Istanbul to Bursa

Istanbul day 3

It’s Saturday morning and the group is headed out on a ferry boat to Bursa. Today is a partial travel (via boat and bus) and touring day. Yesterday was fun. I started out with breakfast at the hotel terrace with others in the group. The breakfasts have been pretty good and filling…toast, jams, fruits, honey, olives, ham, cheese,hard boiled egg, and scrambled egg and ham mix yesterday. The day would be a half day in a walking tour with the guide and then an afternoon to ourselves. We met after breakfast at 8 to start walking. We headed to the Aya Safya area just up from the hotel. The guide Eunice (not sure of spelling) talked to us about the Ottoman days and the sultans while we stood outside the Aya Safya. It was quite a rough time to be alive…especially if you were a brother of the sultan since you would spend your time in a dungeon or brutally murdered. It was a sort of survival of the fittest. When a sultan would die then the brothers or heirs would be hell bent on fighting to see who would take over. Whoever won would kill or imprison his brothers.

We then walked to the Blue Mosque where Eunice explained a bit about Islam. One of the “goals” of the trip for me is to try and understand Islam a bit more. Visiting these mosques and seeing worshippers pray, hearing the call to prayer 5 times a day are helping. When we went inside the Blue Mosque (now my second on this trip), I picked up a couple brochures. One of them explained Islam at a high level, the other explained Jesus’ role in Islam. Some quotes from the Koran were given. It’s interesting to see how fundamentalists interpret these passages in such contorted ways (as do fundamentalist Christians interpret the Bible).

From the Blue Mosue, we walked along the Hippodrome and learned about the Roman era chariot races and Gladiator games which would be held there to please the citizens. Next was the Great Bazaar. We pretty much breezed through there as the goal wasn’t to do shopping while in the tour, rather we could do it on our own afterwards. When we emerged from the Bazaar, we walked through a quaint book market where we stopped and talked about Turkish authors, poets, and publishers. I wrote down a couple tips from the guide and others about notable Turkish fiction books. We then went to a tea shop near the Istanbul University where we sat and had tea or Turkish coffee. I had a decent apple tea for 1.5 lira. After tea and talking amongst the group, we visited a couple more smaller, yet still wonderful, mosques and then walked back to the Spice Bazaar area where we were free for the day.

It was a convenient time for lunch, so I went with a few of the ladies to the bread fish boats for a cheap lunch. I then broke off from the group and traipsed through the bazaar for some fresh and dried fruit for today’s journeys. I then went into a couple stalls and bought some soap. At another, I picked up a gray Istanbul t-shirt. I then walked alongback throu the Great Bazaar and towards the Archaeological Museum. Yet along the way, I stopped at a shop with a loom in the window. A friendly young handsome Turk greeted me and showed me some beautiful scarves. After looking at them and trying on various ones, I ended up buying a couple and he threw in a good luck Evil Eye charm and a small towel. I finally went to the Archaeological Museum. By then, I was getting pretty beat from walking all day long. I kinda stumbled through the museum looking at the scores of sarcophagi, pottery, tiles, statues, and other artifacts from all throughut Turkey’s history. Being at a literal crossroads between Asia and Europe and along the Silk Route, this country really does have a fascinating and very long history.

After the museum, I went back to the hotel for an hour or so of rest. The guide would take those of us that wanted to go to dinner at a local place near y the hotel, so I tagged along. We walked to a very simple self serve style place run by utmost friendly folks. I had a delicious cheese, veggie, and chicken casserole like dish, bean soup, and rice custard. I orded a beer, but it turned out to be a somewhat religious place, which I totally respected and drank a 33 cl can of Pepsi.

After dinner, a few of us and the guide went to the Taksin Square are for a beer (2 for me). This area is definitely the hotspot at nighttime with thousands upon thousands of people just walking up and down the pedestrian street and eating at the many many restaurants or drinking at the pubs. Such a wonderful nightlife. After we had some Efes Pilsen at an outdoor terrace pub, we took the funicular and the tram back to the hotel where I laid out my clothes for today and packed the rest. My alarm was set for 05:45(!!) for showering and meeting the gang at breakfast at 6:30. I scarfed down some olives, cheese, ham, toast, jam, and coffee.

After the quickish breakfast, we met in the lobby for a van to take us to the ferry terminal where we waited for 20 minutes or so to board the high sped ferry over to Asia. And that is where I am now. Today should be fun and another adventure!

