I admit that I tend to over-plan. Before we left for this trip, I printed out page after page of documents and directions and Trip Advisor restaurant recommendations and organized them by country and city and then chronologically in the order we would need them. And some of that has been well worth the effort. It meant that Matt and I had a perfect anniversary dinner in Vienna last month at a quiet, independently owned restaurant run by Hungarians who specialize in pairing wines with your meal of choice and making you feel like family. (They treated us to just-for-us cocktail creations, a rousing rendition of “Happy First Year To You” to the tune of Happy Birthday, and hugs all around when we departed late that night.)
But more than my planning triumphs, it’s our planning misadventures I’m most thrilled by. For me, the most profound delights have been the unexpected ones.
About a week ago, Matt and I were in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Most of the reason we were there was to go hot-air ballooning, but as that’s a sunrise activity, we had plenty of time during the days to go exploring. We toyed with the idea of taking a nine-hour guided tour to make sure we didn’t miss anything, but ruled it out when we realized we didn’t really want to spend a full day on a bus–and that we were actually okay with missing a thing or two. (They were going to take us somewhere called “pigeon valley,” for crying out loud.)
We were very interested in visiting the underground city of Kaymakli though because, well, IT’S A FREAKING UNDERGROUND CITY. So we visited (and it was epic), but we were hungry when we finished our tour. So when a pair of 60-something men wearing matching paper deli hats waved to us and asked us if we wanted to come into their restaurant for some tea, we quickly said yes.
A couple of things to note here: 1) Calling it a restaurant is incredibly generous of me. It was a single room consisting of one long table, a stove, and a chicken doner kebab near the window. 2) If a Turkish person invites you in for tea, you accept. It typically means that something amazing is about to happen.
After tea, we tried to order lunch and quickly discovered that our new friends in the matching deli hats (and, as I later discovered, matching plastic aprons hemmed in red trim) didn’t speak English. However, one of them did speak fluent French–and as I speak terrible French, we were able to order (sort of). I asked what the owner recommended, and he showed me to the stove in the corner. “Poulet,” he said, lifting the lid off the pot simmering on the stove, “et boeuf,” as he pulled the lid of a different pot. “Very good,” he added in English. And then in French, “La mieuller!” So I got the beef and Matt got the chicken, and our new friend puttered over to our table with mounds of meat served on top of rice, sliced tomatoes on the side, and an entire loaf of crusty French bread for us to share. And this man, this tasty food, this weird/sparse ambience, in this “restaurant,” made for the best meal we had in Turkey.
After lunch, we grabbed a van back to a nearby city to make our transfer back home, which we did without issue. We did, however, completely miss the subsequent stop for Goreme, the city we were staying in. Passed right by it without batting an eye. It was only when everyone disembarked, including the driver, that we realized we had maybe gone too far.
But, as it happened, the town we landed in is home to one of Turkey’s biggest and most award-winning wineries! So instead of heading back to Goreme on the next bus, we trekked up a hill to the winery and sampled a handful of different Turkish wines, enjoying unfamiliar grapes with unpronounceable names. We stumbled upon a second tasting room built into the rock of the fairy chimney it was situated under, a single cozy room filled with antique trinkets and curiosities, wooden bows and arrows, impossibly old swords. We bought a bottle from the charming Turkish man who owned and ran the shop, a man who made fun of the local college kids (and college-age tourists) for their poor taste in wine.
The bus we eventually took back home to Goreme didn’t actually go to Goreme. (Surprise!) Instead, we piled out of the bus two miles out of town and started walking back, munching on the peanuts and potato chips we had in our daypack. And that’s when we stumbled upon Rose Valley, with grease on our fingers and crumbs on our cheeks, to see one of the most dramatic, stunning vistas we’ve seen this trip (which says something). We tromped through sandy fields of wild grapes and scrambled over soft rock to stand on the valley’s edge and watched the sun drift lazily toward the horizon. We snapped photos that won’t measure up.
But that’s just it, isn’t it? Nothing in that day was really what we expected it to be, including the underground city, and it was all the better for it. If we only ever experience what we expect to, then we’re limited to the current bounds of our knowledge, imagination, and Google prowess. No matter how detailed our folders of documents, no matter how in depth we plan, we may never meet gentlemanly Turks in matching outfits who bring us to their “kitchen” to help us make an informed decision about lunch. No matter how good the guidebook itinerary and how much time we spend in the Trip Advisor forums, we may never drink Turkish wine with a man who had a hand in the production of what we’re drinking. If we plan our travels (and lives) to the minute, we may never find ourselves in a private vista, in a wild vineyard at the foot of sandy mountains, sharing a kiss under a pastel sky containing both the sun and moon at once — how can you plan that moment if the biggest magic is that you never saw it coming?