Kiyiköy, Turkey

Ioana Calinescu
From Sinemorets on we longed for the ten-kilometre coast road separating us from Turkey. Unfortunately, there’s no other customs office such as the one in Vama Veche, right in the lip of the sea, so we had to take the winding road through the mountains and, thus, drive away from the sea, along the border, until we reached the first customs office: Malko Tarnovo. And afterwards go back to the Black Sea, but this time, on Turkish territory.

The entry into Turkey surprised us with tricksy customs officers, friendly smiles and impeccable road infrastructure. In short: a delight. Suddenly, the radio station turned from international hit songs to ethnic musical pieces, the landscape was green and mild, the sun warmed the asphalt, the air was clear and, gradually, a craving for figs and İskender kebap seized us.

First stop: Kirklareli; stone walls and women with headscarves, white minarets and blue turrets, jewellers and cloth merchants. The small bazaar downtown gave off touching smells of moth flakes and Chinese products. We parked in the great square of that little town and Petruț nipped to exchange some money. He returned within an hour, mumbling incoherently, his money intact, hurling curse words at the asphalt: he entered the bank, he was given an order number and he had to helplessly wait and watch as people who came in after him got smaller order numbers and, therefore, got in front of him, etc. While he was giving vent to his anger, the peacefulness of this little country town and the call of the muezzin had enveloped me, which infuriated him even more.

We exchanged the money at a very good rate at the first jeweller we came across (a piece of advice: if you can’t find foreign exchange offices, just go to tradesmen who might provide a better rate). Unlike Bulgaria, where nobody wants to exchange your money, here everybody’s willing to do it without the slightest sign of mistrust.

As in their first spring trip, Petruț and Ștefan passed up some recommendations to visit fishermen’s villages, we decided to take the advice of a friend who, in a few words, simply said: ‘don’t miss Kiyiköy’. We reached Kiyiköy at nightfall. From high up, on the hill, we could feel the sea breeze; the road was blocked by herds of cows returning home, in the distance we got a glimpse of several modern, unfinished, wishy-washy and alarmingly unaccommodating constructions. We entered the new and relatively deserted village, and, amidst our general mental whirl, ended up in front of a Byzantine stone arcade, carved into the wall of a former fortress. On the other side was the world of a genuinely picturesque (and very contemporary at the same time) little fishermen’s village, with workshops of fishing nets and tea houses with wooden chairs outside, but also with a heavily (neon) lit supermarket and a few empty tourist buses which were leaving for Istanbul.

The instant we started to get the scent of Kiyiköy village, we felt that pure emotion that seizes and thrills you when discovering an extraordinary place out of the blue. We walked on the main street paved in stone, our nostrils were delighted by the pottage and köfte smells, we accepted an invitation to a lentil soup (mercimek), but, later on, we took a squint at the moustachioed men aligned on the side of the street, on small chairs, a cigarette between their lips and a row of beads in their hand. We listened again to the call of the muezzin and watched the fishermen lay down their fishing nets which they had pieced and straighten themselves up.

Finding accommodation was a piece of cake. At the end of the village, the sea breeze was blowing strongly and the wind was lashing against the rocks on which the village was built. Downwards, a small fish harbour of an olden, but tidy, air, a row of barracks with the blinds drawn and, in the background, a wonderful beach on which a flock of goats were bouncing towards the sea. We were looking at the fishing vessels, swaying to the movement of the waves, fascinated by their beautiful paintwork, when an old man asked us: ‘Pansyion?’ And how! So we followed him along the narrow streets, with red peppers planted in wooden boxes (usually used for olive oil), until we reached a house with a yard full of flowers and a little wooden bench from which, as far as the eye could see, the sea in all its splendour revealed itself. In the meantime, the old man’s wife appeared; while her husband showed us the room, she kept smiling and holding my hand and miming the sea breeze blowing in through the window. ‘Pansyion’ was the only word we had in common. From there on, they spoke in Turkish and we in Romanian, in the hope that our languages would reach a common ground at one point. However, that didn’t happen. But it wasn’t an obstacle at all; their house felt like that of a couple of imaginary grandparents speaking a foreign tongue, but in warm and comforting tones. This was our home for four entire days. A house with a living-room, three bedrooms, wall carpets with The Abduction from the Seraglio, carpets, knick-knacks and plastic roses, a white-lime kitchen equipped with everything a summer kitchen is supposed to have (from gas cylinders to tea cups). Although the general aspect was that of poverty, everything was as neat as a pin and the house harboured a salty air coming from the sea. And no, the grandparents didn’t stay with us; they stayed in their old parents’ house in the yard. At one point, two Dutchmen showed up and they were promptly settled in one of the other two bedrooms with girls driven from Istanbul, who’d startle at the slightest gesture of amiability. They told us that Istanbul (in the heat of the season) was an utter nightmare, that any wide smile would cost you your pockets, that they would have preferred the Turks to have been less friendly, rather than cheat them of their money (and that with a big grin on their faces). Kiyiköy was chosen completely at random and they ended up here tense and almost broke. They slept non-stop for two days.

A little cardboard plate with a handwritten ‘Pansyion Bulunur’ was hanging on the gate of the house. We wrote it down and, from then on, to whoever asked about our accommodation, we’d answer as locals: we’re staying with the Bulunurs. The funny thing was during our entire stay in Turkey, another ‘Bulunur’ would spring up here and there – a ‘Bulunur’ restaurant, a ‘Bulunur’ mercimek and, again, ‘Bulunur’ pansyion… Apparently, we didn’t stay at the Bulunur family, ‘bulunur’ meaning something like ‘we are’ or – a more appropriate translation – ‘boarding house accommodation’, ‘we’ve got food’, etc.