Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fred sells Turkcell - what we did yesterday and why we like Turkey


Fred sells Turkcell, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The early start on Boxing Day was to catch the ferry across the Sea of Marmara to get to Bursa. So far so good, a taxi took us to the ferry terminal the other side of the Blue Mosque, where we had to put our luggage through the x-ray system but fortunately did not have to strip, like when flying out of England these days. A very fast ferry traveled the distance over a very calm sea, while the sun rose to the left of us. At the other end we had to catch a bus, which was over full and this brought us through the industrial areas before arriving in Bursa proper, or at least the start of the high speed tram. The problem now was knowing where to get off and we tried to compare the names in our guidebooks to the names of the stops and decided to get off at Osman Gazi, the second from last stop, where almost half of the tram emptied. This looked promising, until we came to ground level and found ourselves in a very unlikely area, surrounded by very shabby looking shops, quite near a motorway. It seemed we were close to where we wanted to be but exactly there. In fact, all of a sudden, being in Bursa did not seem such a good idea. It was horrible here!

Still, I decided to go off and look for a hotel where we could at least dump our bags. The very posh looking Almira Hotel, again another one highly rated on the internet was the other side of the motorway along with a couple of other hotels, but none of them looked that promising so I carried on looking at this side of the motorway, eventually finding a place which had rooms for € 30 a night, promising… until the owner took me upstairs to see the rooms. Maybe it was the sight of an infirm old man on the first floor or the smell of antiseptic, but I suddenly had the feeling that I was entering an asylum and when he finally showed me a room on the fifth floor (no lift), which was both small and untidy, my body language had made it clear to him that I was no longer interested.

Where to go now? The chap in the Istanbul hotel had mentioned the Hotel Anatolia to Fred, whereas the guidebooks from the 1980’s both had good words about Artic Hotel. So we found a taxi driver who decided to take us to the Anatolia. A wrong move. It was a long journey out to Cekirge on the western side, near the thermal springs, quite posh but again not in the centre where we wanted to be. It looked expensive from the outside, in a pretentious modern 1970’s sort of way and when we saw them with their rates advertised in US Dollars, we already knew we didn’t want to stay here. The prices made up our minds as well. So, a scout around for other hotels in the area brought us no result,. So it was back into another taxi to take us to the Artic Hotel and, sure enough, we found ourselves going into a the very attractive historical city centre, pulling up at a hotel right opposite the large Ulu Cami (Mosque). Perfect! It had taken time getting there, but we were all right in the end. The price is reasonable, the hotel nothing too fancy, the rooms far too hot, but it was in the perfect location and the staff were very friendly… and so began our day in Bursa. They even had a very informative guidebook to Bursa which they gave us.

We had a wonderful time getting to know Bursa, visiting the main mosques, wandering around the markets and finding our way to the great Hans, large double storied courtyards, surrounded by shops selling one thing or another, the most impressive being the Koza Han where they sold silk. In the middle of the courtyard, there were tables and chairs where you could sit in the warm sunshine and sip tea or coffee. The Hans were connected by narrow shopping streets, which resembled the bazaars and souks of Aleppo and Damascus and it had a very Arab feel to it, especially when we went past all the goldsmiths shops. We were just recognizing some of the fabrics from Aleppo (really quite dreary colours) when all of a sudden, we were surprised to see two fully dressed Father Christmases trying to entice women with cloaks and scarves to buy such fabrics. How wonderful!

After the very large Ulu Cami, the most famous mosque in Bursa is the Green Mosque or Yasil Cami, which most Turks reckon is the most beautiful mosque in the country. Built in 1412, it is apparently the first mosque in a truly Ottoman style, without Persian or Selcuk influence and, sure enough, it was a incredinly beautiful building, both inside and outside. Not too big and not too small, but perfectly formed, the mosque is built from a light/white coloured stone into which a number of panels have been carved and subtly tiled with green tiles from nearby Iznik. Inside, the tiles are much more prominent, whole walls of green and blue, with a red carpet underneath. All very simple and beautifully proportioned. Well worth a visit.

Outside, there was the Green Mausoleum, which the guidebooks tell us has a wonderful interior, but like so many places, it was closed for restoration, so we could only admire the beautiful tile-work, a greeny turquoise of the six sided tomb from the outside. A pity.

But to make up for that, we came across a market street, full of market traders from what looked to be Kurdih origins, judged by the dark handsome good looks. The produce they were selling looked a picture too and they were all very friendly, offering us their fruit to taste. We bought a kilo of the most delicious mandarins and later two half-pounds of almonds. It was like the best Italian winter markets but better. Maybe less rucola, but plenty of lettuce and other green leaves as well as winter root vegetables, colourful pumpkins, very long spring onions, carrots, ‘taters, pears and quinces and so on. Every stall was a feast for the eye. As I said to Fred, if we had markets like this near us I would do the shopping a lot more often…

Nest stop, the hotel, as it gets dark early here, by 5 it is almost dark. Fred went off for a snooze and I went to the local hammam for a scrubdown and a stiff massage by a very strong hairy Turk with an appropriately large tummy, who fortunately didn’t want to pull my legs and arms out of my body as they had in Istanbul all those years ago, and I came out feeling very clean and refreshed.

Now the business of looking for dinner in a new town. The backstreets near the hotel had a few lokantesis, serving kebabs and the like but were all alcohol free and that was not exactly what we were looking for. So, we were very surprised to see, in the street opposite the hammam, a number of restaurants with beer signs outside. Usually, it is not that easy. So, we chose the restaurant with the Efes sign and walked in and wondered if we had not accidently found the local gay bar. It was obviously less a restaurant than a bar, the food being served seemingly, with the sole aim of getting a licence. It was all very dark and cavernous inside and through the shadows we. could see tables of (again) dark and handsome good looking men, sitting around, with large glasses of beer in front of them, smoking. The large videoscreens showing a very handsome actor, also contributed to the feeling of being in a gay bar.

Anyway, the beers came, served by the handsome young waiter, not the bald one with a 1970’s moustache and a pot belly and we decided to have a look at the menu. Apart from the ‘Brains Salad’ found by Fred, the menu lacked interest and although we could have eaten some very tasty looking chips, we decided we would look elsewhere for dinner. A waste of time, as it happened, as the locantas were already closed and we just ended up in a similar, but less gay joint further up the road, where we had to endure Tuborg*, instead of Efes. Actually, after the police raid, where they checked the ID’s of everyone there, apart form us, the dinner was OK… some very spicey kofte with salad.

So, it was back to our first ‘restaurant’, which was not a gay bar, for a final beer, while I went off to the internet café to try to upload some photos and the blog which I had previously written on my laptop in the hotel (after the hammam and before dinner). We came back to the hotel thinking how much we were enjoying Bursa and how it happens that we always enjoy ourselves in Turkey. It is not just that the men are so handsome, or that the people are generally very warm and friendly, but it is also the opportunity to discover one town or city after the other, which invariably has a rich history, with many old monuments, combined with a lively centre full of colourful markets, bars, tea gardens, coffee houses and always the sense of the unexpected. And, ın addıtıon, we can often do thıs and hardly see another tourist in sıght, something we greatly appreciate.

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