Bursa, two Ottoman sites, a great meal and two ferries to Istanbul

The title of this post probably exhausts you just reading it. We actually did it and all in well under twenty four hours.

We arrived on the outskirts of Bursa at about 15.00, some 11½ hours after leaving our homes on the Turquoise Riviera of Mediterranean Turkey. At the end of a more than 600km drive from Kalkan that started out at 5.30 am, what better thing to do on arrival in Bursa for an overnight stop than to get to the hotel and relax. But this was not that kind of trip. There were two important historical sites to visit before checking into the hotel. Well, it sounds crazy and probably was, but they turned out to be two sites worthy of a little effort.

Dominating the eastern side of the city of Bursa is snow clad Uludağ (Mount Olympos) standing over 2,500 metres in height and a major ski resort of Turkey. And nestled in its lower slopes lies an old Ottoman township that has been preserved as a living relic of the past. Some sources say that it is the only complete Ottoman village left in Turkey. Cumalıkızık Köy has the dual role of being an important historical site with many visitors whilst being home to a local community complete with its own school. It reminded me of a very similar township, the home of a Pueblo Indian community in Taos, New Mexico, that we visited three or four years ago.

We approached the township by a twisty and narrow road that ascended a few hundred metres. As visitors, our bus was directed to an open area that was in the process of being turned into a proper car park with a brand new toilet block, yet to be opened. From the parking space there was a good panoramic view over the whole city. You really got a good impression of the size of Bursa and its position in a wide valley that leads towards the Sea of Marmara in the west.

Immediately on leaving the car park we passed the school. This was a modern structure and of no obvious historical significance. Within a few metres we found ourselves in a central street lined with craft and souvenir stalls. The stall holders tried to encourage us to make some purchases but there was no hard-pressure selling.

The village climbed ever upwards with the streets narrowing down to be just wide enough for one vehicle. The buildings lining the streets were mostly two or three storey and made of stone for the ground floors and wood or brick or a mixture of both materials for the upper floors. And, of course, typical of the Ottomans, wooden balconies overhung the streets. They were mostly in need of a bit of maintenance and definitely were showing their age. There was a lot of colour with whites, blues and yellows dominating. The three or four routes up through the village all converged towards the highest point beyond which were fields. Many of the houses had handicraft displays outside but, again, no pressure to buy.

It was difficult to estimate the population of Cumalıkızlık Köy but my guess is around two to three hundred. It must be a strange existence where your life is to all intents and purposes like living in a goldfish bowl. There are no gates so presumably visitors come at all times of the day. Anyway, it is a fascinating place with a feeling of stepping back in time the more you explore the back alleys.

Now, I did mention two sites. So back into the bus we piled and headed for the Koza Han in the centre of the city. We entered the area of the Han from the busy shopping street of Atatürk Caddesi. In front of the building are a set of modern, ornamental fountains. They were attracting lots of attention from children and tourists. The Han is built on a fairly steep slope so the building and roof that we saw in front of us was only the upper half of the whole structure. The entrance was through a narrow arch which brought us directly into the shopping gallery.

Bursa used to be at the western end of the famous Silk Road from China and the city was famous for its trading in silk and silk-based products. In the second half of the fifteenth century, the Koza Han was built as a trading bazaar for silk. The word Kosa refers to the silk worm cocoons. The silk trade was active here until the early twentieth century. The trade in raw materials moved on but in recent years there has been a revival based on manufactured silk products and, as we were soon to find, the Han is now a busy shopping precinct selling predominantly silk scarves. The place was busy with Turkish visitors and a smattering of people from overseas like ourselves. In one shop window there was a picture of a very select customer, none other than Queen Elizabeth II.

Walking round the galley of shops, fifty or sixty I would guess, you could look out across a central courtyard. Photographs on the walls showed that the courtyard used to be piled high with silk worm cocoons. Now it is a place to sit at tables and drink coffee or ҫay. In the middle of the courtyard is a strange looking two storey hexagonal shaped structure with a set of stone steps leading to a door on its upper level. The upper level has a domed roof. On closer examination, it turned out to be a mescit (small mosque). Round the outside of the courtyard are yet more shops which look as though they might have been the stores and offices of the traders in days gone by.
Our visit was soon over but it had been a really great experience. To be able to walk round a building that is more than five hundred years old and to find it being used, more or less, for exactly the original purpose. Like our earlier visit to Cumalıkızlık, we had been transported back to the days of the Ottoman Empire.

