A Whole Week Gone By … Ending with Day Trips to Urla and Alaçatı

[Catch-up Post]

I am adding onto the original teaser post which featured the photo
below of a feline guardian at a mosque in Urla. 
If you left a comment
back in October, don’t be surprised to see it attached to this post.

sunday, 27 October
Alsancak — İzmİr, Turkey

This whole week went by in the blink of an eye.  Didn’t do much until the weekend came around, nor did I exercise the camera shutter a great deal.  In fact, the photos that accompany the words summarizing Monday through Friday are all from previous visits to İzmir ;-)

Monday … taking a shortcut through Kültürpark [Culture Park] Mui and I went to Basmane Garı [gar = train station] to pick up his ticket for a weekend trip to Eskişehir to visit his sister.  While we were out and about, we also bought a new cell phone for me as the ancient one I was using gave up the ghost.

Tuesday … Mui flew to Ankara to spend the remainder of his time in Turkey with his mother.  I spent the day getting settled in after being on the road for weeks on end … laundry, ironing, balancing the travel budget — such exciting chores.

Wednesday … a high-speed walk on Kordon [the waterfront promenade] — the first of many while I’m in town; at least that’s the plan.

Clockwise from Top Left: the outdoor waiting salon at Basmane Garı;
KÜltÜrpark; Reyhan — at the Optimum outlet mall; İzban route map;
optimum; a phaeton on the kordon waterfront promenade.

[optimum photos and İzban route map courtesy of their respective websites]

Thursday … shopping!  Not my favorite pastime, but with luggage space at a premium for the varied itinerary on this trip, I did not pack dressy clothes for the cruise that will take us from Turkey back to the US.  Hopping on the İzban lightrail system, Aylin and I went to Optimum, an outlet shopping mall in the ‘burbs.  After long hours of browsing, I managed to pick up a pair of silky black slacks, a chiffon blouse, and cute little dress booties.  We capped our outing with tea at Reyhan Pastanesi [pastane = patisserie].

Friday … afternoon tea with my cousin, Ruhan, and his wife, Cici [sweet, pretty].  Her name is actually Serpil, but the nickname Aylin gave her when she married into the family has stuck through the years.  Referring to our visit as afternoon tea doesn’t do justice to the feast with which Serpil tempted our palates.

Ruhan Abİ and Serpİl
with my aunt (who passed away a few years ago),
and their daughters, Duygu (left) and Asli.
Taken Christmas eve 1984 at mom’s condo.

P.S. [Updated in 2014] — I am especially glad now that we made the time for this visit with my cousin; he succumbed to cancer and passed away in February 2014.

That takes care of the week.  Now for the weekend — which saw us making two day trips west of the city … one to Urla, a town I don’t recall visiting in recent years; and another one to Alaçatı, a town that we visit on every trip I make to Turkey.

The mid-point marker is Urla, where we went yesterday;
the end point marker is Alaçati — today’s destination.

Saturday, 26 October …

After breakfast at Aylin’s, we piled in the car and went to Urla, a small town located on an isthmus about 25 miles [40 km] west of İzmir.  Mom and Aylin wanted to pick up some fresh produce from the Saturday farmers market first.  Then we went to Lale Katmercisi, a small eatery specializing in a square-shaped pastry that can be prepared either with sweet or savory fillings. 

Lale Katmercİsİ
[Photos courtesy of LöplöpÇüler]

The collage above pretty much sums up how a katmer is made.  What isn’t so evident is that the dough is rolled out, and spun around in the air if necessary, to render it so thin as to be nearly transparent.  Since we were having it for lunch, we opted for a savory katmer to share.  And we added an order of çi börek, a traditional deep-fried savory pastry that was introduced to Turkey by the Crimean Tatars.  Dessert was sakızlı keşkül, an almond based milk pudding … in this case with mastic gum added to give it a slightly different taste and texture.


Çİ Börek

Admittedly, this wasn’t the healthiest of meals.  So, after lunch we followed a meandering route back to the car … to make ourselves feel better about the calories we had ingested ;-)  I don’t know that the walk helped our waistlines, but I did enjoy browsing through the antiques market with my camera, and grabbing a quick shot or two of the Fatih İbrahim Paşa Camii [cami = mosque].

From lanterns, to door knockers, to bells decorated with traditional evil eye beads.

Fatİh İbrahİm Bey Camİİ and its feline guardian.
The 16th century mosque was constructed on the orders of an Ottoman governor by the same name.

Our day wasn’t quite finished.  Back in the city, we dropped off our market purchases at home and headed to Tea & Pot, a cute tea house — and one of our favorites — in Alsancak.

I didn’t take any photos at Tea & Pot today, so this collage from 2012 will have to do.
ZEYNEP AND NİHAN (top right) are the proprietresses of Tea & Pot.

And that’s how yesterday went.  Moving on to …

Today …

Aylin once again hosted mom and me for breakfast.  One of these times I will remember to take some photos; she does put on a nice spread!  Afterwards, we headed to Çesme where we visited the market.  While mom and Aylin shopped the fresh produce stalls, I checked out the countless booths selling clothes at heavily discounted prices and came away with a couple of collared t-shirts to add to my cruise wardrobe.

