I remember one hot August afternoon in Philadelphia, US, when I was being given a historical tour of the city by a very jovial gentleman who was later to become my favorite professor. This was part of the international student orientation and the professor had volunteered to show us his city and its rich past. What struck me most was that during the tour he said that the city’s history may not impress those of us who come from countries with thousands of years of history. While it is true that the history he was relating was at most three centuries old, but nonetheless it was fascinating to hear about the early struggles and triumphs of a fledgling United States of America. Take for example the story of the American flag, sewn by a woman named Betsy Ross, after she was shown a rough drawing. Her house is close to the famed Liberty Bell, in the heart of Philadelphia city. Philly as its popularly called, is a very vibrant university town where you can explore American history by day and watch world class entertainment by night.
That’s just my kind of travel.
New York City, Rome, Madrid, Athens, Singapore and Cairo are some of the world’s most famous cities that I have had the privilege of visiting. These cities have skyscrapers, metro trains, bustling airports, plush hotels and fine dining, but the core of these cities is their history, which gives them a unique charm and a distinct identity.
Stripped of history, we cease to be who we are. The same is true of cities and countries. The older the civilization and the greater the number of influences, and the richer the culture. Athens has a touch of ancient Greece, medieval Ottoman Turkey and modern Europe. The juxtaposition of these three distinct influences manifests itself in sights, sounds, food, places, custom and dress. It dazzles all the five senses to experience it.
I remember landing in Cairo and feeling something racing in my blood. I cannot put a finger on it, but it stirred me deeply. We were part of a tour group and they took us to the pyramids, when we got off the bus, some young boys tried to sell us small items they carried. One boy seemed to emerge out of the Arabian Nights with his striking eyes, wearing a striped brown thobe, the traditional Arab dress. I can still recall him vividly as he stood out from the other young boys wearing T-shirts and Jeans. The neighborhood around the pyramids is poor and traditional, whereas other parts of Cairo are very modern. The charm of Cairo lies in its traditional sights, sounds and food. One does not travel to Cairo to ride a metro or eat pasta just as one does not travel to Rome to eat Falafel. Cairo’s 5,000-year old history attracts worldwide diverse visitors ranging from those seeking glimpse of holy sites to those hoping to see something of the Arabian Nights come alive.
That’s my take on historical travel.
Aliya Anjum is the author of several titles including Two Weeks of Solo Travel in Greece: A Pakistani Girl’s Diary and An Arranged Marriage.
Apart from being an author Aliya is also a history and travel buff with her own history including teaching, journalism, hosting a current affairs program, working for the Pakistani government, and studying in both her home country of Pakistan and abroad. Find her at her blog History Tells Us.
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