Now it really was time to get to our hotel, the new Ibis Hotel on the outskirts of the central area of the city. As is the Ibis style, the rooms are basic but have everything you need for a comfortable night. We got our bags into the room, unpacked, then headed for the lobby bar to unwind after a long day of driving and sight-seeing. Now it was time to consider food.
After a little humming and hawing, more than half the party decided to dine at a Köfte establishment about 2 km towards town. Murat offered to take us in the bus. This offer was welcomed as the walk would have meant negotiating road works and walking most of the way alongside a main road. To those of us who were uninitiated, we thought Yusuf’s Köfteci would be just another fast-ish food place. How wrong could we be?

It was obviously a popular place as the car park was almost full. On walking into the restaurant no empty tables were in sight. There were two very large rooms each with a capacity for over 100 people seated at long tables. Immediately a member of the staff came over, asked how many we were and took us into the semi open-air room where a long table miraculously appeared with more than enough seats. The table was already laid with cutlery, loads of condiments, chillies and dozens of small bottles of water. A gaggle of waiters appeared, explained the menu – there was no printed menu – and started to take orders. We ordered various combinations of köfte (meatballs), chicken and mixed grill and asked for a few chips.

The waiters left and returned immediately with plates holding large slices of thick toasted bread. These were to dip in the hot sauce that was already in saucers on the table. We’d barely started to pick up the toast when the main plates started to appear. Then the chips arrived, and the chips arrived, and the chips arrived until the table was groaning with food. We’d entered the restaurant just minutes ago and now we had a feast in front of us.

We didn’t do justice to the chips nor the toast as each time a plate got near to empty it was replaced with more. And when we had emptied our main course plates we were plied with ҫay, as much as we wanted.

Looking around, the place was full of happy eaters. There was a mixture of families and groups of friends. It was Saturday night and everyone was out enjoying themselves. One side of the room was open to the elements and a cold wind was blowing in. Our table was in the depths of the room so fairly immune to the cold but the tables on the outer fringes were very exposed. No problem. The waiters supplied big, Yusuf branded, blankets for anyone who wanted one. This included some very small babies in high-chairs who very completely enveloped in cosy wraps.
Then it was time to pay the bill. Including a tip the grand total was 22TL (~£6) per head. This was great value for such good quality food with superb service. Definitely a good reason to revisit Bursa. And the next morning as we left Bursa en route for Istanbul, at the roadside near the edge of the city, was a big billboard advertising Yusuf Köfteci – a fitting reminder.
Apart from the billboard, the one thing that could not be missed as we started our 45 minute drive north to the ferry, was the construction of a major new highway. Once we got to the Sea of Marmara we could see the purpose of the road building. A suspension bridge was being built. It seems that this bridge will replace the various ferry services that ply across the water.
Along the way there were all the signs of a booming economy. As well as the road and railway construction mentioned already, there was a lot of house building, small engineering factories popped up everywhere and, it being Turkey, olive oil production was in full swing.
There are a number of ferry services across the Sea of Marmara. The first terminal we came to was in the town of Yalova. The next town, Topҫular, was where we were to catch our ferry. “Bozcaada-1” was almost fully loaded when we arrived so it was straight aboard and in less than a minute it was steaming out of the harbour. This is a very busy 24hr operation service. There were four ferries berthed at the Topҫular Feribot Terminali and we passed three more as our ferry made the 5km or so crossing to Eskihisar.
Eskihisar is about 60km from Sultanahmet, the central tourist area of Istanbul, but, such is vastness of the Istanbul conurbation, the whole journey was through a built up area. As the bridges across the Bosphorus can get very busy, Murat had decided to use one of the urban ferries to get from Asian Istanbul to the European side of the city.
The Harem to Sirkeci ferry must be one of the most scenic routes in the world. As the boat set out across the busy Bosphorus the panorama stretches from the Sea of Marmara with large cargo ships waiting for their time-slot to pass through to the Black Sea; the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia Mosque dominating the hilltop of Sultanahmet; the Topkapı Palace; the Galata Bridge across the entrance to the Golden Horn; the Galata Tower itself; and the first of the high-level suspension bridges linking Europe and Asia. An amazing vista. But now, it really was time to find our hotel.

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About Clashgour

With my wife Margaret I am spending a happy retirement based in Richmond, London. When travelling we use public transport where possible, resorting to a car when it is the only viable option. This blog is an occasional diary of our travels in North America, Europe and Turkey plus other places as yet unknown.
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