Why we travel
Sometimes you wonder why you do it, leaving the comfort of your own home, getting up early in the mornings, buying tickets, queueing up, being ripped off by taxi drivers, packing one's bags, sleeping on uncomfortable beds and eating stale bread for breakfast and all those other troublesome things related to travelling and then one arrives... Yesterday to the bus station outside Edirne after a two-and-a-half hour bus ride from the bus station on the outskirts of Istanbul. It is in the middle of nowhere and we catch a dolmus (minibus) into town and take a route through various universities and some modern suburbs and you still wonder why you do it. But then, after getting off the bus in the centre and quickly finding a hotel (the Efe Hotel, as patronised by Michael Palin), having a quick splash and going out onto the streets, you find out why. Another colourful and bustling old Turkish/Ottoman city, full of characters, small shops, bars, cafes, workshops and vegetable carts and so on. There is a buzz about the place, an infectious joy and we know why we do it.
Edirne is important in the history of the Ottomans as it was from here that they launched their successful attack on Constantinople in 1453. It is now famous for the Selimiye Mosque and for the oil wrestling championships in Kirkpinar in July, amongst other things.
There seem to be quite a lot of old mosques in the centre of Edirne but all of a sudden, in the mid-distance we see some exceptionally high and beautifil minarets which tell us they must belong to the selimiye Mosque so we make our way up the low hill, through some (badly laid out) gardens until it comes into full view. A magnificent building with four minarets all gleaming in the bright sunshine, more beautiful than any mosque I have ever seen and later I will view it as the most beautiful building I have ever seen.
Large buildings (like St Peter's in Rome) might often be impressive, but they can also be a bit clumsy and overwhelming. The Selimiye Mosque, despite the fantastic artwork of he tiling, the windows, the carved mihrab, its painted ceilings and so on, still manages to be graceful, peaceful and charming. Everything is in perfect symmetry, a recent rennovation has been unobtrusive. Set in gardens on a hill, surrounded by plenty of trees and not being incredibly busy (when we were there), it exuded peace and quiet, almost like an English country church, but without the darkness and fiddliness you often find in such churches. And it should be said, the mosque inside is incredibly light. A real jewel of a building. It was designed and built by Mimar Sinan at the age of 80 and he reckoned it to be his crowning masterpiece. Wonderful.
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Edirne is more than justa city of mosques and oil wrestlers (all we saw of the latter were statues outide the wrestling grounds). It is a university city and there seem to be lots of schools in the city such that the streets are full of children and teenagers in uniformn, all the boys wearing ties with the knot half way down their (white) shirts. Cool! In additon to these, you will find many gypsy/Roma folk, as seems to be typical in the Balkans (of which Edirne, next to Bulgaria and Greece) is an outpost of.they are dark-faced and look quite poor, often working as street cleaners and sometimes even begging. Some of the men have horses and (simple) carriages, transporting goods around town. The women mostly wear baggy trousers with dark floral designs and lighter scarves.
One other place to mention is the Medical Museum at the beyazit Mosque, also a place visited by Michael Palin. A great big complex the other side of the Tunca River, it housed a large 15th century medical centre including a sanitorium-type place for the treatment of the mentally ill. Whereas in western europe such people were often killed or burnt-at-the stake, here they were treated to water, musical, herbal and accupational therapies, whildt the doctors studied the works of the ancient Greek and later islamic philosophers. The Museum is extremely well-presented and is well worth a visit, if you are in the area.
And now, ee have travelled back across the golden rolling landscape of Thrace and are in a traffic jam on the outskirts of greater isanbul surrounded by maga-large building and development projects. It is 18.20 and we have to take a tram into the centre and find a hotel, the one we were staying at on our arrival, the Lush Hip Hotel, being a bit pricey for our tastes. And then we will be off to tatse the Istanbul nigh-life. Another football night with Galatasaray hosting Olympiakos.after Fenerbahce hosted Arsenal on Tuesday and lost 2-5!
Coming back this afternoon/evening gives us two full days before our early flight back on Sunday.