I think two statements, which on the surface might seem mutually exclusive, perfectly sum up our feelings about Istanbul: we loved visiting the city and we were very glad to be leaving. Istanbul is a marvelous place and four days didn't even allow us enough time to purchase a Turkish carpet. You could stay for years and still not exhaust the fascinating things to see and do in Istanbul. But, after four days of sweltering heat, humidity, and the frenetic buzz of city life, we were ready for a change.
Goodbye bright lights, hello small country village.
Sirince is one of the great undiscovered wonders of this jet-fueled age of tourism. Set in the mountains midway down the Asian coast of Turkey, it is a remnant of a quickly vanishing past, a quiet oasis in an increasingly noisy world. It is just the sort of place that a group suffering from city lag required.
Although I have been to a startling number of airports around the world, Istanbul airport presented a feature that I had never encountered: everyone entering the terminal passes through a security screening. Our luggage and our persons are scanned as we walk through the front doors of the building. Then, between the check-in counters and the gates, we go through a second security screening. I felt like I was glowing by the time I reached the airplane: radioactive, but secure.
Our flight to Izmir was only 45 minutes long. We were amazed when the flight attendants rolled out their trolleys and served lunch and drinks. We've grown too accustomed to the “pack-em-in, charge-em for the air they breathe” mentality of budget airlines like RyanAir. A meal service on such a short flight was a stunning development, and we did not know how to respond to such excellent customer care. Top marks to Turkish Air. I will fly with you anytime.
A bit of a snafu after we collected our bags at Izmir: a driver was supposed to meet us at the airport, but when we cleared the arrivals lounge, there was no one waiting. What to do? Mary asked one of the taxi drivers where we might find our driver, and would you believe it, the driver she spoke with just happened to be a great friend of our missing driver. He didn't know where our driver was, but happily agreed to convey us to Sirince for the same pre-arranged price. Anything to help out an absent friend. Well, you don't have to see a tail fin to smell a rotting fish, but at this point our options were limited. We climbed into the big yellow taxi and away we roared in a great cloud of dust.
Now I must admit that Izmir and the wasteland we drove through for the next hour made me wonder if the master travel planner had dropped the ball on this particular segment of our journey. Hot, dry, a flat dust-bowl. Our taxi growled past lonely, tattered roadside eateries that appeared to be deserted and wove through small towns consisting mostly of sand-weathered concrete apartment blocks. What sort of place had Mary selected for us?
We turned left off the highway and passed through the small city of Selcuk. Then a slow series of switchbacks up the mountainside brought us into Sirince. At this point, the great flaw of accepting a ride from our scheduled (but missing) driver's "best" friend became apparent; our pre-arranged driver knew where he was supposed to take us. His best friend, our driver, had no clue. I am not entirely convinced our driver had even been to Sirince before. Mary had no address, just an email that said we would be staying in the “Fig House.” Nevertheless she gamely hopped out of the taxi and pressed a street vendor for directions. After a few minutes of enthusiastic Turkish we established that the Fig House was owned by “that German couple,” and we should drive up to the top of the town market where we would find it.
Back in the taxi, up the hill a little further, passing through the booths and restaurants of the open air market. At the top of the hill we ran out of road. Our driver seemed ready to jettison us and our baggage. There was only so much he was prepared to do for his "friend" and I suspect that he was reaching his limit. Fortunately another man who spoke excellent English stepped forward to assist us. Not only did he know where we were staying, but he called “the German couple,” on his mobile phone, then waited with us until Omer (the owner of our apartment) arrived. I cannot get over the friendliness and willingness to assist strangers that we are encountering in Turkey. We are simply overwhelmed with the kindness and hospitality of the people we meet.
The Fig House is part of a small complex of holiday homes owned and operated by Omer (Turkish) and Charlotte Samli (British). Why they are known as the "German Couple" remains a bit of a mystery. Omer grabbed our two heaviest suitcases and lugged them up a steep path, studded with rocks. Our house perches at the top of this hill, a wonderful, two story, stone gem with thick log beams supporting the ceiling. It is a reconditioned traditional Turkish home. The lower story, which once served as stables for the animals, is now the kitchen, living room, and bathroom. Upstairs is a master bedroom and an alcove with two beds for the girls. We have a superb view of the town, whitewashed stone houses spreading across the canyon below our front patio.
A small amount of shade may be found under the large green fig tree in our front garden. I am instructed to eat as many figs as I can because they are ripe and make a mess when they fall on the stones of the patio. I've never had a fresh fig before. They come in a green skin which you peel back from the top to reveal a soft white flesh with a blood red center. Omer has gathered a bowl of them and placed them in the refrigerator to chill for our arrival. Magnificent, a perfect treat to wash away the travel dust.
We spent our last few hours before dinner simply lolling about the house, gazing over the valley and appreciating our new surroundings. Up the hill to the right is a donkey who periodically punctuates the calm with a series of grunting brays, sounding as if he has swallowed a bugle. A collection of local dogs sprawl in the shade on our patio, having commandeered it for their napping ground.
We took our dinner down the hill at the Terrace Cafe, also operated by our hosts. Charlotte offered us a selection of Turkish starters, followed by chicken shish-kabob and Bulghur wheat. We rounded off our dinner with a slice of plum and apple pie followed by Turkish coffee. Fantastic. We sat on the terrace for several hours, chatting with our hosts and another Turkish family ― two doctors and their children -- from Istanbul. Despite my earlier misgivings, Sirince looks like it is going to be a marvelous experience.