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Published: July 13th 2014
Couchsurfing has turned us on to so many wonderful, like-minded folks. Hasan will always be on our 'Top 10' list of hosts.
The old Turk reeled in a flailing, silver-gray fish from the clear-blue Aegean water. Three cats waited behind him patiently. The rising sun tracing feline heads in wispy golden-hued halos. Unfortunately for kitty this fisherman had other plans. He stowed his fresh-caught lunch in a Styrofoam cooler strapped to his bike. No worries. There were dozens of women fanning out along the sea-side promenade, filling water bowls and distributing food amongst Izmir's furry denizens.
We pulled out of Canakkale on an early morning. The night before we had shared a last meal with Hatice and Neuraz on the waterfront. We will miss them greatly. They showed us every kindness they could, assuring that our time in Turkey was as pleasant as possible. It worked, as Canakkale is now permanently etched into our 'Gotta Go Back There' list.
We rode to Izmir via Truva bus-lines. The tickets cost $23 US each for the 6-hour trip. Comfortable, brand-new, Mercedes bus offering movies and WIFI. We cruised past Troy, hugging the undulating coastline. A high, rocky mountain ridge to our left. To our right; The Aegean Sea. Wide, wooden platforms perched just inches above the calm, azure-waters supported umbrella'd cafes. In the
We came south via the main Highway from Canakkale. Gorgeous vistas along the Aegean.
distance, the islands of Lezbos and Bozcaada levitated over the misty horizon. Olive groves, fruit orchards and farm fields furrowed with grains and vegetables covered every inch of arable land. Roadside stands groaning with plums, peaches, figs, dates, olives and fresh veggies could be found every few hundred yards along our route.
As we continued southward, the outside temps climbed steadily. By the time we reached Izmir the thermometer read 106 degrees F and the sun was searing. The Izmir main bus station is a huge, confusing affair. A multilevel complex with a total lack of English signage. The depot is located about 6 miles east of the city. Izmir is Turkey's 3rd largest burg with a population of 4-Million people. It sprawls from a fine natural harbor up the sides of a mountain-slope bowl. Izmir was known as Smyrna prior to 1930. It is among the oldest settlements in the Mediterranean Basin and it was one of the most important Asian cities in Rome's empire along with Ephasus. Smyrna is the birthplace of Homer. Earthquakes, wars and fires have left few vestiges of Izmir's past. The city today is a modern, progressive town that feels more Cote d'Azur
Hasan Checks The Menu
Reviewing the offerings at the Omz Cafe in Alsancak.
than Middle East. We taxied into town taking it all in.
We were lucky enough to secure an invite from Hasan Arda; A Couchsurfing icon. A well-known physician who lives in the Alsancak section of Izmir; His place is a short walk from the Aegean. The neighborhood is loaded with trendy shops, restaurants and hospitable folk. He left the keys for his apartment with a friend for us to pick up. Hot and weary we immediately settled in and cranked up the A/C. By the time he arrived home we were showered, changed and ready to rock and roll which is a good thing since Hasan never stops moving. We hit it off straight away. Hasan is a laid back dude graced with a total lack of pretense. His flat is crammed with books, food, music and laughter. He's our age. Speaks excellent English. Worked as a General Practitioner for over 30-years. Loves ancient history, cooking, jokes and anything to do with Quantum Theory and the Sumerians. When he talks, his arms stretch out and float upwards like an orchestra conductor given completely over to his music. A memorable and generous man. Over the weekend he had to leave
Matt and Joy
Yep, that's his Mom. Our tour guides around the old city. Great people. Matt is a Computer Science student in Canakkale and Joy teaches art in Izmir.
town for a couple of days. He dropped the keys to his apartment into our grateful hands and told us to enjoy. Quite a guy.
We headed out to visit a local art school holding an exhibition of student works. Hasan worked the crowd like a red-carpet celebrity. It seemed as if everyone in the place knew him by name. He introduced us all around. Plied us with food and beverages, making certain that we wanted for nothing. We ambled over to the promenade. A miles-long expanse of green lawn, jogging and bicycle paths, ferry terminals, monuments and a stunning view of the huge harbor. Where Roman and Phoenician merchant craft once rode anchor; huge container freighters and cruise ships now berth. Families watched the sun set from the cool, green, expansive lawn. Young lovers reposed on quiet benches and eager fishermen cast lines into the Aegean with surprisingly good results. Everyone was smiling. T-shirts and shorts are the clothing of choice here. It feels like home.