Bursa

After sailing for two hours on the catamaran from Istanbul, we landed at Mudanya across the Sea of Marmara. There, we waited in a steady rainfall and high winds for about an hour and a half for a city bus to pick us up and take us to central city Bursa. It wasn’t too bad of a wait…the company was fun and we talked a bit with some locals who were also waiting together with us.

At last the bus came, and we boarded. The ride into town was about 40 minutes or so. We got off the bus right in the heart of downtown literally one block from the hotel. We walked with our backpacks in the rain to the hotel where we gladly checked im. After dropping our bags in our rooms (my top floor single room has a nice balcony and views of the surrounding mountains and a huge mosque), we walked another block or two to a lovely restaurant were we sat down and ordered Iskender kabop…lamb slices on top of bread chunks covered in a tomato sort of sauce with yogurt on the side. Very yummy! After we ate, we walked in the rain down along the main drag of town and stopped underneath a huge statue of Mustafa Attaturk. It seems many Turkish cities have their town squares dedicated to this founder of modern day Turkey.

View of the Great Mosque of Bursa from my hotel room.

View of the Great Mosque of Bursa from my hotel room.

From here, people were free to choose their afternoon. I decided to visit the city museum right near the Ataturk statue. The museum was quite nice for a historical and cultural museum about a city. The displays were in Turkish only, yet they had a very helpful (if not overly long) audio guide for many of the displays. I learned quite a bit about this part of Turkey from the Ottoman empire to Ataturk and beyond. There is a large auto industry here as Renault and Fiat cars are made here. There is also a tradition of shadow puppets. After the museum, I walked through the very busy bazaar. This city’s bazaar was quite unlike Istanbul’s in that this one was pretty much entirely packed with locals, whereas in Istanbul it was primarily tourists. I didn’t feel like buying anything, so. Kinda breezed through the crowds noticing the much larger percentage of women wearing headscarves. This must be a more conservative part of Turkey than Itanbul. From the bazaar, I walked to the Ulu Camii mosque, which is conveniently right across the street from the hotel. Outside the main entrance, I sat on the marble to take off my shoes and put them in the little plastic baggies to carry with me into the mosque. Inside, I noticed more people praying than the other mosques I’ve seen (also there were fewer tourists in this one). I whiled some time here and observed the bearded men praying along the walls under huge wooden and sometimes fabric Arabic calligraphy paintings. Along the back of the mosque separated from the men were the local women praying. I spent about a half hour watching people praying and meditating before headed out and going back to the hotel where I did a bit of laundry in the bathroom sink and rested a bit.

At 6 pm, I met the rest of the group in the hotel lobby. A local man came to the hotel to walk us through the city several blocks to his apartment. There, we went upstairs, took our shoes off before his wife greeted us. We were led into their living room where their main dining table and a folding table were set up with plates, cups, and flatware. A yoghurt and lettuce salad and great big slices of bread were waiting in bowls. The man greeted us into his house and, now that I think about it never introduced us to his veil-covered wife who barely left the kitchen after we came into the house. I sat at the folding card table with the two older couples in the group and we talked about travel in Vietnam, India, and even WWII. The man of the house served us a delicious lentil creamy soup, followed by a meat dish (I forget what all was it). The food was quite delicious. I kept eating bread since it was so good. It seems I am becoming the jokester, funny guy of the group…even strangers are getting a kick out of me.

