I wrote this story for The Hindu.
We maneuver our way through Northern Turkey’s gorgeous countryside, across alpine meadows sprinkled with the colors of spring, past cattle grazing on fields of wild purple grass, and alongside carpets of blooming sunflowers. It’s been eight hours since we boarded the bus for the famous Sumela monastery in eastern Karadeniz, our last stop in the Black Sea region of Turkey, before we head into Kapadokya’s underground cities. When the sun set an hour back, it took with it the pleasure of gazing out the bus window at the majestic landscapes, and the monotony of the dark quickly set in.
Still hours from our destination, the bus rolls into a small town called Ordu, glittering with the reflection of the moon on the sea on one side of the road, and with the dim lighting of cozy street cafes on the other. I look at my friend, and lament about how we’ve hardly been impulsive on this trip, and how wonderful it would be to get off at this charming-looking town without knowing the first thing about it. The twinkle in his eyes seems to resonate with my thoughts, and just like that, we pick up our bags and get off the bus, leaving our bus conductor a little flustered as we try to explain in sign language that we’re cutting our journey short because this town looks so inviting.
As the bus puffs away, we walk towards what looked like the town centre from the bus window, browsing on my iPhone through the handful of properties listed under Ordu on TripAdvisor. Our first three attempts at securing a room are futile, for the lack of a common language to even understand if there is availability. Tired, hungry, and now just a little nervous about finding us a roof for the night, we walk into a small alfresco cafe on the sidewalk, to power up the laptop for more intense research. We don’t know it then, but destiny intended for us to walk into exactly this cafe, so we could meet Yahya, the cafe’s owner and a kind gentleman more familiar with the English language that anyone we’ve met in the Black Sea region so far.
We ask for the customary çay (Turkish tea, pronounced chai), but Yahya offers Turkish coffee instead, one made with his secret family recipe, and one that will linger on our taste buds for many days to come. Noticing our desperate attempts to find a budget hotel, Yahya offers to put us up in a hotel his friend owns. We gladly agree, and instead of stuffing us with directions as we mount our backpacks, he invites us to drive with him in his car. Fifteen minutes later, we are checked into a swanky hotel at a hugely discounted price, by a receptionist who can’t speak a word of English! We thank Yahya, our stars, and the world in general for such a tremendous act of kindness from a man we’ve known a total of forty five minutes.
My love at first sight with the small town of Ordu continues in its quaint seaside cafes, where we lounge on beanbags, smoking gul-nane (rose-mint) shisha and listening to live Turkish music by the town’s local band. We spend hours strolling along Ordu’s coastline, spotting seagulls playing in the waves, and discovering the town’s charming residential suburbs. We discover that we have unknowingly landed ourselves in the hazelnut belt of Turkey, and pamper ourselves at the hazelnut chocolate factory, sampling chocolates of more than fifty different varieties. Çay and coffee cravings draw us right back to Yahya’s cafe, where we join his friends to talk about life in Turkey, India’s economy, Yahya’s transition from a civil engineer to a cafe owner, and everything else under the sun, as though we’ve known each other for years. Thanks to Google Translate, these conversations use less sign language and rely more on broken Turkish and English.
We ride the cable car to Boztepe Hill, where another stroke of luck awaits us when we wander into the woods and find ourselves at the doorstep of a charming old bungalow, whose wide-open gates invite us to walk right in. The owners spot us in no time and offer us fresh fish, which our vegetarian selves politely decline, accepting only a cup of çay in their colorful garden. Ten minutes later, a lady appears and in broken Turkish, surprises us with a meal cooked with eggplant and fresh vegetables from their garden; it is one of the tastiest meals we’ll have in all of Turkey.
Four days later, we feel overwhelmed bidding goodbye to our newfound friends and this little town that we have started to think of as a second home. That lingering feeling in our hearts will take us back someday.
Have you ever fallen in love at first sight with a place, without knowing absolutely anything about it?