Although this time we stayed in Ayvalik for only four days, we managed to do and see quite a bit. Ayvalik is colorful and charming that invites exploration. We also met new people and saw new places. In this final post of the ongoing travelog, I will try to give you a feel for the town itself; visit with a family of entrepreneurs, the Kesebir’s; present a renovated building as I envisioned many years ago; also offer a glimpse of the Artist Residence as part of the ASKEV Foundation.
I have written many posts on Ayvalik after our numerous visits there. Its charm stems from its reasonably well-preserved character and texture although some new developments seem to move away from that. Luckily, they are generally outside the town’s center and I hope they remain that way.
Ayvalik is a colorful place, perhaps even by nature as it is situated right on the Aegean coast with a rich olive and olive oil heritage. Many of the old houses still display the reddish local stone exteriors occasionally adorned by small columns flanking their doors. Those that are not stone generally have stucco exteriors and you may see layers of different colors on some peeling walls. The streets are narrow, very narrow, for comfortable driving. Most roads in the neighborhoods are wide enough for only one vehicle, and not a comfortably wide one at that. Some are even so narrow for any vehicular traffic that the residents put some couches and chairs on the street and use it as their outdoor space. Along with that may come some interesting displays like a handbag hanging on a wall hook!
One thing about the town that seems to have changed is the number of dogs wandering around town. Ayvalik was a town for cats, a large number of them. They are still there in good numbers but dogs are showing up in unexpected places. I was told that one reason for this was the people coming for the summer vacation with their dogs but deciding to leave them behind. That was unconscionable. It was somewhat comforting to see that the dogs were taken care of by the town and the local merchants, thank you all.
The weekly market is set up just on the other side of the garden wall of the Melin House where we stayed. You will find practically anything in the market, from fresh fruits and vegetables to wooden spoons, from outerwear to underwear. Some of the most interesting things are the “weeds” they sell around Ayvalik and the Aegean. These weeds are not the kind you try to kill in your yard or weeds used for enjoyment by some! They are edible greens you are not likely to see around here in the US. They are generally quite delicious and may even have benefits for one’s body.
The Kesebir Family
While in Ayvalik, Ergun suggested that we met the owner and producer of the Kesebir olive oil and olive related products. Ilhan arranged a visit to their store right in the heart of the island Cunda. Huseyin Kesebir greeted us with a warm smile and welcome, inside the store we met his wife and son Hasan. After chatting a little and picking out a few things to buy, we sat around the table outside the store. While enjoying the chat, they served us tea, and I even tried a small glass of Huseyin’s homemade raki, it was excellent! While we were chatting, an older gentleman arrived walking with a cane but with steady steps. He was Huseyin’s father and his name was also Hasan, like his grandson’s. While talking, we found out that he was 93 years old! For his age, he was in great shape although he complained about his knees.
The Despot House
One of the positive things we saw during this visit was the old orphanage on Cunda being restored into a five-star small hotel as I envisioned in an earlier post. After dinner one night, we went there to have desserts and the facilities looked very impressive, including even a swimming pool. One thing I could not really resolve was the columns in the front and the back being restored as brick masonry columns. My old photographs showed them as plaster-covered over something like wood and painted white. The brick columns will take some time for me to get used to. But, I am very pleased to see the building in excellent shape and serving a very suitable purpose. The place is called Despot Evi, or Despot House. The name conjures up some negative connotations but it happens to be a title in the Greek Orthodox Church equivalent to a bishop. Indeed, in some places, they used to refer to that building as the Bishop’s House.
The Artist Residence
And, finally, I would be amiss if I do not mention another fine addition to the ASKEV Foundation. A few years ago, Ergun and Binnaz purchased a small house adjacent to their property. It was a small house, very narrow indeed, but was built on two-and-a-half floors. It has since been restored and designated as Artist Residence for visiting artists to stay. So far, I believe some musicians might have stayed there and it is kept for other visiting dignitaries if need be. We took a tour and some photographs to share in a related article like this. Nice work!
And, the day came for us to say goodbye to Ayvalik. We got up, had the breakfast Baki set up for us, wandered around the house and the garden, took a few parting photographs, then got in the car for Mustafa to drive us back to Istanbul. There was a very thick fog much of the way but the roads being very good made driving not too hard. With a short stop on the way, Mustafa made it back home in Istanbul in just about four hours. Two days after we returned to Istanbul, we got on the plane and returned home after a long flight.
Thank you, Ergun for arranging the travel; thank you, Mustafa, for driving us there and back and around town; thank you Ilhan and Esin for being our guides and hosts in Ayvalik; thank you Baki for taking care of our needs in and around the house. We all had a very good time.