December 28th, 2008 – by: sayohat
A rainy day in the Bornova district
It was a short ride to Turkey's third largest city. İzmir has undergone several changes over the last 6000 years, playing the role of a phoenix after earthquakes destroy it and reconstruction follows. Formerly known as the ancient city of Smyrna, it is now a buzzing cosmopolitan city of nearly 3 million with a highly educated and ethnically diverse population, and a distinct culture that rivals İstanbul. Güneş and his girlfriend Ceyda picked me up at the enormous bus terminal and we drove to the municipality of Bornova for a delicious and cheap lunch at a cafeteria called Çello. We spent the rainy afternoon hanging out in the Save Our Souls coffee shop while I got an introduction to the local flavor. I could describe İzmir as the San Francisco of Turkey, at least in terms of culture and it is a seaside city with mountains nearby.
Chillin' at Arka Sokak
Güneş is a self-described hippie and feels very much at home here.
Güneş drove around İzmir showing me the main sights, but it was still raining and getting dark so we didn't get out of the car. Because we were supposed to meet up with a group of CouchSurfers later that evening we had time to kill, so we went to the Alsancak area and hung out in a hip coffee shop called Arka Sokak (Back Street). It had the feel of a dive bar or punk rock club but without alcohol. There was a healthy mix of teenagers and young people hanging out smoking, chatting and having tea or coffee. It was definitely my kind of place, despite the heavy smoking. Güneş said that about 80% of İzmir's people smoke and I certainly would agree. It is inescapable, but it is part of the city dynamic.
The covered market in İzmir
At 8pm we met with the CS group in front of the Sevinç patisserie. Within minutes we had a group of about 12 people and we headed to a place in the bar district nearby. Just as we rearranged the tables, about 10 more people came. We just couldn't fit so we went across the street to another bar at a long table with exactly the right number of seats. I think there were over 25 people at the end. It was too many to be able to chat with everyone but I had a good time meeting some people and getting a feel for the fun-loving atmosphere. Most of the group wanted to go to a dance club but Güneş's friend was at a bar next door so we opted to go there instead. He introduced himself as "Dreads" because of his long name and he was quite the character. Uğur and his brother, both from the CS group, also joined us and we had some beers until closing time.
The main square at night
We had a late snack at a cafe, where I tried ezogelin (spicy barley and lentil soup). It was a fun first night in the city and it wasn't until around 3am that we finally ended up at Güneş's house, which I was seeing for the first time.
On Sunday we didn't get out of the house until 3pm, just going to the Bornova Forum shopping center where I got my photo with a local Santa Claus. It was very cold so we really didn't want to spend much time hanging outside. We did go to the old market district and visited the old covered market, which was similar to those in İstanbul and Bursa but more cozy and less crowded. We had more fresh squeezed juice and then I tried boza, a fermented corn and wheat drink that I found delicious. After meandering through the crooked streets and observing the end-of-the-year sales going on, we got in the car and went up the hill to drop Ceyda off at her home.
Outside Aegean University campus
Güneş and I had dinner at McTemel's, a restaurant with a diverse menu. I had chicken with saffron sauce and sprouts. Then we went to a place called Beri Blues where we arrived just in time to see a couple bands play. It was free other than the drinks and a cool place to hang out and witness live music. The main band, called Normal, was actually pretty good. They played a mix of mostly Turkish songs but some American, French and British songs too, all covers but done well. We stayed until around 1:30 and then went to pick up Güneş's brother Çadaş. It was fortunate that Çadaş is well known in the music community there, which allowed us to enter the rock bar. Aside from moonlighting in a rock band, Çadaş is studying to become a dentist, as is Ceyda and several relatives of Güneş.
The İzmir Metro line and mountains in the background
At least I wouldn't worry about tooth problems in İzmir!
Because we stayed up a little too late that night too, I decided to stay an extra day and go to Ephesus the next day. Luckily it was a beautiful sunny day, albeit cold. We did some errands, including a stop at the Turkish version of Home Depot to buy a heater. Güneş's heating system had recently broken down and the little heater he had wasn't strong enough for this unseasonably cold winter. We picked up one of his friends, Gebze, and drove to her parents house in the suburb of Urla
to pick up some boxes. They invited us in for coffee and we chatted a bit before heading back into town. By the time we got back, Dreads and his friend had made arrangements to come stay and we all hung out in Güneş's room in hippie style. I had such a good time and felt like I was back in college. It was time to get a little serious because I still had to get to Ephesus the next morning. Luckily, Dreads and his friend had to catch a bus in the morning so there was a guaranteed excuse to get up before noon.