And therefore I have sailed the seas and come to the holy city of Byzantium - W. B. Yeats, Sailing To Byzantium
The word "pilgrim" has fallen out of fashion. For American readers, the word invokes images of hats with buckles, turkeys, and the mass genocide of indigenous populations- none of which are particularly inspiring connotations for a travel website. For me, the word has a different significance.
I used to live in Istanbul, Turkey. Once the ancient city of Byzantium, Istanbul boasts a history that transcends multiple empires. For two years I got lost in the endless maze of the old city. I watched as slums were replaced by skyscrapers. I sipped bitter Turkish tea next to the impossibly blue water of the Bosphorus. I met my wife there. My two years in that majestic city fundamentally changed me, my perspective, my identity.
In Turkey, people who have completed the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, are given the honorific title haci. The title denotes a certain respect, even from those who aren't religious. And for good reason. The journeys we're on shape us. They force us to question our presuppositions. They offer a new vantage point to view the world from.
Through the years I've met tourists who gave me the distinct impression they traveled so they could go home and tell their friends about their trip. They had a checklist to mark off, schedules to keep, social media accounts to update. Whether it was Angkor Wat or the Spanish Steps, each destination was one more post card to send home, a sort of travel merit badge to proudly display. I see a lot of myself in those tourists with their Ray-Bans and dog-eared guide books. Although I've never been able to keep a pair of sunglasses for more than two weeks, I too have used traveling as a status symbol.
But it's a dead end. There's always someone who has been to more places, or stayed at a better hotel, or got a reservation at the restaurant you only dreamed about. But more importantly, it misses the greatest joy of traveling.
I heard someone say that no one goes to the Grand Canyon to feel important. We go to places of incredible beauty and grandeur because it makes us, and everything that troubles us, feel small. We travel to discover the world is bigger than we thought it was.
In a way, I'm on my own pilgrimage. I'm searching for whatever is sacred in this world. This website is simply a place for a couple of pilgrims to pass on a few tips they learned on the road. It's an invitation to share beauty, wherever you find it.
Photo of the Grand Canyon courtesy Creative Commons.