Iznik (Nicaea) is another one of those town that I HAVE to pass through in Turkey. It is here, 1700 years ago that the first ecumenical council took place that produced a Nicene creed, for non Catholic, I summarize by saying this is where a group of men decided what the relationship between all the main characters in the religion is. Of course they say its by divine order but lets just leave that there. Iznik is also known for its ceramic industry during the Ottoman empire days. Just about everywhere I went so far, the most elaborate mosques or palace is adorned with tiles from Iznik. If I get just 1 type of souvenir, it has to be ceramic tiles from Iznik.
0800hrs: After taking the early morning train from Cankaturan this morning, I am now on board the massive car ferry at Yenikapi docks that crosses the Marmara sea. Seats are assigned, so this is not a intra city ferry styled boat. Even outdoor seats are numbered. Too bad I got assigned the indoor seats.
0915hrs: Arrival in Yalova. The ferry took a little more than an hour only. Not too bad. The plan today, hatched during the boat ride is quite hectic. It involves a trip to bursa for the Iskander Kebab lunch, then a bus to Iznik for 3 hours there before going back to Yalova for the IDO ferry back to Istanbul Yenikapi. It might change of course.
Just after getting off the ferry at Yalova, there are large buses waiting and the familiar 'Bursa' being shouted indicated to me this has to be the quickest way to my Iskander Kebab lunch. I hop on without question, after taking GPS coordinate of the docks of course and hoping to plot the drive to the big city. The trip on the bus costs only 9TL, and this is not a shabby dolmus or servis bus, mind you. Even comes with a cup of mineral water served by a steward in office clothes.
Yalova is not too far from Istanbul, guessing around 40km straight line. In fact, on a slightly foggy day like today, it is possible to see Istanbul in the horizon at the Yalova waterfront. I'm quite sure it is a layer of smog, been living in Shanghai long enough to tell the difference between smog and fog. The bus goes right through the town of Yalova, nothing special to report. Just like any other small town so far.
1035hrs: Just arrived at Bursa Otogar. No idea where it is, but for sure outside the city. And, like in Istanbul, there is an Ikea just next to the otogar. Bus 38 goes to the city center and you have to buy a paper credit-card sized ticket at the counter for 2TL flat rate. The guy at the counter says 38 goes to Ataturk Caddesi. Closer to lunch!
1120hrs: Not all the restaurants here are open due to Ramadan season, but the Iskander kebab place is, thank goodness. Ordered a portion at 16TL and a bottle of water. This place has an oldish look to it, but looks renovated too. Definitely not older than 20 years though it is said the shop existed long before that. Doesn't matter, it's the food that matters. There are only 3 tourists here due to the fasting season.
The Iskander Kebab is soso. Ok it's nice, but not the most heavenly dish on the face of the earth. The shop that claims to be the first only serves one dish, not even salad. What it is is lamb slices on top of diced pitta bread and topped with secret sauce. alright, nothing secret about it, it's a whole cup of melted butter. 2 slices of tomatoes, 2 grilled chillis and a large scoop of yoghurt complete the dish. As it sounded, this is one dish thay will strike out a few years off your lifespan if you are going to die of heart attack. Once in a lifetime dish, literally.
1217hrs: Right after lunch, back into bus 38 on the downslope and 2TL BuCART and 30 minutes later, I'm back at the Bursa otogar inside a minibus bound for Iznik, the second stop of the day. Paid 7.5TL for the trip that starts moving when the bus is full. It seats 15 so I do not have to wait too long. The sun is out in full force again today and I will skip mosques as I am wearing a pair of bermuda shorts and quick dry coolmax shirt. Time to take GPS plots and go get a nap. Along the way, I was able to see the route the bus is taking. It goes past Orhangazi and then swings along the south coast of the Iznik Lake. This is a large area growing olives. In fact, I think I've never seen an olive tree before and this place is just full of it. I'm quite sure I will be able to find a lot of olive based food here, hopefully not just for breakfast.
1351hrs: Wandering the streets of Iznik after getting dropped off at the otogar. This place is more rural than I expected. There are almost no tourists here at least on the same bus. I'm sure there will be some biblical tourists if I look hard enough in the town center. I boot up my google maps on the phone and observed that there are a few points of interest in the town. However, quick impression tells me that this place is a major farming town. Has to do with the olive tress that I saw along the way. First stop is an ancient byzantine Church but it has turned into a rubbish dump and nothing more to look at other than some bricks still left. Nothing much to see here. Had a short chat to a guy walking around taking electricity meter readings with a terminal linked by GSM signal to a central station. All he has to do is to punch in the reading and it updates a central database. Not too backward!
Back tracking towards the Iznik lake, there is a Roman Amphitheatre. Seems to be fenced off but no problem getting into the ruins. The only thing that suggests a theatre is the shape of the mess that's left.
