As I try to understand the current migrant crisis and read headlines like these;
I can’t help but reflect on my recent trip to Izmir with my daughters. Unlike migrants who pass through this city on the Mediterranean coast, hoping to cross the water to Greece, we visited by choice, with no expectations and left enchanted–an opportunity not to be taken for granted.
Our trip to Izmir was a last-minute decision. We were initially undecided on whether to travel inland from Istanbul or to the coast, but with sunny skies and warm days in the forecast we elected for the port city.
After Istanbul, we expected a small coastal town but instead, experienced an authentic Turkish city of 4 million people. Despite its size, we found the city kind and welcoming. On arrival, friendly smiles and helpful locals greeted us.
As we boarded the metro with puzzled expressions, an elderly lady adopted us. She glanced at our scribbled address and gestured to follow her. She navigated us through a transfer point towards the heart of the city. We thanked her, but before going on her way she disappeared, returning with ‘Mezner’, a local who spoke some broken English. We explained to him that we needed to contact our Airbnb host. We had left Istanbul without finalizing our accommodation plans. Mezner embraced his new role as a tour guide and lead us from cafe to cafe in search of wi-fi.
Shortly thereafter, Yunus, a local university student, stepped in to assist. After numerous calls in Turkish, we had an address. He exchanged phone numbers with my girls, offering to show them the city’s nightlife or to help as needed during our stay.
We made our way to Konak, our neighbourhood in the historical district of Izmir. Our apartment was steps away from the historical Asansor, built in 1907, where lovers and friends gather for photo shoots and panoramic views of the bay. A stunning view day or night.
Our mornings always started with Simit and freshly squeezed juice…
And a string of balloons is used as shooting targets.
Strolling the city streets and the Kemeralti market bazaar, we found the prices cheaper than in Istanbul.
Where you find green spaces, people like to gather, sit, chat and flirt while sipping tea, coke or Efes–really, anywhere is a welcome place for deep thoughts or conversations.
A tour of the Agora of Smyrna, an ancient Roman marketplace, in the city centre entertained us for a few hours. Our initial impression; the grounds looked like a junkyard of broken and scattered architectural fragments.
Then we discovered the excavated part of the Agora.
Alone in the open-air museum, the girls playfully posed for me.
In the evenings, we strolled home through Konak Square where you’ll find the clock tower, the symbol of Izmir.
To all the migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere fleeing home in search of new lives, to those passing through Izmir on this difficult journey, your memories of this city will surely be different from ours and I can only hope that you find peace and freedom.