The woman I just met won’t stop hugging me, and I love it.
I’ve established through the language gap her name is Nillifer. I’m sitting on the back porch of her modest home in the village of Demircidere in northern Turkey, basking in amber autumnal warmth.
The sun is sparking off Nillifer’s dress, a kaleidoscope of colourful sequins turned strobe light. It’s almost blinding me, but that it’s purpose. In Nillifer’s humble village, shiny things are highly valued as they are thought to deflect negative energy. And so, when Nillifer and the rest of her village converge to greet my fellow travellers and I for lunch, they wear their shiniest clothing, known as ucetek, as a mark of respect for the occasion and, I get the distinct impression, an opportunity to show off a their hand-made mirror ball finery.
Had I made my way to Turkey on my own, I would not be enjoying the contagious embrace of Nillifer, or the incredible food and wine she is proudly sharing in between hugs, huge smiles and gentle pecks on my cheek.
Lunch in her 200-strong village is something only guests on Trafalgar guided holidays get to experience, yet another highlight of an itinerary that is as different from the tourist trap coach tour impressions many still harbour as possible.
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For a start, no one in our group is hooked to an oxygen tank. I am travelling with a gang of lively, passionate, educated, fun and warm late 20 to 60 year-olds whose company I adore. And today, in Nillifer’s village, we are all buzzing over what is truly a unique and unforgettable traveller (not tourist) experience.
Broken up in to groups of four and escorted in to different homes within the village, all the hosts are as tickled as my new friend to have for us for an intimate home-cooked lunch. And what a feast it is: we start with traditional Tarhana soup, made with yogurt from Nillifer’s goat, milked especially for the occasion. Tasty boreks (pastry filled with everything from potatoes to meat and spinach), dolmades hand rolled from the vine leaves shading us in the garden and home grown sautéed eggplant and tomatoes also grown mere feet away, are all washed down with wine or shrap, also hand picked and pressed by our host from the grapes hanging overhead.
After lunch we are invited inside for Turkish coffee, where Nillifer proudly shows us pictures of her little girl who will soon be home from school and some of her pretty dresses, all made by mum with love.