Click on any name on the route to go to the story for that place

May 3, Wednesday

The bus tour starts

The night was rainy, and our sleep was accompanied by the car horns with which we had become familiar.

This morning we started the tour proper. Luckily, at the end of the tour we were going to return to the same hotel, so we were able to leave some of our stuff with the Reception, rather than carting it all around Turkey.

A model of the Topkapi grounds. It was hard to find good photographs of the place itself, so this has to be a substitute. Golden Horn in foreground, Sea of Marmara behind.


Before leaving Istanbul, we visited the fabled Topkapi Palace, which was a bit of a disappointment. We were told that the most interesting part of the Palace was the Harem, but we did not have time for that, which would have taken an hour for a tour plus a wait in a queue. The buildings we did see were not very grand. However, the contents of the Treasury were. There were some incredible riches there. Two massive vases were made from what by my rough estimate was about a million US dollars worth of gold each. A Golden throne encrusted with rubies, some daggers encrusted with diamonds, big emeralds, and the world's 7th biggest diamond were among the many other remnants of Ottoman opulence on display.

From the high bridge. The mosque near where we ate yesterday is in the foreground. The great mosques are visible in the distance at left (in the big version of this picture)

From the Topkapi grounds, there is a very good view over the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, and the Sea of Marmara, no doubt why the site was chosen for the palace. In the distance, we could see the high-level bridge over the Bosphorus to Asia Minor, where we had eaten lunch the previous day, and which was where we went next.

Into Asia (Minor)

As we crossed the bridge, Ahmet pointed out below us on the Asian side a hospital founded by Florence Nightingale, who apparently is still something of a heroine in Turkey. (Not in the picture from the bridge, because the picture is of the European side, and on the wrong side of the bridge, too).

In the Asian suburbs of Istanbul, we saw quite a few apartment buildings of a design that we found to be very common in many cities. The general plan is that the apartment balconies are not continuous, but are separated by blank or windowed wall, so that the apartment is criss-crossed with a rectangular pattern of blank wall, vertically and horizontally. Alternating bars of this grid, either vertically or horizontally, are painted in some colour, maybe vivid, maybe pastel. It is quite attractive, especially when several apartments in a group are painted in coordinated colours.

Crossing the Sea of Marmara (Izmit in the far distance, where the big earthquake was centred)

Soon, we took a ferry across the Eastern part of the Sea of Marmara, and then westward on the south side of the sea, through rolling hills to Bursa.

We passed many places where Ahmet told us that buildings had collapsed in the big Izmit earthquake, but we would not have known if he had not said, because all signs had been cleared away and the ground was beginning to green. