I have always wanted to see the spring celebration of the Romani people, Ederlezi, especially after watching the film by Emir Kusturica "The time of the Gypsies". One of the most famous places where this celebration takes place is Edirne in Turkey (Adrianoupolis). Each year, a great gathering of Romani people, as well as visitors, takes place around the fields of the Pehlivani stadium (Sarayici Campus).
Travelling with a friend, our adventure began with a road trip to Kastanies, a village on the Greek-Turkish border. Being on a low budget, it was the cheapest way to get to Edirne from Athens, avoiding toll roads of course. This added time to our travel as we went through small villages, but with no extra cost in terms of gas or distance. Before reaching Kastanies, we decided to spend our first night in Komotini on a friend’s floor. On our second day of travel, we reached Kastanies where we spent a second night sleeping in our car. Day three we decided to leave the car in Kastanies and walk to the border to enter Turkey. Once in Turkey we called a cab to take us to Edirne, about 8 km away.
The first day of the spring celebration is the day of Kakava, where a bonfire is lit and the Romani people dance around it and even jump over it once the fire has died down. We had arrived a bit early so we decided to explore the town, checking out the sights and getting a sense of the town and its people. We also enjoyed lunch and a coffee before continuing on to the festivities. Fortunately for us, we were able to stay within our budget as everything was very cheap since the Turkish Lira had lost value. We could buy 5 Liras with 1 euro. While it was also an adventure in itself trying to communicate in a town where no one spoke English, we were lucky enough to find someone who could then give us directions to go to the centre of the town.
We went to the stadium and hung around, sitting on the grass and enjoying some refreshments from the surrounding kiosks. Everyone was in a good mood and there was belly dancing music playing. Many people were already dancing to the rhythm.
Ayten, a lovely girl from Istanbul was one of those people enjoying the music. We were lucky enough to meet her as she also spoke English. She was able to tell me more about the event and also posed for me to take her picture.
At around six in the evening, the bonfire was started and the Romani people, as well as some other performers, started dancing around it. There were many other photographers taking pictures and the Romani kids would ask for money (para) to have their picture taken.
Once the dancing around the bonfire festivities were over, I waited for most of the people to leave, so I could go for another coffee with my friend to unwind from the photography madness. The visitors were so many that it was almost impossible to move through the entrance bridge of the campus.
We stayed at the cafe until midnight. Since Hidirellez (Ederlezi) would start at 4:30 in the morning, there was no reason to go back to Greece and come back again. So the best option was to find a place to spend the night around Edirne. We decided to go back at the campus and sleep on the grass. We even stole a couple of bin bags from the cafe to use them as shields against the humidity during the night. The walk back to the campus was beautiful during the night. One thing struck me as odd though. Hundreds of seagulls were flying over the famous Selimiye Mosque, one of the most important landmarks in the city. To me they looked like gigantic moving stars, as they were lit by the Mosque's lighting.
Arriving back at the campus, we saw that there were still many Romani people dancing to the belly dance music. Most of the groups were gathered around cars, playing the music loudly. The cars were real fun as their interiors were decorated in a kitschy fashion.
We tried to sleep on the grass, but as the night went on, the humidity increased and it became too cold to sleep. We decided to move into the stadium. We found many newspapers on the ground behind the seats in the back. The newspapers, no matter how dirty they were, provided great insulation, so we managed to sleep for an hour or two, until 4:30 in the morning when people began moving to the river.
The nearby river hosts the Hidirellez (Ederlezi). There a stage was set up and Romani people were dancing on it. There was also some food for everyone, including Turkish bagels and chai (Turkish tea). The whole thing looked surreal, taking into consideration the cold, the stage with searchlights, the dancing and the time of the day.
The idea of the Hidirellez is that the young Romani girls dress like brides and wash in the river, leaving a floating candle. Unfortunately, the reality was a bit different from what I expected, having seen the movie and all, and there were only a couple of girls dressed like brides who never went near the river. However, overall the experience was really nice and eerie at the same time.
After the sun rose, we started our way back to Greece. We crossed the border, went by the river to Kastanies to brush our teeth and wash and started our way back to base. We stopped for a couple of hours in beautiful Soufli, and slept some more under a weeping willow. It took us twelve hours to reach home. One more adventure comes to an end.