Friday, April 26, 2013

Bursa, and then finally into Istanbul

Our first stop of the day was the bustling city of Bursa, today a centre for automobile plants, food and textiles, as it was for the silk trade in the 15th and 16th centuries. There are estimated to be 3,000 thermal baths in the city. In 1326 Bursa became the first capital of the Ottoman Empire. No city in Turkey has more mosques or tombs.

We donned paper booties over our shoes to enter the Green Tomb of Mehmet I. Both the inside and outside of the building were covered in a beautiful shade of green tiles. The inside of the tomb was quite breathtaking with the vivid depth of the colours of the tiles in blues and greens. The sultan's sarcophagus was also covered in green tiles. The sarcophagi of his sons, daughters and nurse maid were nearby.

Now it was time to take off our shoes and for me to don my headscarf as we entered the Green Mosque built by Mehmet I. As the mosque opened into the centre court there was a huge fountain at its centre. The tiles in the mosque were in beautiful greens, blues and yellows with threads of gold. In places the tiles depicted flowers, leaves, arabesques and geometric patterns.

We had lunch in what was once the Green Poorhouse, where supposedly the Sultan went to feed the poor. Fortunately for us our lunch was quite sumptuous with a lovely white soup with rice and mushrooms followed by a fresh green salad. Next was donner kebab, which is lamb slowly roasted on a spit then sliced very thinly and served on grilled polenta along with tomatoes and yogurt. Flan or creme brûlée was served for dessert, but sadly I had eaten too much to do it justice. All this and a magnificent view out over the rooftops of Bursa.

We walked a few steps to the Great Mosque, which was quite plain by comparison to other mosques we had visited. Once again there was a huge fountain in the middle and above it a cupola to let in the fresh air. Although it wasn't one of the five prayer times in the day there were people praying in the mosque. There was a row of taps outside the mosque for people to do their ablutions before praying but several men were using the main fountain washing their face, hands and arms and feet for the ritual washing before praying. The mosque was completely covered in carpet and men were praying at different places around the mosque while the women were praying or looking at books in designated areas at the sides of the mosque. One elderly gentleman was sitting leaning against a wall checking his texts.

We were excited to be approaching Istanbul but the traffic was horrific. For miles we crawled our way through many kilometres of fairly new high rise, densely packed apartments. It was all worth it as we crossed the Golden Horn over the Galata Bridge that separates Europe and Asia. We had arrived.

After freshening up it was down to the seafront for dinner in an area of many restaurants sitting one after the other. There were beautiful vases of fresh flowers at every table. Entertainment was provided by a loud band with drums, clarinet and singers. Fortunately, they took a break while we ate our sole. They were very entertaining when they started up again as one of the diners got carried away with the rhythm of the drums and went into a salacious bump and grind with one of the band members. This wasn't the Istanbul I expected.

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