If there is a theme to the blog posts I put up about my trips to Turkey it’s probably food!  That’s because there are so many quaint and cozy places where one can eat a meal, have a pastry or two, or simply enjoy liquid refreshments.  Charming little cafés, bistros, tea houses … all with a different ambiance — a personality, if you will.  There are always some new places that Aylin and Murat, together with Mom, have scouted out for my enjoyment.  Today was no exception.

After completing our shopping, we drove the short distance to Alaçatı for a late lunch at Asma Yaprağı [which translates as “vine leaf;” website in Turkish].  In operation since new year’s eve 2010, this lovely little restaurant is on a quiet street lined with houses that have second floor bay windows that are very much like enclosed balconies.

Asma Yaprağı

The proprietors pride themselves on featuring traditional Aegean recipes cooked with fresh, seasonally available ingredients and produce.  The daily menu is listed on a chalkboard, but diners don’t have to rely on it to make their selections — they can go right into the kitchen and see what’s what for themselves.

Taking advantage of the beautiful, sunny weather, we took a table in the courtyard — which had the advantage of giving me several photo ops in addition to providing a setting for dining al fresco.

We did a tapas style lunch, ordering several small dishes to share … from the kızılcık şerbeti (a lemonade type drink made with cranberry-like berries, and flavored with a cinnamon stick), to ot kavurma (braised herbaceous greens) served with yogurt, to kabak sinkonta (a regional zucchini dish), to saç kavurma (braised meat cooked in an iron skillet) served with bulgur, to pirinç yemeği (a dish made with rice, tomatoes, and peppers) … everything was delicious and sated our appetite so well that we didn’t feel the need to top off our meal with dessert.

Where to start … that’s the dilemma!

Clockwise from Top Left: Ot kavurma; saç kavurma; herbs for seasoning the
saç kavurma, kabak sİnkonta, kizilcik Şerbetİ, and PİrİnÇ yemeğİ.

What a way to top off not just the day, but my third week in Turkey!

Şirince: Breakfast with a View … and More

[Catch-up Post]

Sunday, 20 October
Alsancak —  İzmİr, Turkey

No rest for the weary!

Having returned from our week-long Blue Voyage just last night, we were on the go again early this morning.  I don’t think anyone minded.  Not only did we all get a good night’s rest, but our destination was Şirince … a favorite haunt of ours.  To top it off, we were going there for breakfast.  Can’t beat that!

Şİrİnce is 60 miles
(96 km) south of İzmİr.

I don’t recall exactly when it was that I first visited Şirince, but it was sometime in the mid-1980s.  Back then it was a sleepy little village.  In the years since, it has grown considerably, becoming a popular destination for local and international visitors who come for a day … sometimes more.  Its cobblestone streets are lined with lovely boutique hotels, small eateries, shops, and handicraft stalls that cater to every taste.  Amid all this are white-washed houses — with symmetrically placed windows, decorative shutters, and cute details hidden under the eaves.  All very charming.

As many times as we’ve been to Şirince, I don’t think we’ve ever eaten at the same place twice.  This is not because we’ve been dissatisfied with the food served, but because there are so many quaint and cozy eateries from which to choose.  Of course, it helps that Aylin and Murat scout new places for us each time ;-)

On our way to breakfast at İlyastepe we come across several rabbits,
but only one stops to pose for the camera.

Most of the eateries in Şirince don’t require reservations, but it’s a good idea to call ahead if you’re planning to go to İlyastepe where there are just a few tables on a terrace overlooking valleys and mountains covered with olive and fig trees.  As luck would have it, today was the last day of its seasonal operation, so Mui and I were especially glad that we did not miss the experience.

The kitchen

İlyastepe is the rustic, al fresco dining room for the cottages that are part of the Nişanyan House Hotel.  That’s another reason to make reservations here … guests staying at the property have priority and the kitchen can’t always accommodate diners from outside.  We entered through the lower gate and walked up a meandering path that runs through a fruit orchard, stopping to check out the chickens, geese, and peacocks that were too busy feeding to pay attention to us.  Along the way, we came across rabbits that hopped out of our away, quickly fleeing into the dense bushes.

A cozy corner in the kitchen is reminiscent of a breakfast nook one might have at home.

We were greeted warmly by Ferda, who was on kitchen duty today.  She showed us to our table, invited us to help ourselves to the goodies on the sideboard, and immediately set about bringing more tasty, fresh-from-the-kitchen dishes to delight our taste buds.

Our table is set …

Ṣirince - breakfast at Niṣanyan House.10 Oct 2013

… and except for a gentleman enjoying his morning tea …

… we have the terrace to ourselves for breakfast.


After breakfast, we moved to the table at the edge of the terrace to get some sun.  At 60F (16C) the morning wasn’t exactly cold, but a little bit of sunshine was welcome to ward off the chill.

We’re not the only ones …

… seeking a patch of sunshine.

