Sunday, May 8, 2016

Bursa: The Birthplace of the Ottoman Empire & Yalova

March 11-13, 2016

During the second weekend of March and weekend before my family’s arrival, we traveled to Bursa, a northwestern city located a few hours away from Eskişehir on the east and a few hours away from the Sea of Marmara and Istanbul on the west. It was the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, is the fourth most populous city in Turkey today, and is known for its rich green beauty found in forests, parks, and gardens.

We had reached out to the Bursa crew weeks before to arrange housing. Some were out of town, but still opened their homes to us. Cicely Hazell, for example, had personal things to take care of but let us into her apartment, which she shared with two other Fulbright girls. We had planned this trip with the Eskişehir girls (Lizzie and Michelle), who arrived a few hours before we did. After our 10-hour-plus bus ride, we got in late and were super tired so we hit the couches for some sleep.

The next day, we started our day by having brunch. I ate köfte and rice, which was quite filling. The other girls nibled on small dishes, saving their appetite for Bursa’s famous iskender kebab. “İskender kebap is one of the most famous meat foods of northwestern Turkey and takes its name from its inventor, İskender Efendi, who lived in Bursa in the late 19th century,” says Wikipedia.
Afterward, we visited the famed Ulu Cami, also known as the Grand Mosque of Bursa. The mosque has two minarets and 20 domes, and was built using Seljuk architecture. Unlike other mosques I’ve visited, Ulu Cami has a fountain (called şadırvan) inside the mosque where worshipers can perform ritual ablutions before prayer. Typically the şadırvan is outside a mosque. What makes Ulu Cami so unique, however, is its 192 monumental wall inscriptions written by the famous Ottoman calligraphers of that period. According to Wikipedia, the mosque has one of the greatest examples of Islamic calligraphy in the world.
After the mosque, we walked to the city bazaar. Bursa is famous for scarves and especially silk (ipek). There’s a famous market called “Koza Han” within this grand bazaar where women flock for scarves in every shape, design, color, and material. It was very overwhelming! Given that I’ve been buying gifts up until this point, I decided to treat myself to an ipek scarf, which was quite pricy (50 TL). The store owner would not budge below that price even though Lizzie, Alex, Michelle, and I all bought a scarf from him. It was a good investment I thought. Plus the scarf was so beautiful! It had traditional tulip designs on it, and was turquoise, which is the color of Turkey. Later, we all did some more scarf shopping around Koza Han for family and friends and broke bank (but in Alex's case, quite literally).
We walked through the pazar (food market) and tasted different fruits and foods, like fresh strawberries, cheeses, and olives. We ran into two other Fulbrighter friends, Yalova Fulbrighter Sarah Khalbie (she had visited us in Antalya back in the fall) and Bursa Fulbrighter Ian Montgomery. As we walked through the streets of the crowded bazaar, someone brandished a small card in my face. My immediate reaction was to take it so as to get it out of my way. The card had a dua, prayer, written on it in Arabic. I thought this was a warm gesture, but then I saw that the young man who gave me the card started following me. When Sarah noticed what was happening, she said you have to pay him now, that’s how they make money. I didn’t realize it was a street beggar who had tricked me into giving him money. I reached for my wallet to search for some 1TL coins, but the beggar didn’t seem satisfied with 2 lira I handed him. He kept making a gesture with his hand towards his mouth and begging for more; he spoke Arabic and I figured he was trying to say he needed more money for food. I got nervous because I didn’t have a 5-lira bill on me, so I apologized and quickly walked away and caught up with the group.
Ian is a tall and animated person, and an absolute sweetheart. He took us to a place called Tophane, which is a hilltop view of the city. We drank çay and showed off our scarf purchases from the day, per Sarah and Ian’s request. After about an hour, we all started walking towards a famous İskender restaurant. Sarah and I branched off to look through a few shops. When we caught up with the others at the İskender restaurant, the rotating döner had finished for the day and they could only accommodate four people. No problem! Sarah and I found another lovely restaurant and enjoyed İskender kebab as well. At our restaurant, the waiter came and poured boiling melted butter all over our kebabs—yum yum! The 25TL meal, which included ayran (yogurt salty drink) was worth every kuruş. It was also nice to catch up with Sarah in a private setting and seek advice.
With Ian and Sarah at Tophane, overlooking Bursa.

