By Gülay Sween
Moments and Beautiful Souls in Turkey
My trip to Turkey was not only a visit to my beloved homeland, but also a journey to my roots. Every time I come back, I'm fascinated by our rich culture and traditions anew. The people and the authentic lifestyle remind me what’s really important in life.
This time my journey led me to the fisher village Ayvalik and the idyllic Cunda Island. In the northeastern Aegean Sea, far away from tourist hotspots lies the county Ayvalik in the Balikesir Province. It is nestled in a beautiful coastal landscape with numerous bays and surrounded by 24 small islands. The area is typically characterised by pine forests and olive trees. Fishing and olive cultivation have strongly influenced life in this region, which is known to produce one of the best olive oil in Turkey.
Ayvalik is pure harmony. The traces of history are visible everywhere. Behind every corner I discovered something new and unexpected. The splendor of past eras is still reflected in the small details. Narrow cobbled streets along cozy cafes and old Greek Orthodox churches brought me to local marketplaces. The resident’s love for their homes is shown in the lovingly painted stone houses and lush floral gardens.
The unique and friendly atmosphere on the island have surrounded me instantly. I felt like travelling back in time while walking through the narrow streets. Everywhere relics of the past. Time seems to stand still in this place. The scent of fresh Börek lied in the air and brought back lovely memories of my childhood.
If you are lucky to spot an open door in the charming side streets you’ll discover lovely patios. Many houses are decayed, but the beauty still remains.
Cunda Island, also called Alibey Island, named after a hero of the Turkish War of Independence is connected by a bridge to the mainland and is the largest of the Ayvalik Islands archipelago. Until 1924, the island was inhabited mainly by Anatolian Greeks. After the Greeks had to leave the city because of the peoples' exchange, many Muslim farmers came and settled there.
These two sweet and friendly old ladies saw me taking photos and invited me immediately into their home for a coffee and small talk. Hospitality is very important in Turkey. Even when they don’t have very much for themselves, they have always something to offer for their guests.
The ladies are 98 and 102 years old!
The big Thursday market is a weekly highlight and spreads across the whole city centre. Even five extra ferries from the Greek island Midilini bring the Greeks to the market. Here you can find everything from fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables over legumes and meat. Everything is local from farmers in the area. An original Turkish moca with a sweet delight is a must to catch up with friends and neighbours after shopping.
In the night the side streets on Cunda Island turn into colourful and romantic alleys with authentic cafes and fish restaurants. The tranquility and relaxed lifestyle is visible everywhere.
Not much has changed here over the last decades. In our fast moving and hectic age we can learn a lot from the people here and focus on the important things in life. Family and social life, the healthy diet and serenity reflect the Mediterranean lifestyle and should encourage us to rethink our lives.
They say Cunda Island is one of the most beautiful islands in Turkey. I totally agree!