Two weeks ago I had a three day weekend for a national holiday called Children's Day. Gary and I were invited to visit the town of Ayvalik with a teacher friend of mine who spends each weekend there with her fiance. Ayvalik is a three hour bus ride north of Izmir. The word Ayvalik means quince which grows in abundance here as well as olive oil. We left on Friday morning and enjoyed the bus ride as much of the countryside is blooming with flowers and this was the furthest north we have been besides Istanbul. Ayvalik is a popular vacation destinations for people living in Istanbul and they get few foreign tourists in these parts. It is a small town with around a population of 35 thousand. We checked into our tiny pension and decided to head out for a walk. While there is a main road where cars are aloud, the sides streets are still cobble stone and fit nothing larger than a horse cart. Horse carts wait around for deliveries and pick ups and are busy through the side streets.
Ayvalik was originally a Greek settlement 3 or 4 centuries ago and it continues to have a very Greek to it. The island of Lesbos is just a short ferry ride away. Across the bay fro Ayvalik is an island called cunda (pronounced june-da). It used to be only accessible by boat but now a small bridge that crosses to the island. My friend recommended we eat dinner there. We did at a lovely restaurant called Ayni (meaning mirror). It was really different the usual Turkish food in that it had a very modern twist and we were able to try things we had not had before. For example, we had fresh sardines wrapped in grape leaves and walnut pasta. Yum! When we arrived we did not have reservations and they said there was no room in the restaurant but they could put a small table in the ally.
We quickly agreed and found this was great for people watching and for getting a feel of the small island. With bellies full we took the short and cheap (2 lira) bus ride back to our pensyion.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Fortunately, one of our colleges had worked and lived in Tarsus and led us on our culinary and historic walking tour. We saw the birthplace of St Paul the Apostle, the gate of Cleopatra, the ole' Roman road, possibly the burial place of Danial (of the lion's den) and a mosque (originally a church) 300 AD. Along the way we stopped at the various places for local flavor. First Tan Tuni, finely chopped snippets of beef are stir-fried with water, oil, onions, tomatoes and herbs, wrapped in paper-thin lavaş. Ideally you down it with bitter şalgam, the turnip-juice taste sensation that can be acquired from the pickle stalls down on the Eminönü waterfront. Next stop was the bakery for the best almond cookies (aci badem) and some carrot sweet cezerye (carrot turkish delight).
Then on the prowl for warm hummus, with a generous amount of olive oil and red pepper. Finally we sat down in a local locanta for a small meal while overlooking the Roman road to Damascus.Then back on the bus for another hour to the strip of beach hotels west of Mersin. This is were we spent the weekend. Rena and her colleagues were in seminars all day Saturday as I was alone to walked the beach and spent the afternoon in the hamam (Turkish bath).
By the afternoon the teachers were off and they had arranged some sight seeing for the group. We loaded into the bus and headed off to see the ancient sights. First stop was the Adamkayalar about 7km north of Kizkalesi to the cliff carvings of 4th century BC. The hike down into the canyon is quite steep and you are relying 2015 year old steps carve in the rock to descend. Once you scramble down the cliff face 20m or so you find the carvings with amazing details of hair and cloth patterns. Each carving depicts relevant scene to the remember the deceased. In one, a soldier is leaving his wife and daughter as his small dog approaches. There they have been for 2000+ years half way down the gorge and still have some color and rich detail. Amazing!
Next stop we headed down to the cross roads of Cennet - Cehennem (Heaven and Hell). Two incredibly deep chasms. One a beautiful descent into lush environment with a small chapel and the other an incredibly large dark hole reaching farther than the eye can see, and yes a bit frightening!
Our last stop was sunset was to look at the Kizkalesi (or maidens castle), which sits 300m offshore. It was built in the thirteenth century by an Armenian king who believed his daughter would die as a result of a poisonous snake bite. The king had the castle built built and had his daughter moved out to it. One day (as the story goes) the kings advisers had a basket of fruit sent out to the island for her. Out slide a snake and killed her. According to local stories the snake still lives on the island.
This is the farthest east we have been in Turkey so far. It was interesting to see differences among food and people. Overall, the conference was good and Rena was excited for the opportunity to be a presenter at the conference. After the weekend was over we boarded the plane to head back to Izmir. This, however, turned out to be one of the worst flights we have ever been on. We managed to fly into the eye of a storm and the plane was struck by lightening. Scary! Rena thought Gary was just trying to sooth her worries when he declared the plan struck, as she thought an engine had fallen off or something. But we made it back in one piece and ready for more adventures. Next up- Cousin convention in Turkey (we had visitors).