Kutahya: A Pleasant Escape from Istanbul    

I can't really describe the first half of the bus ride to Kutahya because at the bus station I was struck by a pounding, vision-blurring headache, the likes of which I haven't experienced before. So, once on the bus, I closed my eyes and held a frozen water bottle to my head, only opening them long enough to consume a cup of ice cream the bus steward served everyone. About half way through the trip, my headache had diminished and I could keep my eyes open. This was good timing because the Istanbul suburbs had disappeared, along with the small towns of concrete buildings. Along the highway were fruit orchards and olive trees. Beyond them were small mountains broken by rock outcroppings and an occasional lake, river, or reservoir.

I first noticed the river when traffic suddenly slowed and we saw there had been some accident. As we went by we saw lots of cars stopped and people standing along the edge of the road which dropped into the river. I couldn't see much but heard the murmurs of "Mashalah," echo through the bus. I think a car had been hit and sent down the steep bank into the river.

On our way to Ankara, the week before, we had passed a completely burned out skeleton of a bus. We decided then to try to travel by train but haven't managed to yet. We made it to Kutahya alive.

Kutahya is a medium sized town. Its outskirts are full of factories, many making ceramics or porcelain but we also passed a Ford factory. The center of town feels like a "Provincial capital" (kind of my modernized image of Gogol's description of a provincial capital in Dead Souls. It has a main street lined with shops and restaurants and a picturesque bazaar area.

Some of the shops were decorated with ornate tiles and the bus station had an arched gate also decorated with tiles. However, it is not a city that breathes ceramics like Safi, though the central square has a tiled vase fountain (which made us think of Safi's giant tagine dish).

The heat of the day was beginning to disperse. We followed a pedestrian street, Cumhuriyet. Lots of people were strolling or talking on benches. At the end there is a small round about with a dervish statue (which actually whirls at night).

On one side was the Archaeological Museum and the Ulu Mosque.

We rested on a bench in the shade of some trees and were looking at a map when a man sitting on a nearby bench began chatting with Rowshan. When we said we were looking for dinner, he recommended a place across the street from the Ali Pasha mosque. It was called Doy Doy and served döner kebab sandwiches. They used a tasty spicy sauce on their döner wrap sandwiches and judging from the crowds, we weren't the only ones who thought it was good.

Next we set off for the train station to see about getting to Cappadocia, or at least, Konya. We found ourselves walking past a clock tower, down a tree lined street.

Sometimes the air was filled with the scent of pine. In other places it smelled of fresh cut grass. I'm sure this tree shaded avenue is a welcome place during the hot day time hours. At the train station we learned there were no tickets available to Konya. So we had to walk back to the bus station. On the way, we caught glimpses of the hills around the edges of the town.

After our errands, we stopped at a pastry shop, Inci. Opting to share a dish of profiterols, we headed to the back room which suddenly opened out into a huge courtyard full of young people eating desserts and listening to a saz player and drummer. It was a surprising scene since from the outside it just looked like a tiny pastry shop with a few tables. I couldn't help thinking that this was more of my speed than Istanbul's plethora of bars. I think it is because Kutahya is a bit conservative so bars are scarce. Instead, Saturday night consists of strolling up the main drag and eating ice cream and cake in a courtyard cafe listening to live acoustic music. It would have been perfect if there weren't so many smokers.

We slept in until about 9 AM Sunday then had pogaças, juice, and tea for breakfast at the bakery/cafe next door to the hotel. It seemed like everyone else was waking up at the same time we were.

We walked up Cumhuriyet, noticing many groups of young men. "We are definitely not in Istanbul," I said. "There is no way this many young guys would even be awake in Istanbul at this time on a Sunday morning." Rowshan pointed out there was probably a military base nearby and all the guys got leave last night.

Although the sun is hot, there is a pleasant breeze which, along with the shady streets, keeps the temperature bearable. We walked up the hill to the fortress, a pretty path with occasional tower ruins along the way as well as views of the city.

The path runs between pine and olive trees growing from sweet smelling grass. Purple thistles add more color as well as red poppies.

At one point we watched white pigeons circling below us between the city, with its silver domed mosques and red tile roofs and the sky. The top of the hill was commercialized with a restaurant built into either an over-restored tower or a completely new one. We walked along some of the other towers and admired the city and the mountains with their sides splashed with exposed limestone.

