In a new series of posts, we will be getting up close and personal with the guides, the staff and other people who you may know from Peter Sommer Travels’ website and brochures. Maybe you have already travelled with some of them? We thought it would be nice for you to learn a little more about our guides and the people who make it all happen behind the scenes.
The first person we would like you to get to know a little better is Peter, the founder and Director of Peter Sommer Travels.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a vet, actually. As a teenager I read and loved all the James Herriott books and was captivated by them.
What first started you on the path to history and archaeology?
I am afraid to say I hated history at school. I had the absolute dullest of teachers. In fact I gave the subject up as soon as I could and so had already abandoned history completely by the time I was 16 deciding on which 3 subjects to focus on for sixth form. But then a new young teacher came to our school and put on an open lesson about an ancient history A-level course during a lunch break. And for a reason I can no longer remember, I decided to go. He rolled out a huge map of the Classical World and with his finger traced Alexander the Great’s route from Greece to India. I was completely awestruck, and from that moment I became completely hooked on ancient history. I went home the same day and told my parents I wanted to study Ancient History for my A-levels. Surprised by the sudden change, they asked why and were worried what I would be able to do for work after studying such a subject. I had no idea at all, but I knew I wanted to do it anyway. The teacher, Andrew Harrop, was an utter inspiration. He was instrumental in changing the entire course of my life.
What does your usual working day look like?
I am usually up between 5:30 and 6, and I try to get some work done before my 6 year old descends on me with requests for reading and playing football. I cycle to the bus stop and get into the office before 8 am, where my breakfast is usually cereal, or sometimes a bowl of soup in true Turkish fashion. My day is usually very busy with phone calls, vast quantities of emails, and lots more besides until I leave on the bus at 4:20 pm, working my way through the Monmouthshire countryside. We usually have a family dinner between 5 and 6, and I catch up on some work in the evening if needed, before flopping to relax.
What is your favourite dish from Turkey (the country Peter usually leads tours in), and why?
I am afraid I couldn’t possibly choose just one; there are so many I love. I love Turkish soups, they are a staple food there, and when I walked across Turkeythey were very often my breakfast. My favourite Turkish soup is Ezo Gelin, it is herby, warming and delicious, and is best eaten with lemon juice and lots of fresh bread. One of my favourite mezes is Şakşuka, a tangy, fresh and delicious tomato and aubergine dish. I never used to like aubergine much until I travelled in Turkey and tasted all the delicious ways they prepare it there, but now it is one of the things I like best to eat. For a main course, I love Buğulama, a Turkish take on Bouillabaisse. It has a classic Mediterranean taste and is at its very best savoured with a glass of Raki at sunset looking out over a beautiful unspoilt bay. To round off the meal I love all the beautiful fresh fruits available in Turkey. They are a cornucopia of colours and flavours and I love the fact that they vary so much according to the seasons. My guide and mentor through most of the culinary adventures I have had in Turkey is Cem Yucesoy (a fully qualified Turkish guide, fixer of everything, right hand man and long-standing friend). He always seems to know the latest and greatest places to eat. He has also challenged me into trying many foods I had not eaten before.
What is the weirdest/yuckiest thing you have ever eaten when travelling?
The yuckiest thing I have ever eaten was during a recce for the “In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great” TV series in Uzbekistan. I somehow ended up being the guest of honour at a huge wedding, and had to give a number of speeches on behalf of the BBC, but the custom directed that no one could eat or drink until I had started eating. The centrepiece of the feast was a slow cooked lamb, which had been roasted in a pit in the ground. The very choicest cut was reserved for me (a great honour); and was a huge slab of pure fat; there was no trace of meat and it was not even a little bit crispy. At that point in my life I was pretty fat phobic, and the thought of having to eat an entire steak of fat made me gag. However, all eyes were directed at me as they waited in a hushed expectant silence for me to start eating. There was nothing else to do than to cut a piece and bring the wobbly, white nastiness into my mouth, all the while trying to smile. Time passed slowly by as I continued determinedly to chew my way through the entire slab. This experience even surpassed eating testicles in Tajikistan and fish eyes in Turkey.
Which historical person do you most admire and why?
It would have to be Alexander the Great. I am fascinated by him and full of amazement and wonder at what he was able to achieve in so little time. I am gobsmacked by all he did and the manner in which he did it. He was the first character to completely turn me onto history.
Do you have an interesting travelling anecdote to share with us?
I think my most hair-raising encounters have been with the famed and feared kangal dogs in Turkey. They are simply huge; resembling lions more than hounds, and spend their whole lives outside protecting flocks of sheep and goats. To add to their ferocious image they typically have collars with large metal spikes radiating out to protect against attack by wolves.
While out walking and on reconnaissance trips for new trips I have run into them a number of times. Over the years I’ve had to fight them off by swashbuckling with a staff Errol Flynn style and once evaded a pack of them by running for some raised peaks in the distance to seize the high ground, only to discover they were vast manure heaps with soft centres. I sunk in one of them right up to my shoulders. After that the dogs left me alone but when I managed to pull myself out and walked into the nearby village covered in dung, I didn’t receive the typically warm Turkish welcome!
What one object could you not live without?
My glasses, I cannot see a thing without them. Besides them it would be my hat, especially when I am out on tour in Turkey; being “follicly challenged”, and spending so much time out in the sunshine, it is probably the one thing I couldn’t do without.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To be optimistic, to keep trying and that with lots of hard work you will most likely succeed.
Travel with Peter