Sunday, April 24, 2016

Eskişehir: Old City With a Modern Twist


February 26-28, 2016

On the last weekend of February, we visited our two friends Lizzie and Michelle in their town Eskişehir, which is located in northwest of Turkey. “Eski” means old, and “şehir” means “city.” This old city was a perfect getaway for Alex and me, as we hadn’t had any major travels since Europe in January, and our midyear evaluation in Ankara doesn’t quite count because it was required and therefore not relaxing. Like Konya, Eskişehir is not a popular city for Fulbrighters to visit, and like Konya, it proved to be a hidden gem.

It was a 10-hour bus ride to Eskişehir! Yawn! I have been on so much bus travel in Turkey, it’s crazy to even think about. Dare I calculate the total number of hours I have spent in awkward sleeping positions with cramped legs? Alas, ‘tis is the life of a tourist/avid traveler. When we got to the Otogar (bus station), we took the tramline to the Anadolu Universitesi, where Michelle and Lizzie met us. After dropping off our belongings at their house (I shared a futon in Michelle’s room, Alex shared the futon in Lizzie’s room), we all went out to a restaurant nearby known particularly for its köfte (meatballs). In Pakistani cuisine, köfte are actual meatballs; in Turkish cuisine, köfte are both meatballs and flat meat kebabs. After Adana kebab, köfte is my second favorite food.

The next morning on Saturday, we started our day with a hearty kahvaltı (Turkish breakfast) at our hosts’ house. Lizzie made us menemen, a popular Turkish breakfast dish which includes eggs, tomato, green peppers, and spices such as ground black pepper, ground red pepper, salt and oregano. We had bread with butter, Nutella, kaymak (cream), and honey. We also ate bananas and apples and sipped on juice. Afterward, we walked around town, popped our head in and out of stores, and enjoyed the good weather. I loved the metal statues adorning this quaint town. For example, there were was a sculpture of a man peeking out of a manhole, and another sculpture of an elderly couple sitting on a bench. I love city art such as this. Antalya’s Kaleici has something similar, but ours is green and the statues are wearing Roman garb. We even took pictures inside the bucket of Nasrettin Hoca whose many sculptures were scattered throughout the city. Nasrettin Hoca is an admired philosopher and a popular children’s character whose thousands of stories have wit, wisdom, and subtle humor. Supposedly, Nasrettin Hoca was born in the Hortu Village of Eskişehir which is why he’s so revered here. A while back, our university representative Metlem invited us to attend a puppet show by Nasrettin Hoca with her son Demir. I remember the auditorium being filled with families with their children, all of whom wanted a picture with this character.
In the afternoon, we stopped for some chit-chat food. We tried Eskişehir’s famed çibörek, which is a thin layer of boiled, flattened minced meat encased in a lightly fried filo pastry. We also tasted leblebi (roasted chickpeas) over boza (fermented wheat drink). I wasn’t a fan of the boza, but I loved the çibörek. Something interesting happened while we were enjoying these snacks. Michelle and I sat on an empty bench, while Alex and Lizzie stood in front of us. Suddenly I noticed an old lady dressed in a hijab and abaya staring at us. I asked Michelle if she knew who it was and she said she did not. We offered this teyze (“auntie”) our bench, thinking she wanted to sit down. And then we offered her our food, thinking she was hungry. But no, she wanted none of these things. Instead, she continued to stare directly at Alex, whispering some things under her breath. After a few seconds, she walked up to Alex, touched her curly hair, and told her in Turkish that she needed to cover head because otherwise she will get “kuna” (sin). We were so surprised with what was happening that we didn’t know what to do. We tried to tell her to shoo off, but she stood there giving Alex the evil eye. Soon after, she walked away on her own and we stood staring at each, shaking our head both in disbelief (so bizarre!) and not surprised (because it’s Turkey and no one respects personal space).

Later that afternoon, we took a dolmuş (pronounced “dolmush”), which is a small square-ish bus in Turkey, to Sazova Park. This park has a Fairytale Castle as well as parks, swings, and open areas for kids to play in. It was constructed so that children can live through the stories they read with legendary characters and magical places. I have never been to Disney World or Disneyland in the United States, but this came close to those places. The castle was white with blue conical hats. We got to go inside and on top, where we enjoyed full park view. Typically there are Ottoman costumes that yabancılar, or foreigners, can try on and take pictures in, but unfortunately this time there weren’t any. I made a mental note to put this on my to-do list for Turkey. I would love to dress up in Ottoman clothes one day—they’re so pretty!
That evening, before dinner, we went to an exhibit that displayed mosque designs from around the world. This was really cool to see, as I have never seen nontraditional mosques (those of different shapes and sizes). Lizzie and Michelle took us a fancy restaurant whose name escapes me at the moment. It had a very antique feel to it, decorated in carpets, pots and pans, and wooden columns. It was very crowded because it is a popular restaurant and it was Saturday night. We waited 30 minutes for our name to be called; when we were seated, it was totally worth it. We ordered a combo of shish chicken, lamb, and ciğer (pronounced jigar, which means liver), as well as çiğ köfte. We got lots of fat bread and salad with this order, which was very filling. I loved this restaurant for its ambiance, live music, and great food.
Sunday was equally eventful. We had kahvaltı with one of Michelle and Lizzie’s colleagues named Günce (which means diary) and her boyfriend inside an old Ottoman house now turned into a restaurant. Turkish kahvaltı truly is always delicious because it’s composed of a little bit of everything. The table is adorned with small bowls that have jam, honey, kaymak, butter, olives, and different cheeses. Big plates have menemen (scrambled eggs), gözleme (fried flat bread similar to Pakistani paratha), tomatoes and cucumbers. Choice of drink is almost always warm çay. After eating, we all had Turkish coffee and I asked Günce to read my fortune. She spotted a big fish in my coffee cup, which she said symbolized prosperity. She said there was an angel waiting for me at the end of the road; that something big will happen at the end of the year, and that I would find out my kismet (fate) by the end of 2016. She also said that she saw dancing ladies but didn’t know what they meant. 
After breakfast, we roamed to the Sunday market where elderly ladies sold handmade jewelry and crafts. I bought a back necklace with Ottoman-esque coins hanging from it, a few pairs of earrings, and an evil eye bracelet. We then wandered Eskişehir’s colorful Ottoman houses in the old city of Odunpazarı. These houses are now function as craft shops, cafes, or restaurants. We stumbled upon a shop specializing in glass crafts. When we walked in, we saw there were two artists working at their desks with open fire gun. Customers and tourists surrounded the table, awing at the talent and marveling at the creations. I bravely asked if I could try to make something…and much to my surprise, the artist said “yes, why not?” Before I knew it, I was wearing goggles and melting a yellow glass rod. In just 15 minutes, I created my very own evil eye pendant; but unlike the traditional blue, I chose yellow because it is my favorite color. Lizzie even made a video of me creating the pendant—what a cool memory to look back on. After my pendant cooled, I bought it for 10 lira. Alex and Michelle followed suit, so Lizzie, Günce, and I decided to walk the streets of Odunpazarı.
After having fried ice-cream and a cup of tea, we headed to Şelale Park, where we saw a beautiful sunset. The hill on which we stood was steep and people could be seen lying on the grass, rolling down the hill, or just sitting on a slant. We had more çay (drinking 3-4 cups a day is quite normal and has even become my habit) and headed out for dinner. We said goodbye to our new friends, ate a quick sandwich, and returned home to pack. We took an overnight bus back to Antalya, and slept the following day.

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