Saturday, October 25, 2014

Epic Tour of the Aegean--Part 2 Ayvalık

We and the rental car leave Bozca Ada early in the morning. From the ferry port, we head South toward Assos, winding through more fields of giant. Assos is dramatic and beautiful—I’ve never seen anywhere like it--and as we approach a storm cloud is engulfing the ruins at the top as black thunderheads roll in from the Aegean. To the West is the sea and the island of Lesbos. We stop the car in front of an abandoned farmhouse and scramble out. Delal is taking pictures and I am just standing there at the edge of a cliff that plunges to the blue-black water below. A billowing sheet of bruise colored storm has rolled over the mountains of Lesbos except for one break in the clouds that sends down a bright white shard of light onto a lone ferry crossing the waves. The wind howls and shakes the olive trees. Goat bleats and bells. This place, this moment, somehow has become magical.
The storm over Lesbos

We drive down into Assos and stop at a cliff-side cafe for a glass of fresh black mulberry juice. The clouds moving over the islands creates this endless kaleidoscopic lightshow.

From Assos, we drive along the coast past all the beach camps and fish restaurants. We are heading toward Ayvalık which lies on the other side of the cape. The roadside is littered with bright yellow stands all selling the black mulberry juice we’ve just drunk along with syrups and pekmezes and jellies. At one point, off to the left is a spread of swampy flats filled with flamingos. Mt. Ida (Kaz Dağ) is visible always in the East, a grey shape in the white fuzz of humid air. This was the mountain where the Trojan war was set in motion, where Paris made his fated judgement. Everywhere else is endless olive grove.

Ayvalık lies in Edremit bay, a pretty blue swath filled with tiny mountainous islands. One of the islands, a long extinct volcano, is called Şeytan Sofrası, the supper table of Satan. The “table” is a dried pool of lava. According to the sign at the top, the Devil, during classical times, descended upon this mountain and left one footprint here before he skipped on over to Lesbos and left the other. Of course, Greek myth doesn’t have a devil so maybe they mean Apollo? The scenery from here is dramatic and people flock here from around Turkey to watch the sunset. People have tied wishes to all the bushes and trees and the white papers flutter in the fierce October wind that rushes in from the water.
The sunset over Şeytan Sofrası

What sets Ayvalık apart is the old Greek city—crumbling apart but still intact, a labyrinth of grand multicolored stone mansions, churches, stores and city halls, some still in use, some abandoned and closed in with barbed wire and some converted to beds and breakfasts. The city lost most of it’s Greek population during the Mübadele—the Exchange—in which the Greek families who had lived here for hundreds of years were moved to Greece while Turkish families in Greek territory, mostly Crete and Macedonia, were moved here. We spent half the day walking through the streets and taking pictures of the noble old houses. One woman popped out of her window as I snapped a photograph and sparked a conversation.

“Admiring our houses?” she asks.

“They are amazing,” I say.

“I wish people took care of them. But the Turks that came here were just handed them for free. If you don’t earn something how can you respect it? We came here seven years ago and restored this one.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“You have to be careful when buying property here,” she goes on. “People steal the historical markers over the doors and then put them on new houses and jack up the price, pretending the home is antique when it’s not.”
A former Greek Orthodox church now barbered up

Sidestreet of Ayvalık

Historical home in Ayvalık

One of the more startlingly coloured houses

Across the causeway is Cunda Island, which has the most amazing seafood mezes in the country. Inspired by Cretan and local recipes, there are dishes here you can find nowhere else in the world. We picked a restaurant a little off the water painted in Greek blue and white called Son Vapur. The service was impeccable. When we asked for a plate of local mezes the owner made no fuss like the restaurant of Bozca Ada (who almost bullied us into buying fish) but seemed to immediately understand both what we wanted and why. My favorite dish was called Balık Lokum—a rolled filet of fish wrapped around shrimp and broiled in a buttery-cream sauce flavored with herbs. I thought the fish was lobster until the chef explained it was sea bass. The ‘Island Greens’ (Ada otları) were also extremely flavorful. For desert we had something called “Lor Tatlısı” which was a light, sweetened local ricotta drizzled with mulberry preserves. The music in the background was a huge draw—when we first arrived the were playing Greek taverna music. At one point, there was a very melancholy song by Lean Chamamyan that went right to the gut. Delal recognized it as an Armenian piece. Given the rather extreme nationalism of this region of Turkey, it was a daring selection. We asked the owner about it and she said she tried to play music from all sections of Turkey--Kurdish, Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Zaza.

For four seafood mezes, a desert, and a beer we paid 60 TL.

It was a little dark so the pictures blurry, but these are the mezes

Son Vapur

For our hotel we stayed at Ayazma Hotel on the waterfront—a nice view from our balcony but we had a room facing the road and the noises of the cars woke me up from time to time. The building itself is a restored Ayvalık house and was well heated with wireless, but they had jacked up the price to 130TL for the Bayram holiday. Still, service was friendly and breakfast excellent.

Tomorrow—we head for the ruins of Pergamon!

Son Vapur
Belediye Cad.
Çarşı Sok. No 3
Cunda, Ayvalık 10140
0535 312 7260

Ayazma Oteli
Fevzipaşa-Vehbibey Mh., Talatpaşa Cd, 10400 Ayvalık/balıkesir

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