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Mother Hoods: Izmir/Cesme, Turkey

Written by James Kicinski-McCoy

Photography by Photo Courtesy of Ceren Lee

Does the rapid approach to fall have you craving an exotic, European getaway? Us, too. If you’re looking to plan your next big adventure across the ocean, allow ultra-cool super-mama and Oddbird Co. founder Ceren Lee to be your guide to some of the best destinations Turkey has to offer. Whether you want to soak in the sunshine on beautiful, sandy beaches in Cesme, or enjoy meze before dinner by the marina, the mother-of-four (Pilot, 13, Casper, 9, Sonny, 5, and Birdy, 5 months) has got you covered, below.

What are your favorite places in Izmir/Cesme to…
Eat with the kids?
Imren’s Lokanta. They have a couple of locations, but the two we love are in Cesme—one on the main drag, and the other on a hillside overlooking the water. This place is one of the oldest establishments in the area, and when you eat there, you will understand why! It has the best traditional Turkish, home-cooked meals. The beauty of it is that you select from the assortment displayed right in front of you, and they serve it up as you order. Then, they bring it to your table in seconds, making it super easy with the kiddos. They also have a sister restaurant on the hillside that is dedicated to meat and ‘meze’, also known as ‘Turkish tapas’, or small plates consisting of cold dips and dishes prepared with olive oil that come before a main course. Meze is infact all I eat, while I’m home. I personally judge a restaurant by the quality and flavor of its meze.”

Eat with adults?
“I love going out to Alacati, 15 minutes outside of Cesme toward Izmir. Alacati is an incredible little marina village steeped in history with gorgeous, narrow streets, all filled with amazing bars and restaurants. All the hip Turks go to Alacati, and have overpriced cocktails and food. But, the atmosphere is sensational, and worth the extra lira! I do recommend going midweek in the summertime, so you aren’t fighting the insane weekend crowds. I’d also suggest lunch at Asma Yapragi. It will be the best food you’ve ever eaten, and in one of the most gorgeous, old houses in all of Turkey. If you like amazing seafood and ‘raki’, the Turkish alcohol of choice, I suggest you head to Güzelbahçe, and sit at any of the quaint seafood restaurants by the fishing boats. You know the fish is fresh, and the raki will be strong!”

Shop for kids?
“The outdoor markets are great alternatives to big-box stores, and they’re always super affordable. You won’t get anything necessarily ‘stylish’, but it’s fun to explore, and easy on your wallet! Big brands like Zara, H&M, LC Waikiki, and Gap all have sewing studios in Turkey. I love going into these stores, while at home, and seeing ‘Made in Turkey’ on their tags. I feel their European product tends to be more interesting than the lines they release in America, so I always grab things for the kids, and do my little part in supporting the textile industry back home.”

Shop for yourself?
“My favorite Turkish brands are YARGICI, Ipekyol, POLOGARAGE, and Nu. I love to go in the summertime, and shop their sales. I walk away with incredibly-made, timeless, and affordable pieces for my closet, all made in Turkey.”

Play with your children?
“The beach, of course. Our favorite family beach is Boyalik in Cesme because the water is crystal clear, and it’s shallow for miles. So, it’s great for the kids to play. If you want to make it super fun and don’t mind spending the lira, the Ilica Hotel is a great choice to rent a cabana and enjoy their food and drinks, while you play. In Bornova, Izmir, there is the best park called Bornova Great Park, which by night is a wonderland full of children, vendors, and cafes. It’s a blast for kids and parents alike. It’s also near a great outdoor shopping complex called Bornova Forum, which is always great to walk around with the kids, and grab a few items. Finally, there are two amazing waterparks that were lifesavers for me! First, Ilica Aqua Toy City in Cesme, and Oasis Aqua Park in Alacati. The kids couldn’t get enough, and it was even fun for the adults.”

Play with your adult friends?
“My perfect day in Izmir with my girlfriends would be starting the morning at a Turkish ‘hamam’, or bath, in Balcova. Here, we’d let them ‘kese’ our entire body to remove all the dead skin, and leave us sparkling like new. We’d then catch a bus into Konak to get our coffee grounds read by my fortune teller, Janan, in Kemralti at Fisilti Cafe. She is crazy accurate, and serves the best Turkish coffee in Izmir. If you go, don’t forget to take a Turkish friend who can translate! We’d then head to Alsancak for shopping, followed by coffee and desert at Reyhan (if you go, eat the tiramisu), a walk along the waterfront, capped off with some Turkish Efes beer on a picnic blanket on the Kordon. Then, we’d grab a bike from the rental stations, ride it along the harbor back to Konak, and drop it off. Finally, we’d jump on a ferryboat and head to the other edge of Izmir to Karsiyaka for dinner and drinks.”

Get out in nature?
“Taking the Teleferik, or cable car, in Izmir makes for such an amazing day—360 degree views of Izmir, cafes for coffee and treats, all with a great park to play for the children! If you head up in the late afternoon, you can catch the sunset on the top of the mountain. You can even make an evening of it, and select your own meats and picnic supplies from the market at the summit. They’ll give you firing hot coals from their ovens to man your own barbecue. It is truly one of my favorite activities to do as a family.”

Any good flea markets/thrift shops?
“Turkey is renowned for its outdoor markets, which supply you with everything from fruits and veggies to one-of-a-kind clothing, handmade jewelry, souvenirs, and even shoes! To scour the markets is my favorite thing to do in all the world. The best one is in Bostanli, Izmir, on a Wednesday, with a close second being Alacati on a Saturday. In third place is Kemeralti in Izmir. It’s Izmir’s version of the Grand Bazaar, and whatever you could possibly need will be found there. But, if you want to head that way and get silver or rugs, take a local. Let them do the talking.”

Any good museums/art installations?
“We loved climbing up the historic castle in Cesme. My brother, Fatih, is a security guard there and gave us the best tour. If you ever want to visit Cesme and walk the castle grounds, ask for him, and say you are a friend of mine! He’ll show you all the great spots in the best English he’s got, and even let you feed the turtles.”

Where do you take out-of-town visitors?
“Cesme! We would charter the yacht my stepbrother captains called, ‘The Jolly Roger’, and go out to sea off the coast of Cesme towards Greece. We’d then spend the day swimming off the boat, and eating an amazing Mediterranean lunch. After, we’d head to my mom’s house for dinner, where you will always find the best food and the best company, followed by a walk down the main drag in town. There, we’d eat world-famous Maras Ice Cream by the water. We’d cap off the day with live music and a cocktail at the marina.”

Any tourist-y places that are worth it to visit?
“Do it all. There aren’t many tourist-y places in Izmir, but the ones that are listed on Google are all worth it.”

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