of instructions for how to deal with every facet of my life, should they need to. “Which we won’t need to do,” is the unison response. A final weekend with Odin, my cat and companion.

And then, this remarkable journey begins…

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