Kutahya seems to open up slowly. You are not immediately struck by magnificence. The pleasantness just seems to seep into existence as you explore revealing Ottoman houses, pretty forested parks and beautiful mosques.

The strange thing about Kutahya is it feels like a city, a town, and a village. The factories and tall, new apartment buildings suggest a city, the new center, city government building, and pedestrian shopping area evoke a cozier town, while the old part feels like a village, complete with roosters crowing. The buildings in the old part are of course in more need of repair than in the new. But, many of them are historic, dating to Ottoman times. It is a shame they have fallen into such bad repair. We did see some which were restored complete with beautiful wooden screens and balconies.

The ceramics museum is located behind the Ulu Mosque and contained a variety of Iznik and Kutahya ceramics. There is also a tomb inside, decorated with ceramic tiles.

After visiting, we went to find Germiyan Sokak, where, according to photos on a map we were borrowing from the hotel, there are several restored Ottoman houses. After seeing so many ruined houses, we were looking forward to seeing some that were fixed up. The street is a peaceful cobblestone street lined with houses. However, first we just saw more Ottoman houses in varying degrees of disrepair.

Disappointing, but we still could appreciate the beauty and the potential should someone decide to restore them. We also appreciated the silence of the street and how we only saw a few people. About halfway down we found one nicely restored house. We admired its trim and newly constructed wooden screens. As we walked on, I felt a little as if I'd discovered a hidden treasure. The town had so many Ottoman houses and some really nice streets, however, a lot of people wouldn't even notice. Germiyan was a lovely street. I could imagine the buildings fixed up and housing pensions, cafes and galleries. As we reached the last block we came upon several restored houses and a couple in the process of being restored.

One held a gallery, one a cultural organization, and the last, a cafe and restaurant. We ducked in and looked at the menu. Prices were about 2x the price of food in town but even then the most expensive thing on the menu was 10 YTL (about 8$). We decided to eat there because we liked the decor and the restoration job and we wanted to support a business in a nice area in the process of being restored (but isn't quite there yet so they probably don't have quite enough customers). The downstairs had beautiful dark wood ceilings, supports and stairs. The down stairs had little coffee tables with cushioned chairs. Upstairs had several different rooms, all decorated with 19th century antique looking furniture with tapestry upholstery. The windows were lined by red velvet curtains. We ate in the main dining room but noticed the smaller "family" rooms and the 2 Ottoman style rooms with cushions on the floor and low tables. It was a fun place to have dinner because it looked so elegant.

Earlier in the evening, we walked up one of the hills to see the Çinili mosque -- a mosque covered with ceramic tiles.

The area seemed to have a lot of trees, even though it was residential. It was probably newer and 10 years ago was just forest. We visited the mosque then headed down. Rowshan noticed 2 kids-- one wearing a Galatasaray outfit and the other wearing his "circumcision prince" outfit. Rowshan tried to take a photo of them but a group of kids rushed up to him and begged him to take their photos as well. Soon they were posing and pulled me into the photo. We were next to a playground and the photo-shoot soon had them climbing monkey bars and sliding down the slide. Another group joined in. After every photo, they'd run up to Rowshan, vying to be 1st to peer into the camera monitor, and then calling out which number in the line they were.

Eventually they began questioning us. "Where are you from? What is your name?" When we said we were from America, the next question was, "Have you eaten pork?" When we said, "yes" they all squealed in disgust, "EEEEWWWWW!!!!" "Have you eaten crab?" Once again, our affirmative answer caused cries of disgust. Rowshan further scandalized them by mentioning that he'd also eaten frog. Meanwhile, some of the boys brought a kitten and handed it to Rowshan who pretended to try to eat it saying it was the perfect size for dinner.

One little girl said, "You are a psychopath!" Rowshan assured them he would never eat such a cute kitten and he wouldn't eat the dog either.

Then they asked about life in America and if we'd been to various places. Soon they wanted more photos. This time with siblings which was very cute. Some of their older brothers showed up, one wearing a San Diego shirt. They asked about our favorite soccer teams. Most liked Fenerbahce and didn't approve of our preference for Galatasaray. One father showed up and asked if we were reporters. We assured him we were tourists. And, truth be told, we were the ones getting interrogated.

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