It seems that Michael’s parents always have to brave extreme weather conditions to visit their son. The first time they visited him, it was for our wedding. In Siberia, Russia. In winter. When the average temperature was around -32C (-25F). Now bear in mind that these lovely people have been living in Nashville for the last 15 years where it hardly every gets below 0. They had to invest in a whole new winter wardrobe and yet they came, they danced at our wedding, they stoically withstood my relatives’ many attempts to ply them with vodka and they learned to walk on ice (and even to sit on it, as you can see from the photos of our trip to an ice city).
Two families together: my mum, dad and sister and Michael with his parents and two siblings. Can you spot the Americans?
Despite the language barrier, our families bonded, which may or may not have had anything to do with copious amount of drinking going on but was mostly due to the fact that our families are both wonderful and kind people. Since that glorious week of wedding festivities, we`ve been keeping in touch via emails and Skype sessions until this summer, where Colleen and Ted decided to visit us and fell into another extreme – a Turkish summer with the temperatures rising to +38C (100F). And, horror of horrors, no AC! We did make sure that every room in our apartment had a standing fan.
This was our first time hosting anyone in our apartment, so I was quite excited about that, dragging Michael around Migros, the biggest supermarket in town to buy extra bed linens and pillows and planning meals I would cook. We had given Colleen and Ted a night and a morning to recover, before we took them on a walk around old Talas, which is only a short walk from our apartment but looks suitable old and exotic with its cobblestones, restored old houses and even an underground city (which we still haven’t found our way to!)
We made a stop at a tea garden for some Turkish tea in traditional tulip glasses. We had a chat with the owner and I even cracked my first joke in Turkish – upon finding the owner’s daughter’s name was Yağmur (Rain) I asked if her sister was called Kar (snow) and cackled to myself while the owner smiled patiently at my unfunny joke, if it can be called that at all. Good Turkish practice though! As we stopped to buy some water, I pointed out our local Çiğ Köfte place. Çiğ means raw in Turkish and Köfte means meatballs. Çiğ Köfte were indeed meatballs made with raw minced meat and spices. The meat was kneaded for a long time and it is said that the meat was “cooked” by the lengthy kneading process and the addition of spices. Nowadays, there’s no raw meat in Çiğ Köfte, only bulgur and spices, but the name stuck. You usually eat it by placing a bulgur pattie into a lettuce leaf and sprinkling it with lemon, dipping the whole thing into pomegranate sauce, or you can make a wrap.
The owner of the Çiğ Köfte place saw us looking in and invited us to step into the shop where he gave us each a few pieces to taste. It was a lovely gesture of hospitality, one of several that would make Ted and Colleen’s trip here all the more special. By the end of the afternoon, we were wilting in the heat but still made it to our local farmer’s market which is only open of Thursdays to stock up on some fruit and veggies.
The next day we headed to the city centre, where we wondered around the medieval castle walls and the covered bazaar (market), which is the second biggest market in Turkey after the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. And of course, we got lured into a carpet shop, where the seller was speaking nineteen to the dozen, all the while unfurling rugs and rattling off prices and descriptions.
Our heads spinning from too much information (and too many carpets), we extricated ourselves from the seller and made our way to a car rental place to pick up our Volkswagen for the road trip to the seaside we would set off for the following day. Here in Kayseri, the majority of cars have manual transmission and Michael was adamant he wanted to drive an automatic, so we had to look at quite a few agencies before finding an automatic at a reasonable price. There’s a cluster of car rental offices in and around the airports, for the many tourists that pass through Kayseri on their way to Cappadocia. The agency we went to was recommended by several of my colleagues based on the fact that they have new cars and an English-speaking manager (a rare occurrence here in Kayseri). On the other hand, we did have to take a taxi all the way out to the airport to get the car. Since we had the car for the day, we decided to head to mount Erciyes, which is actually a volcano, not a mountain. Our plan was to go on a cable lift but the plan got derailed when I saw a sheep market. Which was basically a whole bunch of sheep with a few goats thrown in, grazing at the foot of the mountain. It took a whole minute of me screaming PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE LET ME SEE THE SHEEP and a request by Mike’s mom before he agreed to drive closer. I jumped out of the car and ran to take pictures while the shepherds looks on in bemusement. Guess what, sheep have funny-looking bums!