Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reviving Provence

I've been on the Ankara - Çanakkale road multiple times always going just to one destination - Cazgirler, never stopping anywhere on the way for more than was required for a quick pass. When I thought about a destination for the last weekend's escape, I realized that the place I've been aiming to go to for a while - a little town İznik located at the eastern end of a lake bearing the same name - was just a little off-road. To my luck, the only CS host with an available couch quickly responded positively to my request and I here I was rolling again, first on well-known terrain, then passing new landscapes, towns and villages.

As soon as I got on the final 30 km stretch connecting İznik with the Bilecik-Sakarya highway, I felt as if I were wandering along the roads of Vaucluse once again. How many times while living there have I came home with tons of figs collected along the way when the ones growing in our garden were already gone? Picked some forlorn pumpkins and made pancakes with them? Rescued apples that have fallen from the trees from being thrown away? Scratched my knees trying to reach for kaki growing on trees hidden behind a tall brick gate? Grazed on grapes? That's how the surrounding of İznik looked like; the route was lined with orchards, gardens and vineyards full of fruits and vegetables ready for being collected. The comely town wasn't any different. While trying to reach the center, I passed a gorgeous olive grove and some ancient ruins - inseparable elements of the landscape I used to see every day for over six months.

On the way to İznik

My host, Ceren, took her friends from Kuzuncuk, İstanbul and me to her hill-perched olive garden six km outside İznik. Again, I fell in love with the scenery so much that I was ready to walk all the way to the town the following day. Lots of lush vegetation and green mountains dominating the landscape made me feel as if I were somewhere in the middle of Lubéron. To my dismay, we stayed in the garden just for a few hours and returned to Darka, a holiday complex away from the center where my host lives permanently, but lazying on the porch, binging on delicious food in the middle of Ramadan and watching the sun set over İznik Gölü were definitely worth the short trip.

Chickens in Ceren's olive garden

Stunning view from the balcony

In the morning we all woke up quite early since Ceren and her friends were going to Kalkan for holidays. However, it mattered little that I had to be up at 8, what did was that after four days of sleeping less than six hours I finally managed to get my eight hours of sleep. We left Darka at 9 - Ceren and her friend Meli drove off to the olive garden once more to leave some food for the animals and I walked along the beach to the center. From afar I spotted a tent and somebody walking next to it. When I got closer, the guy camping there said "merhaba" and, assuming he speaks Turkish, I responded "kalacak çok güzel bu yer." ("it's a nice place to stay.") The guy seemed confused and asked me if I spoke English. Roland - that was his name - turned out to come from Austria and be headed to India by motorcycle. Supposing he would for sure go to the South East I asked him about his route. Roland wanted to pass through Ankara, go to Kapadokya and from there take the direction to Trabzon to apply for his Iranian visa. Depending on whether he would be able to get it or not (and same applied to Pakistani visa, which is difficult to obtain outside your country of residence) he would either bike to India or change the plan and head south towards Egypt. When he asked me if I know anything about the East, I shared some must-see places in Turkey and also suggested going to Iraqi Kurdistan, where now it's possible to stay free of charge and with an on-arrival visa for 14 days (one year ago it was only 10). Roland was thankful for the overload of information, especially for recommending Iraq to him. I recalled him mentioning Ankara and thought out loud: "it's not a special place to visit and we theoretically can't host people at home but when you travel and camp, soft bed and a shower are always appreciated, so if you get there just in the evening, feel free to stay in our place."

We exchanged our food; I shared some cookies; he treated me to plums he got from a farmer on his way to İznik and we parted our way, hoping that we would see each other in the near future. On my way out of town I passed countless fig trees with fruits that unfortunately weren't mature yet but instead found something that made me exclaim a long "woooooow" in disbelief. These were plum trees, but not the ones with sour and tasteless fruits that to my wondrous surprise Turkish people are obsessed with but ones just like we used to have in our garden back in Poland - with giant, violet plums. I picked a few and continued my walk until a car stopped. It was an exciting trip back home this time; interesting enough that its main characters deserves a separate post...

İznik Lake

This charming boy stopped me on the street and talked and talked at no end. He played with his toys and I felt like taking a photo of him but was afraid  that he would get angry if I do so. He noticed my camera. When I told him I had to go, he took this pose and said "you didn't take a photo of me." Happy I could eventually get what I wanted, I turned back and took this photo.

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