In a last minute decision, I decided to join a group of my exchange student friends on a trip to Bursa, another city in Turkey. To those who are reading, prepare yourselves for a somewhat long post! We had a great couple of days and I have a lot of photos and stories to share.
To get to Bursa, we took a one and a half hour ferry ride from Istanbul (Kabataş, specifically) across the Sea of Marmara to the coastal city of Mudanya, and then took a bus to the central part of Bursa. Both journeys were great. It was so nice to see mountains and farmland; a pleasant change from Istanbul.
When we got to Bursa, we saw some major sights: the Green tomb, the Green Mosque, the Ulu Camii (Great Mosque), and the covered bazaar. We met a man from Bursa who owns a ceramics shop and also owns a company that was working on renovating the tiles in both the Green Tomb and the Green Mosque. He basically gave us an itinerary for the day of things we should do while in Bursa, which was so helpful and kind of him. We ended up following it almost exactly, and he helped us get a hotel for only 25 TL a person, which was great since there ended up being 14 of us. We also visited the Bursa museum, which was quite small and only 1.5 TL to get into. All the displays and write ups were in Turkish, but it was kind of fun to just walk through.
After walking around the city center, we went to a Turkish bath, called a hamam. This particular hamam is quite well known in Bursa and was built in 1522. There were separate buildings for men and women, so my friends and I split up to go our separate ways. I decided on the basic bath and a massage, which came to 33 TL – not bad compared to prices in Istanbul, let alone massages in the U.S. I really had no idea what to expect of this experience, so it was totally new. There’s a steam room with small wash tubs and showers where women bathe themselves, and can then choose to get a massage or go in a steam pool. It was definitely a local joint and we seemed to be the only tourists there, but after a bit of awkwardness it turned out to be a very nice, relaxing experience – definitely something I would do again.
In the evening, we checked into our hotel and then we were brought to a tiny cafe where some men and women were playing Turkish folk music. There were 17 of us students in this little room, plus about 10 locals. The music was great, and it was one of those moments that just filled me with joy. I truly felt welcomed here.
Then it was time for dinner…iskender kebap, which is a specialty in Bursa. It was so good. To quote a friend about an hour after dinner: “I keep burping up iskender…but it still tastes good”
After dinner, we were brought to a Sufi lodge in Bursa to watch the whirling dervishes. Sufism is a branch of Islam, and the whirling dervishes practice a form of moving meditation in their dance. I had studied whirling dervishes last year in a college course, and while I had hoped I could attend a performance in Istanbul at some point, I never thought I would actually get to see this in a real Sufi lodge. It was an awe-inspiring performance to say the least. Men were able to sit on the sides of the floor where the dervishes danced, while women had to sit on an upstairs platform – but it ended up better this way, because we had a great view and I got some photos at a great angle.
The next day, on a recommendation from our friend, we took a bus out of the city to attempt to find Cumalıkızık, a small Ottoman-style village outside of Bursa that is over 700 years old. We were told we could get a great breakfast there. The bus dropped us off and we ended up walking about 30 minutes through a very rural area. I was a bit skeptical at first, but we made it and I’m so glad we kept walking. The village was beautiful, and it sat right at the base of Mount Uludağ which was covered in snow and clouds. The houses from the original Ottoman era still remain, and I believe there was a big restoration project about 10 years ago. It is definitely a very traditional village, and while it does get tourists, it seems to have remained authentic. We got a delicious breakfast with eggs, olives, cucumbers and tomatoes, sarma (grape leaves) stuffed with rice and mint, butter, jam, and of course plenty of bread and tea. Photos do not do it justice; I think it might be the best meal I’ve ever eaten.
After some more wandering, we made our way back to the city center, and made it back to the ferry just in time – I was literally the last person they let on.
The past two days were the best so far during my time here in Turkey. I do love living in Istanbul, but it was great to get out of the city and experience a new one, as well as some of rural Turkey. We are so lucky to have experienced some really authentic aspects of Turkish culture. This has made me want to travel around Turkey even more, and now I’m thinking about where to go next. In other travel news, I booked my trip for spring break – Dublin to visit a friend who’s studying there, and probably Edinburgh, too!