Before leaving İlyastepe, Ferda took us on a tour of the Bağevleri [vineyard houses], the seven cottages on the grounds.  Each bungalow, individually decorated, exuded a rustic charm that was welcoming and heartwarming.  I can see how staying here would be a quiet, zen-like experience.  Maybe another time.

A canopy of grapes and charming details add to the ambiance of Bağevlerİ.

The pink cottage …

The other cottages …

Thanking Ferda for her hospitality, we headed down the trail, stopping along the way at the Hodri Meydan Kulesi [translated loosely as the “I Dare You Tower”].  It was built in 2010 in defiance of an order by the regional administration to demolish the structures on the property because they didn’t meet the non-existent building codes — at least that’s what I read in the article tacked to the wall just inside the door leading up to the observation deck of the tower.

The Hodrİ Meydan Kulesİ affords a quiet spot for contemplation …

… as well as a panoramic view of Şİrİnce.

The trail brought us to the inn, the main building of the Nişanyan House Hotel.  The property gets its name from the host, Sevan Nişanyan, a writer of Armenian origin.  The link I provided for Şirince at the top of the post is the history of the village as written by him.  Having toured everything else, we took a quick few minutes to check out the inn as well before heading down the hill to wander around the village.

The living room of the inn is …

… decorated with charming little details …

… and murals on the walls.

It wasn’t until this visit to Şirince that I realized there are not one, but two churches in this village, which was home to a Greek Orthodox population until the early 1920s.  Glimpsing a sign pointing to Agios Dimitrios, we made a detour to check it out.  Unfortunately, the building was locked so we had to make do with a peek through the dirty windows.

The Church of Saint John the Baptist stands out from the white-washed buildings.
Having visited it on previous occasions, we skipped it today …

Ṣirince20 Oct 2013

… to check out Agios Dimitrios, a Greek Orthodox church that I didn’t know
existed until we spotted it from the terrace of the Nİşanyan House hotel.
(it’s the big white building in the photo on the top left.)

a car … or a handicrafts display … or both!

A meandering walk took us around the village.  It was fast approaching noon, and the streets were filled with tourists off a cruise ship docked in the nearby resort town of Kuşadası.  Their numbers, however, paled in comparison to the local tourists who had descended on Şirince to enjoy a meal … and taste some of the wines for which the village is known.  We weren’t hungry, but a stop at Üzüm Café [üzüm = grape] for liquid refreshments to quench our thirst did not go amiss — I can highly recommend the elderberry juice bottled by the owners and available only when in season.

Üzüm Café — a lovely setting — inside and out — for liquid refreshments.

On the way to the car lot, we made another stop … this one at the old school house in the village square.  Though it has been converted into a restaurant, and there are all kinds of vendor booths on the grounds, we wanted to check out a small exhibit showcased in the hallway.

Now a restaurant, the old school building was constructed as an elementary school
for the Greek kids who resided in the village prior to the population exchange that
was agreed to by the Turkish and Greek governments as part of the Treaty of Lausanne.

Memorabilia from the early years of the school — after the Turkish
population moved into the village in the early 1920’s.

top left & Right: certificates of success presented to students.
center: a mechanical pencil dating back to 1928.
Bottom Right: Turkish grammar book for 4th graders.

There were two more places we wanted to check out before leaving — both on the outskirts of Şirince.  We didn’t know where they were exactly, but when we asked the attendant at the parking lot, he gestured toward a narrow, dirt road and told us to drive as far as we could.  The ‘road’ was little more than a goat path, but we persisted and eventually arrived at the Nesin Mathematics Village, operated by a foundation established by Aziz Nesin, a Turkish author and humorist.  It is a purpose-built camp where students of all ages attend classes and participate in activities centered around — you guessed it — math.

Attendees at the Mathematics Village are greeted by an abacus.

Two of the many marble sculptures on the grounds of the Nesİn Mathematics Village.

Next on our agenda was a rock tomb we had spied from the terrace of the Nişanyan House Hotel.  I was surprised to see it off in the distance as I had never noticed it before ...  with good reason, as it turns out.

With the road seemingly at a dead-end, we gave up on finding a way to get to the rock tomb.  As luck would have it, however, I was able to capture a photo of it from the grounds of the Mathematics Village.  When I clicked the shutter, I didn’t know anything about the tomb and thought I was photographing an ancient one.  Imagine my surprise when I zoomed in for a close-up and saw a tomb that looked rather pristine instead.  At first I thought that perhaps it had been recently power-washed … or, undergone restoration.  Further research revealed that wasn’t the case at all.  The Lycian-inspired rock tomb was built at the behest of Nişanyan just a few years ago.  Described as another one of his follies, the controversial project was christened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in February 2012!

Left: The rock tomb carved into the cliff above the Nesİn Mathematics Village.
[as seen from the Nİşanyan House Hotel]

Right: Zooming in reveals this rock tomb does not date back to ancient times.

On that note, we left to return to İzmir … but not before stopping in Selçuk to shop at a roadside produce market.  An uneventful drive brought us home … surprisingly little traffic considering this is the last day of a week-long holiday.  But hey … no complaints from us.