Stuff, Wanderings

Several Birds . .

J and I have travelled much of Turkey in the twenty-odd years we’ve lived here but we’ve never made it across the Hellespont or Dardanelles  as it is known these days. European Turkey remained a place unexplored to us.

one of the most strategic waterways in the world

Our Turkish ‘son’ was recently appointed to an important post near the Greek border and so, as we hadn’t seen him and his family for a few months, we needed no further encouragement than an invitation to a local rice festival. The area is one huge paddy field and supplies much of Turkey’s domestic rice needs.

2 kilo bags of ‘Festival Rice’ proved to be welcome gifts

Now, we had other friends whom we had not seen for a while who were holidaying near Ayvalık so what better than to combine a visit with them! They were delighted and promptly suggested that we all traipse off to Bozcaada (a small island just off the coast) for a couple of days.

Bozcaada is very pretty, very popular, the resort of choice for the ‘beautiful people’ from İstanbul and very expensive! Let me give you a couple of examples; what amounted to no more than a decent lokanta meal for four, admittedly with 3/4 of a bottle of rakı thrown in, was over 400 Lira! A double rakı weighs in at 40 Lira – although they do ‘give away’ a small bowl of nuts when you sit down! Now, if like me you enjoy your daily dose of duble rakı then forking out the price of a bottle for a couple of doubles rather takes the shine off.

Meanwhile, a few impressions:

the most splendid of friends

As I said, it’s a most beautiful place and with friends such as ours there is nothing more to add!

Bozcaada behind us we motored on and crossed the Dardanelles at Çanakkale, the narrowest part. It’s a busy place . .

Our ‘son’ was working much of the time so as is usual on these occasions we amuse ourselves most days and fit in the socialising when we can. The highlight was joining him on a trip to Edirne where I was able to fulfil a long-time desire to visit the Selimiye Imperial Ottoman Mosque. Said to be the finest masterpiece of one of the greatest architects to have ever lived – the Mimar Sinan – it was commissioned by the Sultan Selim II and built between 1569-1575. It is a remarkable sight to behold!

 

 

the massive main door – these pieces fit together like a jig-saw – no glue or nails

Look carefully at the image below and you might just make out a relief carving of an upside down tulip. There is a story; the woman who owned the land where the mosque now stands repeatedly refused to give it away for the greater glory of God or Sultan! She used it to grow tulips on the site which you may recall were worth more than gold back in those far-off days. Anyway, she was adamant until eventually she was assured that there would be tulips inside the mosque and so she agreed with that as guarantee. She should have known better than to trust the elites because all she ended up with was this one ‘dead’ tulip! If you go back four photos you can see someone pointing out the location.

There is a small but very interesting museum attached to the mosque with lots of amazing examples of Ottoman craftsmanship. It also has a disturbingly realistic figure of the great architect Sinan – J freaked out!

Koca Mi’mâr Sinân Âğâ – Mimar Sinan 1488/90 – 1588

Now, Edirne is famous for something else – liver! Whenever a Turk, friend or stranger, heard we were off to Edirne we were told that we simply had to eat the famous Edirne Tava Ciğer! So we did and they were right, sliced thinly before frying it is delicious!

Edirne Tava Ciğer

We did a number of other things and went to a few other places but this is enough for now apart from one other thing. On the way back we stopped briefly at Ezine a town famous in Turkey for its cheeses. There we bought Ezine Göbekli Kaşar Peynir (cheese with holes) which is OK if not special. (J and I are in dispute over Ezine or Kaşan – whatever!) The prize, however, goes to Peynir Helvası a not too sweet cheeeezy-as-anything pudding – wonderfully delicious!

Peynir Helvası

If you plan to ‘go’ this is the way to do it!

Alan, having got several ‘birds’ with one stone, back at the cabin with J making chutney and pickled cabbage!

Wanderings

İznik; Tiles and Tranquility

The tourism Mecca of Dalyan lies just 10 minutes down the road from Okçular. Dalyan is steeped in history and is set on a canvas of outstanding natural beauty with a beautiful lake on its doorstep.

İznik lies just south of İstanbul, about 2 days drive from Okçular (we always take the scenic route over the mountains). İznik too is steeped in history and sits at the edge of a large and beautiful lake.

There the similarities end; Dalyan town itself is bereft of charm; there is little to appeal to the eye with concrete villas set in their 500 cubic metre plots. The tea garden trees are dying, everywhere is paved with blocks that radiate the sun’s heat and graceful, old eucalyptus trees, which may not have been native but gave welcome dappled shade and ‘texture’ to the town centre were cut down and ghastly, out of place palm were planted.

In contrast, İznik feels and looks like a Turkish town; İznik has retained its trees and İznik has not fallen into the trap of paving everything in sight. The promenade area is grassed with little man-made promontaries and islands reaching into the lake. The whole feel of the town is of quiet gentility.

J and I have just returned from a trip to the province of Karabük in the north of the country. On the way home we diverted to spend a little time in İznik and we were both taken with the place – it is a really nice town.

Originally named Nicaea by the Greeks, it served as the interim capital city of the Byzantine Empire between 1204 and 1261, following the 4th Crusade in 1204, until the recapture of Constantinople by the Byzantines in 1261. Much of the original defensive walls still stand along with 2 imposing gates. The city and national authorities are carrying out restorations of old mosques, churches and hamams to the highest aesthetic standards using real craftsmen to do the jobs.

With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the town lost a great degree of its importance, but later became a major centre with the creation of a local faïence pottery-making industry in the 17th century (known as the İznik Çini, Çin meaning China in Turkish – Chinese porcelain stood in great favour with the Sultans.) İznik tiles were used to decorate many of the mosques in İstanbul designed by Mimar Sinan. Attempts to recreate the perfection and colours of the early pottery glazes have proved elusive. As an aside, one of my prized possessions is an original İznik bowl; although slightly chipped the (hazardous) cobalt blue of the glaze can be found in no pieces other than these originals.

I like İznik; it makes a great staging post for exploring the area or as a stop-over to or from İstanbul. Its true value is as a gentle, relaxing place to spend time replenishing the inner self, wandering back streets, searching out the surprises (see below) and enjoying the finest catfish kebap to be found anywhere in Turkey.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

old hamam restoration

the quality of restoration is oustanding

the mighty northern Istanbul gate

the scary sight that awaits those entering the Istanbul gate

would you want to mix it with these jokers?

the southern gate

. . can you work out what this is?

admit it, you’re amazed to see it’s an electricity sub-station

the back view of the triumphal march

part of the extensive defenses

. . . and yet more