Hasan lives in the old Jewish area of Izmir. Primarily Sephardic Jews dating back to the time of the Spanish expulsion. Izmir remains one of the few places where Ladino (Judeo-Spanish)
One of the world's 'Great' city parks.
is still spoken. KJ and I experienced the language for the first time at the beginning of our journey in Chef, Morocco. In the evenings, on the narrow streets of Alsancak, restaurants spring up all along the cobble-stones. Hasan took us to a wonderful spot near his place. The Omz Cafe. The waiter/ chef brought out a big tray holding samples of that evening's offerings. We dined on olives and okra and fresh tomatoes served with goat cheese drizzled with fine olive oil and a platter of braised lamb's liver. On the side; Turkish hot-peppers and baskets crammed full of fresh, crusty bread. The Turkish national drink is Raki. A clear anisette liquor that is mixed with water. Turks drink the milky-looking cocktail throughout their meals. Similar to Sambuca and Ouzo but not nearly as sweet. Every dish has a story; "These olives come from a small town in the south and are only available for two weeks each year" or "This honey comes from the mountains north of Adana and must be reserved months in advance". Izmir remains as epicurean as it was when the Romans ran the show.
Friends of Hasan stopped by our table to greet
The old caravan inn now used as a touristy shopping mall.
us. Big sincere smiles and hearty handshakes. Just a very cool crowd to hang with. We ate dessert at a popular ice cream cafe on the pedestrian mall. The Turks have mastered the confection as well if not better than the Italians have and at a fraction of the price you would have to fork over in Firenza. Hasan beamed like a proud papa as we approved of the local food with sighs and satisfied smiles. Hasan has the habit of insisting on paying all of the food bills. As if hosting us in his home weren't enough. And so, to even the financial field a bit, we always contest who will pay the tab by playing 'rock, paper, scissors' or 'guess the last digit of the serial number on the 5-Lira bill I'm holding' (odd or even). Yesterday it was 'flip the coin'. The good Doctor has had an amazing run of bad luck.
Our first impression of Izmir is that we have discovered a very modern metropolis. Extremely European. Liberal-minded people living together in a huge village. Genuinely inquisitive folk. Well read. Unlike other areas in Turkey, the people here freely discuss issues like the writings of
Orhan Pamuk, who is a controversial Turkish Nobel Prize winner. We met Hasan's friend Pala. A bespectacled man who looks like Ben Stein and possesses a razor-sharp wit complemented by an encyclopaedic memory. One of the smartest people I have ever encountered. He blew me away with his understated insights. Izmir appears to be very secular as this is the first place we have visited in Turkey where we never hear the customary Islamic calls to prayer. There is a Roman Catholic church around the corner from where we reside. Greek Orthodox priests shop in the markets. Synagogues can be found nearby.
Izmirites love their animals. In Izmir; Stray dogs and cats are collected, spayed, tagged and released back into the city where the citizens care for them. It's common, in the cool early mornings, to see people snoozing on the big, water-front lawn with a warm hound sleeping beside them.
One sunny morning, KJ and I took a long, leisurely walk along the harbor. We breakfasted on hot, fresh, sesame-coated hoops of bread and glasses of strong tea. Hasan arranged for his friend; Joy and her English-speaking son; Matt, to show us around some of the city's
shopping areas. We visited the 18th Century caravan inn of Kızlarağası. Originally a warehouse and an 80-room lodging for men and their camels, it is now a kitschy, souvenir-filled shopping center. Restaurants crowd the central courtyard. We ate a big lunch there and returned home to prepare a communal dinner. We broke out the music and swayed to Sinatra, Bowie, Presley, Creedence and Pink Floyd while we cooked. International communications baby. Works every time. The one consumer product that the world cannot resist.
Every place we have visited in Turkey has offered us something new and unique but Izmir has been the biggest surprise of all. We will never forget the kindness of Hasan and his friends nor those patient cats that dwell on Izmir's waterfront, ever hopeful.
We're flying on Wednesday to Trabzon, Turkey which is located on the Black Sea. Seattle weather without the traffic but it's cooler than what we're encountering in southern Turkey. We're playing it by ear with regard to how long we'll stay. All we do know is that we have to be in Barcelona by October 23rd which leaves us with a lot of goof-off time.
Hasan and Joy
Sunday dinner with the best cooks in Izmir
to travelers: Try to stay in the Alsancak area. You cannot beat its central location nor its proximity to the sea. Prices are higher in Izmir. Commensurate with those in Istanbul. Prices along the waterfront are the highest. Small neighborhood cafes are much more affordable for those on a budget. Good public transport. Ferries, trains and buses. Buy a Kent Karte at any local market. The card will allow you to use all forms of public transport. Very convenient system.
Shout out to Noah and Brian who just returned from a memorable music festival outside, outside Berlin. To Mel in Weisbaden who is expecting a child soon and to my brother David in Chicago. To the Goodbrads and my friend; John Montgomery. To our German friends: Win, Win, Win! What a game you had against Brazil. Unforgettable. One more time bitte....
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