Bursa, the end of the Silk Road (7/13)

This is Turkey’s 3rd largest city built in a valley and spreading up the surrounding hillsides. Aft er we arrived late in the afternoon, I spent quality time in their unique thermal pool built underground. It was beautifully lit with colored lights and a grotto at the end where hot water came in from a fountain. It was a lovely temperature, not hot, and big enough to swim laps which I did as it was fairly empty.

Bursa was an important center for silk from the Middle Ages and the Ottomans wanted it. After making it a capital city in the 1300’s, several sultans built huge mosques here and they took over a monestary for their tombs on the hillside. Although the mosques later follow a fairly strict floor plan and design, these two early ones are unique in style and decoration. One was full of incredible calligraphy with 20 small domes and the other was solid tile inside. The mosques are all still in use so we can only enter when it is not one of the 5 daily prayer times. You have to have your legs, arms and head covered so we all carry scarves since it is impossible to wear them all day in this ungodly heat.

The old canvassary (inn where traders stayed) is now full of tons of tiny silk scarf shops. There are so many to choose from and they are absolutely beautiful. I think everyone in our group bought at least one. Guess how many I got.

We ate a local specialty lunch called Ikandar Kebab which was heavy but delicious. Chopped pita bread on the bottom topped with thinly sliced beef with a red sauce and loads of sliced fresh tomatoes on top. A huge dollop of yogurt on the side and then a waiter came around with a big copper skillet and poured melted butter over the whole thing. It was delicious but I opted to skip the dinner at another restaurant (meat again!) and I went to the health club and worked out for over an hour. It’s the first real exercise I’ve had in a week. Felt wonderbar as I got to swim again after in the hotel pool.

As for food, the breakfasts are amazing with huge buffets of all manner of local foods–cheeses, breads, olives, salads, cereals, eggs and on and on. I love something they call pomegranate syrup that some places serve with salads. It isn’t syrup at all but sort of like a flavorful balsamic vinegar. I’m told I can get it in the U.S. at middle Eastern groceries. The hotel in Safranbolu had a nice dinner buffet where you could try a lot of things–I love the cold veggies. Most of our group meals have been heavy meat, tour food prepared for a large group. It is possible to request vegetarian which I have done a few times. Tomatoes are fab, very flavorful and figs are around at every meal in various forms. Peaches, apricots and watermelon are all in season and served at breakfast every day.

Tomorrow we head around to the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli war memorial site. It’s supposed to be quite beautiful with views of the Agean. Then on to the last early capital of Edirne. We are following the conquest route of the Ottomans as they made their way to conquer Istanbul in the mid 15th century.

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