Turkey-1 Iznik, Bursa

There was some confusion regarding the status of another flight to Istanbul, and the passengers had to be accommodated on our flight. We spent more than 2 hours sitting in the plane, waiting patiently while the crew adjusted additional passengers into vacant seats. The gentleman sitting next to Amit was extremely worried that he would miss his connecting flight, but the cabin crew were unable to help. Suddenly, the unmistakable aroma of pickles flooded the cabin – the tour group sitting in the front of the plane had decided they could not wait any longer and had opened up a picnic basket!
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We landed at Istanbul finally, and now it was our turn to panic – there was not much time left to catch the ferry, and we were unable to locate the representative of the agency we had hired our car from. We ran from one end of travel agency and car hire booths to the other, but everyone just shrugged and said they did not know the name of the agency. We had also planned to get a Sim card for our phone at the Airport, and though we located a Vodafone booth easily, there was only one person who spoke some English, who just handed over the Sim and refused to help us out regarding our hired car problem. Since our card was not immediately activated, we requested him to call the number mentioned on our booking form – he just shrugged his shoulders and told us we would have to buy tokens from the Post Office, on the other side of the Airport – so off we rushed, got the tokens, and encountered our next problem – the person answering the phone did not speak English. We again requested the Vodafone Guy, the only one we had been able to communicate with, to please translate for us, but he refused to do so. Luckily for us, as we stood helplessly looking around, our ferry time slipping away, a good Samaritan sitting nearby noticed our distress and offered to help – he spoke to the person on the number provided, and after an animated conversation of which we did not understand a word, he smiled, disconnected and walked us across to where the Agency representative was standing – barely 20 steps away! It turned out that the agency we had hired the car from was still new and had not rented out their own Office Space, so they were working out of another agency’s Office, and had not placed their sign outside the booth. We again thanked the nice gentleman profusely, and then proceeded with the formalities of hiring the car. The agent reassured us that we still had time to catch the ferry, as the port was only a short drive from the Airport. By now we were apprehensive about having booked a car on the internet, from a company which nobody at the Airport seemed to have heard of, and mentally cursing ourselves for not having spent some more money and booked with one of the established international companies. However, when we saw the car, our spirits lifted – it was a brand new Hyundai i20, freshly cleaned and extremely comfortable. The representative had been right, after having the tank filled, we were able to reach the ferry port well in time, in spite of having taken one wrong turn along the way.
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As we waited to board the ferry, we were finally able to relax and begin to enjoy our holiday.
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Amit drove the car onto the ferry, and after that it was smooth sailing!

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A relaxed trip across the Sea of Marmara, enjoying the sights

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Back on the road again, a smooth highway…
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Smaller roads, not so smooth, but with very little traffic, which was a good thing as this was Amit’s first day driving on what was, for us, the wrong side of the road.
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We arrived at Iznik, and stopped at the Istanbul gate, with its distinctive carved heads atop two pillars on either side of the road. Iznik is situated by the side of a large lake and surrounded by fortified walls, extending roughly 5km around town, with a height of approximately 10m . There are four main gates, the Istanbul Gate, Yenisehir Gate, Lefke Gate and Gol Gate.
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Istanbul gate as viewed from the opposite direction

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Some facts about Iznik, or Nicaea as it was called earlier:
• It was an important religious centre for Christianity during Roman times
• It was the site where the first and seventh ecumenical Christian Councils were held, in 325 and 787 B.C. respectively
• Considered by Christians as the third holiest city, after Jerusalem and the Vatican
• Captured by Seljuks, followed by the Byzantines, and later served as the Byzantine Capital
• Later captured by Ottomans and rebuilt
• In the 16th Century, it became famous for Iznik pottery and tiles, which were used extensively in several important buildings and mosques throughout the Empire, including the Blue Mosque in Istanbul(so called because of the distinctive blue-coloured Iznik tiles)

As we wandered around town, we spotted this stylised representation of the Istanbul gate heads, along with the modern and ancient names of the city.

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Local Farmers market with fruit and vegetable stalls

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The cabbages were larger than the cat lying curled up next to them

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Aya Sofya, initially a Church, site of the 7th Ecumenical Council or second Nicaean Council. Later converted to a mosque, then destroyed by earthquakes, lay in ruins for a long time, now renovated and being used as a Mosque.

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Mosaic floor inside the Aya Sofya
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Amit found this interesting mosaic outside Aya Sofya, similar to the one inside
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It seems this was the foundation of a chapel

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Yesil Cami, or Green Mosque – named for the distinctive green colour of its tiles

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Iznik Museum, undergoing renovation at the time we visited

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Seyh Kudbettin Camii with Iznik Museum building(Nilufer Hatun Imaret) in the background

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We visited another of the main gates, the Yenisehir Gate. The walls from this to Lefke Gate are most well preserved.

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Yenisehir Gate, opposite direction, with Amit and dog 🙂
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Amit was quite pleased with the car, and for once seemed happy to pose for a photo. A newer mosque, Halil Hayrettin Paşa Camii, can be seen behind him.

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We reached Bursa and spent an hour searching for our hotel. Being unable to communicate due to language problems can be frustrating. We were fortunate to meet some nice helpful teenagers, one of whom offered to get in the car and direct us to the hotel.
After checking in to our hotel, we set out again on foot in search of Iskender Restaurant, famous for the Iskender Kebap, their signature dish. Language problems again played spoilsport, and tired and hungry, we almost gave up our search, but thankfully we managed to find the restaurant at last.
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The Iskender Kebap was delicious, and well worth the effort!
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