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Published: August 26th 2014
“Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond”
An attractive stylish woman with short bright red hair, walks down the central back-street drag of Ayvalik. I am sitting at a local cay evi
. She acknowledges me and asks “you like this place?” before proceeding on her way to the hairdresser, with hellos and waves to the men sitting at the evi
(the latter looking after her with smiling appreciation). This is Beliz, who seems to know everyone and be known by everyone in this part of Ayvalik.
Beliz (French name garnered from a French novel that her father was reading just before her birth in 1949) is the landlady of the Chez Beliz Pansiyon, an exotic whacky and quaint establishment just past it's prime, but whose nooks and crannies ooze with the happy ghosts of past parties, meals and camaraderie.
In fact, the pansiyon
is now closed, with only a few long term tenants in residence. Why Beliz allowed me to stay I did not know, but it was my good fortune on just happening upon the
place in a moment of desperation one afternoon that she did (seeking a more affordable place to stay after I had misunderstood that the price where I spent my first night was in euros and not lire). It was not just that we negotiated a reasonable “if I stay at least 5 nights” rate, but because this magical place is a delight to be staying in. She was apologetic about there being no food available from her kitchen (“I am tired”). Days later I asked her why she let me stay.... “because you looked a bit like my husband, with no hair” she said. I chose to take it as a compliment.
Beliz was born in this house which was built in 1881, leaving Ayvalik with her family at the age of 9 to go and live in Ankara. Her grandparents stayed on until the 1980s. Meanwhile Beliz, educated in Ankara, married a Turkish Government bureaucrat at the age of 22. She worked as a secretary and 'voice-over' for the Turkish Government TV station in Ankara. She bore two children (Guniz now 42 and mother of Beliz's only grandchild Hayat, living in Izmer; and Ediz, now 32, her son
living in New York).
In 1989, after her grandfather died, Beliz came up with the idea of establishing the pansiyon
in what was only just emerging as a backpacker destination on Turkey's east coast (Ayvalik also being the departure ferrybot
port for the very close Lesvos, Greece). When I arrived, Hayat was staying with Beliz and they were booked for a holiday in Lesvos (Greece) to start 4 days later.
“No problem, you can stay” she explained (the entry to my room at the back being independent of the main house).
There is a friendly and personal atmosphere here, with the 8 rooms bearing the names of various members of Beliz’s family (I am staying in the 'Ediz' room). The entrance is a cosy terrace which sits alongside the main house. Up the 'Hayat' (i.e. Life) stairs, a rear garden courtyard emerges with shaded terraces. Higher up again another terrace provides a lovely view of old Ayvalık and the Aegean sea.
Beliz applied flair, home-cooking, family friendliness and her lovely personality to her venture, and the rest is history. A lot of this history now resides in 14 bound volumes that Beliz has compiled of hand-written testimonials
by hundreds of travelers from all over the world who have stayed at the pansiyon
over the past 25 years. On flicking through the early appraisals of these grateful people (the ones in English at least) there emerges a repeated pattern: “we just stumbled upon this place by chance”; “we were desperate for a place to stay and then....”; “a lovely lady met us at the bus and invited us to come to her pansiyon and then..... “; “we were treated to real and warm Turkish family experience”; “the food was just amazing”; “we only intended to stay a night but.....”, and so on. One gets a vision of Beliz's place as a refuge where many came to be rested, watered (often more likely with beer and raki
) and fed. A place to recuperate for a day or two or 20 from otherwise demanding travel itineraries.
During those 25 years, Beliz would spend the 6 summer months with he two children in Ayvalik, and then return to Ankara and her husband (until 1994 when they divorced) and later her family for the other 6 months. She remarried to a Dutch man in 2003 but they have lived apart for
some years now (he in the Netherlands and she seeking a divorce). Her former husband became very ill and she cared for him until April this year when he died with heart failure. It seems to be a time of re-evaluation for Beliz.
On the last night before they went to Lesvos for their holiday, Beliz said she was making a fresh green bean salad and would give me some. At 8.30 pm, grandson Hayat knocks on my door and presents me with a plate of said salad. Ten minutes later, another knock on my door and Hayat has a plate of ochre salad, also courtesy of Beliz. Ten minutes again a third knock on my door and I am presented with a plate of baklava
. Wonderful food, and so I have been given a small taste of the full service at the pansiyon
I missed the halcyon days, but I am glad I finally made it to the Chez Beliz Pansiyon. www.chezbeliz.web.tr https://www.facebook.com/chezbeliz?ref=br_tf
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