Flowers for Bergama

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

“I guess it’s just going to be that kind of day,” Pete suggested as he slumped in the seat beside myself and Kirsten. It was a little early in the day to be admitting defeat, but we were all feeling it.We had just lost over an hour on our already tight schedule. Our bus had blown by our stop without notice, a half hour later we deduced that we had gone too far. We were dropped off at the side of the road and we bolted across a busy highway to catch a bus going the opposite way. And now we sat in the bus station, waiting for the arrival of our pre-arranged ride into town.

Preying cab drivers sat just off to the side, watching our every move, waiting for us to give up on the arrival of our arkadaş (friend) that we told them was coming to get us.

Moments later our new arkadaş entered the bus station. He knew nothing more of us than to be acquaintances of our mutual friend Mustafa. And all we knew of Yusuf was that he was a police officer.

Yusuf was decked in full blues with a gun in his holster, and he was ready to show us the town. A police escort? We were immediately smitten with him and feeling pretty full of ourselves. Curious eyebrows were raised as we followed him out of the station to his car.

Conversation was difficult with our limited knowledge of each other’s languages, but Yusuf still attempted to point out important landmarks as we sped towards town. Near the center of Bergama, our destination became apparent to us. Perched up on a hill above town were the remains of an ancient Greek city, Pergamum, dating back to almost 300 B.C. We were eager to explore while wispy clouds contrasted the bright blue skies above us, but after our extended morning of travel, we were famished. We mimed to Yusuf that we needed yemek (food) first.

After a quick stop at the police station (inviting more very curious looks as we strolled through it to his office), Yusuf took us down a side street to his favorite restaurant. We each enjoyed various versions of traditional food, and managed to communicate our stories of family and travel.

Pete brought out his wallet for lunch, but Yusuf immediately waved it away.

His generosity continued. Yusuf drove us up the windy hill to Pergamum and left us to explore, but not before getting his English speaking brother on the phone to translate where we would meet him when we were done.

Left on our own, we took our time, marveling at the new flowers in vivid bloom, contrasted against the dull ancient structures.


I found a spot in the shade and parked myself on one of the hundreds of chunks of loose marble ordered on a field, waiting for Pete and Kirsten to catch up from their fervent picture taking. Bees buzzed in the flowering tree overhead. The city of Bergama was silent far below, fading into an oppressive haze created by the hot sun.

Tired of waiting, I continued on, and stood high on the north wall to absorb the dramatic view the hill-top setting offered. My hands roamed the enormous pillars, my fingers traced over intricate details in various stones, the coolness of the marble bringing welcome relief from the mid-afternoon heat.


Pergamum may not compare to the staggering ruins of Ephesus, but it is far less popular, allowing for generous amounts of time in which to linger. Boisterous tour groups came and went, but quiet moments with nothing but birds and the whispers of wind were easily carved out.


Our time at Pergamum spent, we rode a cable car down the hill and wandered through colorful side streets into the center of town.


Yusuf found us again within minutes of calling him. With time to spare before the next bus out of town, he took us to a local photography exhibit, and showed obvious pride as we gushed over the local art. After, we sat nearby to enjoy people watching and traditional çay tea, which he wouldn’t let us pay for, of course.


As we prepared to leave Bergama, we exchanged heartfelt goodbyes with the dashing policeman, knowing we would likely never see him again, and humbled by his extreme generosity towards these random travelers. The bus ride home was a quiet and contemplative one, the expressions on our faces matched our elated emotions rather than our depleted state of energy after such a long day.

I jotted these words in my notebook as we neared home:

“So yes, it really was one of ‘those days’, but just not what we expected…it turned into one of the most pleasantly surprising, brilliant and memorable kind.”

