After visiting the archeological treasures of Ephesus, one the most famous and well-preserved ancient cities, in the morning, we were in the mood for something easy and delightful, with a bit of indulgently sweet on the side. And so, a stop in the village of Şirince, just 8 kilometers away, was next on our list. Strolling narrow streets, visiting local shops selling ice cream and jams, and climbing streets lined with traditional terrace houses to the top of the settlement for a glimpse of scenic vistas, was a great way to unwind for the afternoon.
Şirince is a picturesque village in the mountains surrounded by olive, tangerine, and most importantly mulberry trees. A quick stroll through the main street quickly revealed just how important this little-known delicacy is to the locals – every shop was selling homemade mulberry jam, jelly, juice, and wine. Making mulberry jam is a long-standing tradition in Şirince with many families passing down their recipes for generations and it was impossible to walk away without buying a jar or two. For the sake of full disclosure, I will also reveal we bought several bottles of mulberry wine, multiple cones of mulberry ice cream, and at least one glass of fresh mulberry juice.
Let’s for a minute pretend this is a botanical blog and not a travel one, so I can get all the fascinating facts about mulberries out of my system. First of all, mulberries are not actually classified as berries, despite looking like elongated blackberries and having the word “berry” in the name. They are actually a cluster of many tiny fruits centered around a stem. Second of all, mulberry trees are often illegal in many countries, due to the fact that the mulberry tree leaves and bark can be highly toxic and the actual mulberry is only safe to eat when fully ripe. But that is not the only reason why most of us have never seen a fresh mulberry! Apparently, the fruits themselves are extremely high maintenance and only stay ripe and fresh for a maximum of four days after harvest. This makes it an impossible and extremely unprofitable crop to export.
But the local charm, proximity to Ephesus, or mulberries are not what made this place world-famous. It was actually the apocalypse. Remember the whole “last day on the Mayan calendar must be the end of the world” debacle of December 2012? Surprisingly enough, the doomsday prediction on the street was that this tiny village of 700 in Türkiye would survive the end of the Mayan calendar and life as we know it. Şirince’s residents were mostly undisturbed by this bizarre news, having gotten used to many incredible claims about their village over the last few thousand years. After all, the settlement is considered to be the birthplace of the Greek Goddess Artemis, and later the place where Virgin Mary ascended to heaven. So, what’s a little Judgment Day apocalypse to people who have seen everything? Well, it turns out, they haven’t seen Tom Cruise. At least, not yet.
Unsubstantiated media reports, or as we nowadays call them “fake news”, were that Tom Cruise was planning on coming to Şirince to survive the end of the world. Days before December 21st, crowds from all around the world descended on this hillside village, some true doomsday believers, others wanting to see true doomsday believers, primarily Tom Cruise, and others were just there for the party. The locals took this sudden worldwide attention for what it was – a nice tourism boost and rushed to re-brand their products as Armageddon wine and doomsday jam.
“From all the old news articles, it’s unclear if Tom Cruise ever actually came here…” said Victor, frowning at his phone, as we waited for our Turkish coffee to brew in a pot of hot sand.
“It is also unclear if he ever left!” I joked, “I am going to have to search every nook and cranny for undercover Tom Cruise!”
And for the rest of the afternoon, I did just that, searching for him in souvenir shops, courtyards of boutique hotels, and under endless table displays of mulberry jam. As a sidenote, I did find a strange tree with what looked like two gigantic peapods hanging off it, that I am yet to identify.
Nearing the end of our visit, we decided to buy a few bottles of mulberry wine, as we actually had check-in baggage for the flight home and for once were not limited by TSA rules on liquids. We walked into a dimly lit wine store and stared around at the shelves full of various bottles. There was no one behind the counter and just as I was about to go back outside to try and find the shop attendant, I heard a loud snore from the dark corner. A man was sitting in a chair, leaning back into the wall, completely asleep.
“Well,” said Victor, “I don’t know if we can buy the wine from here, but at least we know it’s good wine!”
Before I could ask him if he really thought the shopkeeper was drunk rather than just tired after a long day of wine selling, the man woke up with a startle and jumped up from his chair.
“Hello! Welcome! Wine? Would you like a taste?” he exclaimed.
He ran behind the counter and started pointing out various bottles for us. We settled on trying a few different kinds and he pulled out already-opened bottles from the fridge behind him. He placed three small glasses on the counter and poured the wine from the first bottle into all three, all the way to the brim. Before I could ask why there were three glasses while there were two of us, he lifted one glass, toasted us, and downed it in almost one gulp.
Victor gave me a meaningful glance, while I did everything I could to keep myself from bursting into laughter. I immediately narrowed down our selection to only two wines we were willing to try, mostly to keep this very enthusiastic salesman from complete inebriation. We walked out of that shop with a few bottles of delicious wine and a fascinating inside look into someone who really, really loves their job.
In the end, I didn’t find Tom Cruise, but I did eat and drink my weight in everything mulberry. So, all in all, I would count that as a successful day.
Coming up next, Victor finally gets clean, Turkish style.