1506hrs: Continuing down the street towards the west and into the sun, I quickly pass the ancient city walls. It is crumbling but parts of it along with the many fortified low towers are still visible. Not high enough to take a nice photo of it and reasonably overgrown with plants. It runs right through a residential area, so it is difficult to know where you are going as there are many small lanes.
Just as I was reaching the lakeside, passed by a workshop run by the Iznik Foundation. They do sell tiles made in the same way as ancient times, so how can I resist? Picked up one from the Ottoman era and another from earlier Seljuk design, got the lady there to write down where the design was copied from. The workshop is quite easy to spot, there are clay and ceramic working materials outside and the showroom is not too big but the sign board does indicated what it is. They take credit card but hey, if the difference is more than 30% between credit card and cash due to VAT and whatever, then I'll pay cash. Didn't expect a slab of standard sized tile to cost 200TL! Thought it was outrageously priced but since I'm here and no intention to buy the stereotypical turkish carpet, why not.
1536hrs: At a Downtown pastanesi having 4 Baklavas. This thing is just sinful in a dessert way. It looks as though it is a few layers of pastry only but I'm sure the bottom half of the thumb sized thing is pure sugar. Next time 2 will be enough.
I think my trip to Iznik is almost over. Walked down the main street eastwards and passed an Aya Sofia museum that cost 3TL for entrance but this one looks like a guardhouse to the other Sofia in Istanbul. No comparison. It might have been even a ticketing booth to the mother of Aya Sofias.
Iznik looks to be an agricultural town. People here drive tractors pulling carts. There are many shops selling agricutal miracle chemicals or fertilizers. Most restaurants are closed during the fasting month, which is right now. No chance for me to try out the fish kebap here. Fish from Iznik lake. Kids on the street, shall I say brats, have probably seen a foreigner before so they follow me around. But even the, can't stand the hot sun it seems.
1620hrs: Back at Iznik's otogar, the small square serviced by small minibuses. Most buses are bound for Bursa, the big city near by. One seem to go to Orhangazi, wherever that is, but wait, that sounds like the town that is just on the western edge of Iznik Lake directly opposite of where Iznik is. I will go to Yalova to take the late evening ferry back to Yenikapi pier in Istanbul. The bus leaves at 5pm, I reckon it leaves intentionally at this time to match up with the 1830hrs IDO fast ferry to Istanbul. Has to be - so I am set without too much worry about aligning the timing for bus and ferry. Fare for the bus trip is 7.50TL and should take an hour according to my GPS map. Unfortunately there is not too much legroom in the minibus, and regretting not wearing my 5.11 tactical cargo pants with padded knee area as I'm wedged right up against the front of my seat. It has been a hot day today, so another nap is in order.
1808hrs: Like clockwork, I'm at the Yalova pier. Now I know where Orhangazi is. That is the town on the west bank of Iznik lake where the road branches off to Bursa and Iznik. Thanks to the GPS plots. There are two ticketing booths for IDO, the one outside looks like an advanced booking booth, they wouldn't sell me tickets. Had to go into the terminal to buy my 13TL trip to Yenikapi docks back to Istanbul.
Been a good day. Got to do some walking but a lot less than Edirne. I wasn't too interested in Bursa but got there just for lunch. Iznik is historically and theologically important town but it is nothing like its former self. An agricultural town today, it looks like they are trying to revive the tiles and porcelain skills that this town used to known for. Tiles from major historical buildings that I have seen so far in Edirne and Istanbul are adorned with tiles from Iznik. But no sign of where the Council met to debate out the Nicene Creed. My guess would be at a location within the city walls that doesn't exist anymore. Doubt it was at Iznik's Aya Sofia. I could image that the proclamation, the winners and losers would go to the theater and celebrate or sulk away and reflect at the banks of the lake. It's entirely possible of course. Wasn't documented in the books that I have read so far.
And I've made the only shopping of my trip so far, and possibly ever. Two tiles from Iznik. Not cheap, but at least they don't cut corners and do follow the design and fabrication process from the era they are supposed to represent. I skip through the tiles with slightly more modern designs. Find that the older styles with plants a lot more appealing than geometrical shaped islamic designs. The high silica content used in the making of the tiles make them heavier than most other tiles that are found in standard shops.
This is a culinary and historical trip. Summarizing this on the way back to Istanbul. It requires certain amount of imagination when you do a trip like this when there is no perfectly preserved structures to send the obvious into the mind. A run-of-the-mill tourist would have gotten bored here in Bursa and Iznik. I'm happy to be able to come here. Irritating kids aside, everyone here has been very welcoming. They wave back when waved at. And I have my Iznik ceramic to remind me of this place. Not entirely picturesque place, so I have not shot too many pictures, mostly with the point and shoot, possibly half a roll of Tri-X and 2 DSLR frames.
Tomorrow, a flight to Nevsehir. Time to get out of the city and out into the desert.
Continue to Cappadocia...