The real Turkish delight

When you travel a lot it’s easy to lose sight of why you’re even doing it.

For Jeremy and me, traveling has always been about experiencing something new; about putting ourselves in a situation and place we’ve never been; about embracing cultures different from our own with an open mind and an open heart.

So when Aliza came to visit all the way from Hawaii, she inquired about some of our favorite places. We took her to Salzburg and Prague and to the  Chodovar Beer Bath, served her copious amounts of dark beer and fattened her up on pork knees. We let her fly in our little town of Weiden as we went off to work (she survived swimmingly), and, when she asked, told her that Turkey was our absolute favorite country to explore within Europe. So the following week, Aliza and I geared up for a weeklong, girls' only “Fraufest” through Istanbul and Cappadocia.

I can tell you all about our trip, and maybe I should because it was fantastic, but I’d rather share what we experienced – the unprecedented hospitality from people around us. It started in Salzburg when my friend Silke gave us a tour around the city and took us through the castle, where she happens to work, even though it was her day off.

It continued our first night in Istanbul when we arrived at the house where we were renting a room for a few days. We were greeted by Necip and his girlfriend Laetitia who gave us a brief orientation of the city, gave us insider's tips, and handed us a cell phone and metro pass to use while we were there.

I found their place on airbnb. It was cheap and located near a tram in a neighborhood outside of the local tourist hubbub - exactly what we were looking for, but we got so much more. 

One morning they cooked us an amazing Turkish breakfast and we dined and conversed like old friends. The generosity continued when we wanted to visit a  “local” hamam (Turkish bath).

There are Turkish baths all over the city, but they tend to be geared toward travelers and are a bit more like spas (and more expensive) than your average bath house – so Laetitia offered to accompany us to the local dive to help us navigate the language barrier.

It was an amazing experience. Watching women socialize and bathe each other in this 1,000-year-old stone bath house; smiling as an old Turkish woman roughly scrubbed your skin, and walking out feeling clean, refreshed and fulfilled.

The tipping point came when Necip joined us for dinner that night, taking us to his favorite fish restaurant, again helping us navigate the language barrier in the non-touristy part of town, and if that wasn’t enough, he bought us dinner. 

Our cup runneth over, and it continued to runneth over through Cappadocia.

His name was Attila, a man whose heart was as big as his belly. We met him the first night we landed in Goreme, walking by his shop “Sultan Balloons.” We asked for directions to another office as we had to switch some plans around and he said, “hop in, I’ll drive you there.”

The next day we came back and expressed an interest in a wine tour and pottery exhibit, both located in cities in opposite directions.

“I have some running to do, I’ll take you there,” he said. And he did. We drove with Attila all over the area, waiting around while he paid his taxes, eating at his favorite local pide dive.

He drank tea with the owners as we tasted wine, and laughed at us and with us and as we tried our hands on the pottery wheel. We used his office as a home base the rest of the time, plopping down on his brightly colored beanbags just to say “hi,” resting our feet before we began our new adventure.

I’ve always thought of the Turkish people as unbelievable friendly, and besides the cabbie who tried to overcharge us on the way to the airport (he was taken for ride instead when we gave him the standard rate) everyone we ran into was open and kind.

From the shepherd who kissed our left cheek, then right cheek, then left cheek, then right cheek (this went on for some time) to our hostel worker Mehmet, who knocked on our door every night with the biggest smile you could ever imagine just to ask how our day was. When we walked through the valleys, people driving by would stop and ask if we needed directions. In Istanbul, cruising the back
streets, children would run after us yelling, “My name is …” and waving heartily screeching “hello!”

Granted, at times there is an ulterior motive. Perhaps the kindness of people is amplified by a desire for you to buy something, or accept a service, and for Attila, he did get payment. We booked a hot-air balloon ride with his company, but we received so much more - we experienced a trip we simply could not have done on our own. And it was worth every one lira cent.

We felt blessed and brimming as the trip ended, sighing in disbelief at all he kindness we experienced. But this trip made me realize that I travel not for the land, as beautiful and mystic as it might be, but for the people of that land. In this case, the real Turkish delight.  


Your guest is as good as mine? Hopefully not.

Despite living in Germany for three and a half years now, we’ve been surprised how many guests we haven’t had (I’m smelling my armpits right now and they’re ok, so …).

This year, though, I think a light went on, as we’re already set to host at least four groups of friends and families by August.

However, the first guest we hosted this year left, well, “much to be desired” would be a gross understatement.

Like most guests, his visit started off innocuous enough; polite, helpful and even providing a breath of fresh air in what has seemed like a ridiculously long winter.

Initially, I was somewhat concerned that he didn’t really articulate any sort of plan like, “I’m hoping to stay for a week to 10 days,” etc, but people plan differently, so I brushed it aside. However, as his stay chugged into Day 3, more red flags started to pop up.

He would stay up all hours of the night and then sleep all day, snoring on the couch as Molly was trying to write articles; he then moved his work space into the area where Molly usually set up shop; he never left the house; and rarely offered to help clean up.

Then we started to notice dwindling levels in various bottles of alcohol by about Day 5. As I headed out of town for a ski trip that Friday, Molly set aside a few bottles of booze as a concession that he not touch any of the rest  of the liquor cabinet (some of which were gifts or bottles we were saving for special occasions).

As an aside, any time you have to ask a guest not to drink all your alcohol, or consider locking most of the interior doors, that's a huge warning sign. At the foundation of having guests is trust, right?

So when we came back Sunday night and noticed empty bottles stacked up next to the sink, there was only one thing to do: give him the boot. 

Here’s a list of the damage we discovered over the few days:
1 x 750 mL red wine
1 x 700 mL Cointreau
300 mL Appenzeller
1 x 750 mL blackberry wine
1 x 700 mL apfel liquor
1 x 700 mL pear schnaps
1 bottle peppermint schnaps
350 mL vodka
175 mL Yeni Raki
3-4 small bottles of wine
6 mini bottles of absinth
assorted mini vodka bottles
leftovers from bottles of Jamison, Jack Daniels
2 West Coast IPAs
9 Natty Lights
7-10 .5L German beers
(Note: These are only the bottles we found. I'm guessing there were more.)

In some ways, I guess I should have thanked him – he killed the remainder of that 12-er I bought for the ND-Alabama game that no one wanted to drink. Then again, he took down Molly's prized Appenzeller (a relatively rare, delicious Swiss digestive) and the pair of IPAs I was nursing until I could score reinforcements. 

Looking back though, it wasn’t so much that he was inconsiderate, drank liquor he never intended to replace, or even worse, bogarted liquor we specifically asked him not to drink – I guess at the root of it, he was a guest who didn’t give a damn about the people who were putting him up.

It’s weird, though, because as the hosts, we had this almost guilty feeling for having to kick him out, even though he definitely deserved it. Perhaps that's why we drove him to a station 15 miles from our house so he could catch a cheaper train to Nuremberg, or let him stay an extra night to get his plans in order. 

And though we’re not shutting our doors to folks looking to crash any time soon, we are more aware of those telltale signs of a bad guest.