Saturday, December 29, 2007

Leaving Bursa

Here we are on the ‘ferribot’ back to Istanbul after three very interesting and rewarding days in Bursa. We have seen almost every single mosque and sultan’s tomb to be seen in Bursa and have photographed them as well. I will have no idea which is which by the time I come to upload them. Walking around Bursa is mostly a very pleasant experience, although the hills can be quite steep. However, many roads seem to run along the contours of the city so they tend to be quite windy, but not too taxing. The great thing about windy streets is that there is always another surprise around the corner and always an incentive just to keep going.

The hillsides of Bursa are very steep and in a very short time they rise to over 2,000 metres up towards Mount Uludag over 2,800 meters high, just to the south of the city. In the meantime, back in Bursa, the hillsides have been settled with very attractive wooden framed houses, often with bits sticking out over the road (not suer what they are called but they are very Ottoman and can be seen all over the ex-Ottoman Empire). Anyway, many of them are plastered and painted, each house a different colour, so it is possible to go from ochre to pink to green to yellow to white to light blue back to green and then to blood red, from one house to the next. Very attractive and picturesque, especially as many of them are in a certain state of disrepair, which always makes for a more intereting photograph. I expect I will be adding many such photos to flickr in the coming days.

While not exactly exhibiting poverty here in Bursa, there is obviously something very picturesque about crumbling old buildings, layers of paint peeling off, cats running around, grasses growing up between the cobble stones, the crooked lines of the houses, the narrow streets, the local shops, old people wandering around or peering out of the windows, old grape vines running up the walls, the patchwork of colours and so on. Modern developments, with their straight lines, their planned streets, their concrete constructions, the wide avenues, places for parking, properly laid out pavements, glass fronts to shops and so on, have none of this. It is sometimes wondered why tourists come to a modern country like Turkey and insist on taking photos of anything and everything which is old, while the locals are so happy with their modern shopping centres, their spacious flats with all modern conveniences, their glass-fronted towered offices and their new roads. All very well if you need to or want to live there, but really no good for photographs.

Anyway, apart from a trip up to Mount Olympos, this is what we were doing for the past two adys, wandering along these multi-coloured tumbledown streets going from one mosque to the other and visiting the tombs of most of the heroes of Fred’s book on 1453, including Osman I, who gave his name to the Ottomans and their empire, Orhan Gazi (the Ferocious) who founded the Gazi ( a group of fearsome warriors committed to spreading the word of Islam) and in 1326 took Bursa for the Turks and Murat II, the father of Mehmet, the one who finally took Constantinople in 1453 plus a whole laod of other famous sons of Bursa. The tombs are mainly housed in very pleasing hexagonal brick contructions, most with domes, set in gardens outside a mosque.

Yesterday, we decided to leave town and head for the snow up above Bursa. We eventually understood that a cable car ran from the east of town right up the mountain and this sounded a lot more fun than a one-and-a-half hour dolmus (minibus) ride up. The cable car took us up first 1,000 meters to 1,200 meters and then another cable car took is a further 400 meters to 1,600, whereupon a minibus awaited us to take us up to the ski resort a further 400 meters up, the city below looking very small from our lofty position, albeit, with very little wind the past few days, the views were a bit smoggy.

So there we were at Uludag ski resort, surrounded by bright white snow in the morning sunlight, views up to the top of Uludag and across the pistes. Great, but with neither of us intending to go ski-ing (my knees are too weak) or tobogganing – Fred was not keen – what is there to do? Sitting down for a coffee would have cost a fortune and the people up on the mountain were those typical sun-tanned posh people with too much money. An hour on a ‘snowped’ – a motorbike on skis was offered to us for € 90 an hour. The bloody thing would have been lethal in our hands, either for us or for passersby, so we turned down the invitation. So it was decided to go back down the mountain after we had had a look around and taken a few pics, the bazaars, mosques and backstreets of Bursa holding more interest to us than being ripped off in the snow. There was no minibus in sight to take us back to the cable car and we could have been waiting until early afternoon to catch one and a taxi offered to take us the 5 or 6 kms down for € 25, about three or four times the normal price, so we piled into a crowded dolmus and within an hour we were back in the centre of Bursa and it was only just past mid-day. Excellent!

Today, we spent going down to the west of town to investigate the thermal baths area, but apart from some other monuments and museums it was all rather disappointing over there. Neither of us really fancied a swim in the thermal baths, especially at the tourist prices they were charging and the skin on my back is still irritable after my scrub and massage of two days ago. Disappointingly, our Kurdish market on the east side of town was closed, it being Friday. Funnly enough almost every shop and market stall in the rest of town seemed to be open today, so a bit frustrating that we could not see our friends or re-stock on those excellent almonds.

Oh well, the confectioner’s shop was open so we bought some mini Turkish delights and some more chocolate coated candied orange – what a delicious combination each like a mini jaffa cake. Mmmm.. the chocolate coated almonds which we also bought were not so successful and we have to conclude that almonds and dark chocolate are not a great combination.

Otherwise, we wandered through more backstreets and followed the (still massive) walls of the city around, where they have still survived. I had a shave and asked the moustachioed barber to leave my moustache in place. It looks terrible, but I will leave it as it is for a few days.

And here we are at the other side of the Marmara Sea, with the floodlit Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia in front of us as we slow down and enter the port.. In the meantime, Fred has been reading about a naval battle which was held exactly here over 550 years ago. Living history. Time to look for a new hotel… and this time in the Taksim area, hoping that the city has not quite filled yet in preparation for the New Year celebrations. Oh… and with a strong wiond today, it feels very cold.

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