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  1. Stunning photos, as usual!! We are developing such a desire to return to Turkey and I have a feeling your recent posts have something to do with that… 😉

  2. Wow – the ruins are set in a truly breathtaking location!

    But I guess the experience far outweighs the sight in this case. 🙂

  3. Beautifullllllllll! What a view. And I would LOVE to be at these ruins with the peace and quiet. What a wonderful way to spend your day. ANd that police man IS quite dashing. haha.

  4. I agree with Chrystal, Yusuf is rather dashing. Don’t tell hubby, I said that!! Glad the day turned out well despite your delayed start

  5. These are the kind of travel tales that I love. Just another wonderful example of how your experience can be completely enhanced by having a local by your side and give you insight into a place that you might otherwise never get.

    1. Exactly Steph, interacting with the locals can make all the difference in experiencing a place. That is why we love Turkey so much, they are all so generous and eager to help.

  6. I always thought that days like these would be rare on the road. But I find that more often than not, if you’re open to it, one of “those days” can usually become an extraordinary day.

    You really must have been at the lowest low though waiting at the bus station with the preying eyes of those cab drivers… such a sick feeling! Glad you got rescued!

  7. What a great day, and such a nice guy to have to take you round 🙂 Also love the shot of the blossoming tree up on the hill, reminds me of the blossom in our garden only recently 😀

  8. Sounds like a great day! It’s so nice that you got to know such wonderful people while you were staying in Turkey. I love the ruins, it always amazes me to see the history of a place that has stuck around for a few thousand years. Turkey certainly has a lot of it!

  9. Glorious photos. And isn’t is amazing what strangers are willing to do for travelers.
    We had a similar experience in Turkey a long time ago. A fellow who fortunately spoke some French picked us up hitchhiking near the Greece/Turkey border, drove us to Istanbul, took us out for dinner the next night and introduced us to his family. I have a very special place in my heart for the Turkish people.

    1. I had heard before we came here how wonderful the people are, but they still really blew us away. And it’s always so effortless… they are so genuine.

  10. Amazing photos! Also Yusuf sounds like a great person. It always amazes that structures like these remain and gives me this weird feeling how long humans have existed. Great post!

  11. Great photos! The ruins look so beautiful with lots of flowers around it, something I don’t usually see together in the same place!
    Well, we’ve been in Turkey, but mostly just the Istanbul so far. Turkey remains to be one of the countries I really wish to revisit, and I better put this one into the itinerary.

    Great, great, shots!!!

  12. Again, a wonderful post guys! The writing and photos are a perfect match to allow me to feel like I was actually there. You described Yusuf so well that it feels like I know the fellow. Great job again! Thanks for taking me on that adventure!!

  13. You know, when I arrive in a city and they send a policeman to monitor my activities, I interpret it a little differently than you guys did.
    Seriously, when you were walking through the police station, did you not start envisioning scenes from Midnight Express?

  14. What a cool day. I love the picture of the red flower with the out of focus ruins behind it.

    As have been said a bunch of times in comments, the people are really what make places and experiences. This sounds like a good “one of those days.” That first story-let about the predatory cab drivers makes me cringe. I like traveling with people if that has to occur. I feel better in a group than alone.

  15. The theater shot is my favorite out of all of those…so many epic ruins over there to see 🙂

    I think that’s something many people forget, as well, which your post here conveys; the beauty and friendliness of the Turkish people (along with many other cultures abroad) that is sadly lost due to the prevalence of Western media to skew the news in favor of fear tactics.

    People abroad are generally VERY hospitable and VERY eager to show you around and prove that their country is the best country in the world….just as your police friend here helped to show 🙂

    I know my time in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe as a whole (and few my few jaunts into Turkey) were nothing but pure, unadulterated warmth and hospitality.

    Glad you are enjoying your time there!

    1. We were completely overwhelmed by the friendliness of the Turkish people. We miss that country so much, I think it has ruined all other countries for us. 🙂

  16. Some of the best things about travel are the unexpected heartfelt connections. I met strangers in India who treated me with such generosity that I smile whenever I think of that country. Yusuf is certainly one of those special individuals.

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