Sunday, December 27, 2009

Day Trip From Istanbul: Iznik

As the deadline for our departure back to Canada loomed, we knew we had to get organised. Too many little things needed to be done, and time was slipping away. Mel and I sat down a drafted a list. Most of the items were mundane like "repair jewelry" and "get quotes on shipping", but number 11 sat in amongst these tasks like a jewel.

11. Go to Iznik.

Iznik had long occupied a place on my "to do" list. Always put off in favor of other trips and excursions, her number was up. Mel and I were determined not to leave Turkey without a visit.

We set a day.

I got the flu and postponed the trip.

We set another day.

The day before we were to leave, we learned there was going to be a public transport strike and all busses and ferries were going to be cancelled for the day. The information was incomplete and unclear, but on Thursday morning bright and early we made our way to Yenikapi ferry terminal and (thankfully) boarded the ferry for Yalova.
We stood on the ferry and watched the sun rise over the Marmara sea and thousands of seagulls swarm the fishing boats as they steamed into the Kumkapi market with their catches destined for the tables of the classy Balik Sokak (Fish Street) restaurants.

The Blue Mosque, along with our little apartment in the background, fade off in the distance. This was in late November, when morning fog is a normal occurrence.
Off the boat in Yalova, we hopped a
local minibus, an hour later we arrived in Iznik.

I was pleasantly surprised by Iznik, and immediately wished I'd made the trip sooner. The small cobbled streets were lined with huge maple trees, displaying bright fall colours. Mosques, museums and ruined Byzantine churches lined the quaint narrow streets, and of course local shops sold Iznik-style ceramics. (Back in the 17th century, Iznik was an important centre producing ceramic tiles for all of the Ottoman mosques and palaces. Although little is produced here these days, the design of tile still holds the name "Iznik".) One man beckoned us to take pictures of his antique hamam.

"That's the men's section!" I feigned shock.
"Haha! No problem! I'll kick the men out!" he joked.

Transportation of choice in this agricultural town in definitely the tractor. Brightly painted and parked outside of houses, these vehicles hauled the towns produce from field to market. I asked one man what he was hauling, it turned out to be olives, on the way to the mill to be pressed for oil. Other tractor's wagons were full of walnuts, sheep, massive cabbages and bright persimmons.

The green Mosque, with it's original
Iznik tile decoration around the minaret.

We wandered the streets with a little map from the information centre, stumbling upon buildings and sites. We visited the city wall and gates and stumbled upon the Green Mosque, among the top sites in Iznik. Mel and I adored this building, its proportion, decoration and design had our cameras busily working away from every angle.

Front door of the Green Mosque.

Iznik is located on the shores of Iznik Lake. We quickly fount that walking from one of end of the town to the other took about 20 minutes at a leisurely pace, within minutes we found ourselves slipping through a little doorway in the city wall and standing on a very nicely kept beach. Here we met Mehmet and his little dog - Raki. (Best name ever for this little white dog with attitude!)
Mehmet and Raki

Glass-like waters of Iznik Lake.

The next day would be Kurban Bayram, or the "Sacrifice Holiday". Traditionally, families sacrifice a sheep or cow and distribute a portion of the meat to poor families. All over Iznik we saw sheep being taken home in preparation for the next day's activities. They were carted around in trucks, on tractors and even walked home on leashes like the family dog. Poor sheep.

Unwilling. Do they know?

We loved Iznik for many obvious reasons - its interesting buildings, friendly locals and small town vibe, but what makes this place stands out from other day trips from Istanbul is its lack of tourism in a place that would be IDEAL for summer vacations. A large lake for swimming and boating, flat terrain for cycling, and gorgeous fresh produce!

We left Iznik for Yalova in the evening, as the sun set on this precious little town, and I finally crossed number 11 of my list.