On Sunday, we had one of the best kahvaltı I have ever had in all of Turkey. Ian took us and his friend from Turkmenistan to a small village called Cumalıkızık which is now famous for its breakfasts. Kızık is the name of one of the 24 clans of the Oghuz Turkish tribe, and Cuma (Jumah) means Friday. Apparently kızık people gathered in this village on Friday’s for worship. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Cumalıkızık in specific and Bursa in general is the birthplace the Ottoman Empire. “The Ottoman Empire, also known as the Turkish Empire, Ottoman Turkey or Turkey, was an empire founded in 1299 by Oghuz Turks under Osman I in northwestern Anatolia.” That’s pretty cool! In Islamic history, the word Ottoman is synonymous with “Osmanli,” after the first sultan. 

Our kahvaltı was huge, it was for eight people. It included bread, jam, honey, kaymak (cream), butter, tomato sauce, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, gözleme (similar to Pakistani parathas, flat fried bread sometimes filled with potatoes or other vegetables), and much more. And we had a whole pot of tea to ourselves. It was so filling! Kahvaltı typically costs 20TL all over Turkey; some places like this village serve a ton of food, while other places like restaurants serve minimal. I love making videos and creating memories, so I asked if others would be interested in making a small video of our kahvaltı experience. Everyone agreed. It's too large to upload on my blog, but here's the link.
After our breakfast, we roamed around the streets of the village, stopping every now and then to admire the old houses and the deserted buildings, and posing in front of a few. The village smelled of fresh sheep feces, as well as fresh vegetables, and it reminded me of my childhood of growing up in the Bandi Dhudan village in Pakistan. We lived next to farmers who walked their herd every day and harvested their crops year-round. At one point, the girls found a hungry dog and started feeding it. Given my fear of dogs and cats, I watched them from aside, though I did manage to muster the strength to pet one cat with Ian.
We hopped on a bus back to the city center, where we said goodbye to Ian’s friend and Ian returned home for personal errands. The girls and I decided to visit Yeşil Camii (Green Mosque), which is actually kind of blue-ish in reality. This Green Mosque is a large complex that consists of an actual mosque, mausoleums, madrassah (Islamic school) kitchen and bath. The mausoleums were exquisite, tombs covered in beautiful blue tiles with calligraphy written on them. People prayed at these tombs and we paid our respects by covering our heads and walking around silently. The mosque was also a piece of art, and very different than anything I had seen so far. Yeşil Cami, for example, has vestibule at the entrance leading to a central hall, small rooms tucked away on the east and west sides, as well as a huge iwan surrounding the mihrab (semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the qibla; or Kaaba in Mecca). The interior of the mosque is decorated with thousands of mosaic of blue-green tiles. I suppose every sultan wanted to leave a unique mark as their legacy, so they all commissioned unique mosques to be built.
Later that evening, we hung out at Ian’s apartment where a few other Ankara Fulbrighters were crashing for the weekend. It was nice to see them, but I was preoccupied with our school situation, which had over the course of the week, gotten out of control. I was stressed out about the school bureaucracy and the politics between the Turkish Fulbright Commission and the State Department. Alex took an overnight bus back to Antalya, while I decided to go to Yalova and spend a day with Sarah in her hometown.

Monday (Yalova)
It rained on Monday which contributed to my depression about the school situation, but Sarah was a wonderful host and welcomed me in her apartment. I purchased a flight ticket for the next day, and went to bed. The next morning, I went with Sarah to her school and observed her teach about outer space. She invited me to guest lecture in a few of her classes, which I really enjoyed. Sarah is a very animated and spirited person, it was a joy to watch her interact and motivate her students. For some reason, the students were not as excited as normal, and Sarah and I later figured out that it must have been due to the Ankara bombing the week before. We got home around 10 or so, and she made me a kahvaltı with eggs, kaymak and honey (which she had bought at Cumalıkızık), tomatoes and cucumbers. Her site mate Keith joined us a little while later and he brought fresh bread with him.
Despite the rain, Sarah showed me her quaint little town, which stares at Istanbul from the other side of the Sea of Marmara. We browsed through some clothes and trinket shops and walked by the shoreline as it drizzled. After Sarah finished teaching, we headed to a restaurant near the ferry dock where we ate delicious hamsi balık ekmek (anchovy fish sandwich). I couldn’t help but start weeping because of all the things that were going wrong at our school, and lack of support from institutions. I told Sarah I regretted coming to Turkey, and she tried to console me and help me see the positives in my experience. She was a great support. I stopped crying before Keith joined us for dinner. After an hour, I boarded a ferry that would bring me to Istanbul. I caught an evening flight from Istanbul and was home in Antalya at the wee hours of the night due to delays. This was a long but wonderful trip – full of emotions that took a roller coaster ride.
"Everything will be okay," whispered the sea.


  1. BRB crying at the last picture's caption, much needed right about now

  2. Bursa Tour From Istanbul