After dinner, we walked to a nearby tea house. We walked in and sat in the rear of the tiny shop where men were playing Turkish music on various kinds of instruments similar to guitars and bongo drums. Various people were singing. An old man got up to dance motioning for others to join. I finished my tea, put my glass down, and got up to dance with the old an. The crowd howled in laughter cheering me on. A couple others joined me dancing. I went to the tea wallah (that’s what I’m calling the people walking around selling tea, since I don’t know what they’re called in Turkish) and ordered another tea. Before I really finished it, it was time to go. It was getting late for the men performing at the tea house, so we went back to the hotel for a chance to use the toilet before our real evening entertainment at the local Dervish lodge. I took a couple of the ladies from the group up to my room, since they wanted to see the views from my balcony. I did have a tremendous view of the big mosque and surrounding mountains. After pictures and the loo, we re-joined the main group downstairs and another guy joined us. I thought he was another backpacker tourist since he was a pretty muscular fit blondish hair college-aged guy who old have been from New Jersey. It turns out his name is Adam (as introduced by our guide) and he would walk with us up to the dervish lodge. I couldn’t believe he was a Turk. Along the way, I learned that he wanted to be an imam and that he only speaks Turkish and Arabic. When I think of an imam, an image of him is the last thing I’d think of. After a nice uphill walk to the lodge, we entered the gates into a really crowded yard with all kinds of Turks drinking tea and just being very cheerful on this Saturday night. By now, the weather was quite pleasant at 9:30 at night. We made our way through the crowded yard and took our shoes off at the door of the lodge. It was a very old wooden building. We went inside and sat in a type of waiting room just to the right. The room had built in benches along the walls where we sat and listened to our guide explain the concept of the dervishes and this sect of Islam. A couple Turks were there listening along with us. After about 40 minutes or so, the women were led away to the main room of the lodge where the whirling dervishes perform. They had to sit upstairs overlooking the main “dance floor” area. After the women had seated, the enwere asked to enter the main room. We all sat alongside the walls on the floor. I noticed only one other small group of international tourists and that was a group of 4 Asians. Yet the place was still packed quite literally to the rafters with local worshippers.

Whirling dervishes of Bursa.

Whirling dervishes of Bursa.

On the main carpeted dance floor area were 6 men in ages from about 10 to maybe 35 twirling around in long white tunics and tall felt hats. Their heads cocked to the right just a bit. Their right arms raised with their palm facing up and their left arm down with the palm facing down. They consistently spun around on their fee, so much and so quickly that the white tunics spread out into huge cones. Another man of maybe mid 20s age was dressed in red and was in the center of the others as they rotated around him. He was whirling, too. Tis was similar to the man in red representing the sun and the others representing the planets rotating and spinning around the sun. A band performed traditional, almost Medieval, music and others sang very powerful songs. Soon an old man in a black tunic and longish white beard and very tall green felt “hat” replaced the young man in the red as the center. He slowly started twirling yet he held his tunic so it didn’t flay open like the others. The red tunic man joined the white tunics and they all rotated and whirled around the old man (the Chief of the lodge). This dancing and music and singing went on for about half an hour or maybe just over. It was incredibly powerful to see these men and boys dancing as if in a trance or some state of meditation. The music was wonderful. When the music finished, all the dancers stopped and knelt on the floor. Another man in a smaller green hat started praying in Arabic while almost the entire crowd joined him. At the end, everyone silently left. I gotta say, it was a very wonderful experience to be able to witness this truly spiritual dance. It is quite touching. Our group rejoined in the little waiting room area before we went outside and talked about our shared experience as we walked back down the hills to the hotel.

Back in the room, I organized my backpack and did some reading and posting of pictures on the hotel’s very weak Internet WiFi ( or “wifey” as our guide calls it) connection. I was asleep around 12:30am.

This morning, I was awoken promptly at 5:10 am by the muzeline (?..is that what you call the man who does the call to prayer?) calling for prayer from the mosque right across the street. This guy got on and started wailing away. He would stop and then wait about 15 seconds then go at it again. I have no idea what he is singing or saying as he wails, yet it seems like he’s lonely and he’s pleaing with people to join up at the mosque for prayer. He went on for about 5 or 6 minutes then quit. I got another could hours of sleep after that.

After breakfast and cleaning up, I joined the group in the lobby at 8:45 a,. We walked a couple blocks to catch a city bus that took us to a modern clean efficient intercity bus station out in the suburbs. We squeezed ourselves off the bus and into the station and shortly to the platform where we would catch the bus to Selcuk. We had Bout 25 minutes before the bus arrived so some of us used the toilet and/or got some tea. I did both. I’m getting quite used to (and indeed, enjoy) the Turkish tea served in a tiny glass cup which sits on a small plate with two tiny sugar cubes on the plate. I’ve been plopping in one sugar cube. The tea is scalding hot, so I let it cool off a bit before drinking it. Quite a nice treat.

The bus arrived on schedule. It’s a nice modern Mercedes Benz coach with tv monitors in each seat back and nice chairs. A server is on board to bring around drinks and snacks. Quite a pleasant way of travel.

We have about 6.5 hours of scheduled bus time today, so now that I’m caught up writing on my iPad (which I can conveniently post online once I’m in a “wifey” zone), I’ll sit back, relax, maybe do some reading and watch the Turkish world go by outside my window.

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