That’s the thing with travel. The best and the most memorable moments catch and refresh you unexpectedly like a shower of rain on a steamingly hot day. They smooth your mood like the soft comfort of your own bed after a long series of hard-working hours. They are pearls found in the field of grass. Admittedly, it is the all-of-a-sudden-ness and the contrast that highlights their beauty.
I remember a grey day in the middle of October, somewhere between Cappadocia and Olympos, in a town with no other obvious landmark or a must-see sight than its own melancholic feeling, sneaking around the corners of blackened houses. I remember our own fatigue and weariness after a night spent on a bus that seemed to swallow the remains of our enthusiasm. The clouds were pressuring low on our heads and the raindrops had no sympathy for our clothes.
We expected nothing more, nothing worth mentioning. We were just waiting for the weather to pass, for the time to come when we would get on the road again, in thoughts already on the pretty beaches of Olympos. But we had to eat and fortunately enough our guide treasured in his soul the everlasting excitement — and the knowledge of the region. We let him lead us, knowing there is no escaping following him: the hills and paths of Cappadocia taught us well.
He brought us to a small cosy restaurant on a not-really-busy street and we sat among the dirty walls, behind simple large tables with jars of water in the middle of every one of them (no one dared to drink it). Our laughter fuelled by curiosity filled the air between the seats. I remember looking at other girls, wondering who would check the toilet first (one of them later returned shaking her head with a smile). We had no idea what was about to be brought before us, we were only aware of our own longing bellies.
Two meals soon came, followed by murmuring response of a common ‘yuuum’. I was glad to be a vegetarian immediately after the first bite. Even others were for the first time envious when they tasted the non-meat option of the menu, despite the tasty chicken on their plates. It was simple baked dough with lots of melting cheese on top, but it left such a deliciously amusing sensation on my tongue, it left me wondering what else was in there. I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to know.
It still seems improbable, but this stayed in my memory as one of the most memorable meals of my life to this day. I sometimes ask myself if it can really beat the pad thai on Koh Lipe, the falafel with its amazing red sauce in a tiny Parisian shop, the veggie burger on one of the London markets, the uncountable flavours of Tuscany. It is definitely up there somewhere in my mind with all of them and more, locked as the symbol of hidden and unexpected treasures on the way to everywhere.
Oh yes it was a pearl found in the field of grass – of the dry yellowy one for that matter. But what travelling with a whole bunch of precious stones you came home with teaches you is that sometimes these stones are the grass itself, no matter what colour, size or thickness, doesn’t it? — Oh yes you do learn to be all sentimental about the meaning of life when you try to assemble these footprints of the past, but why avoid it? It spices up your life like that secret ingredient I’ll never know.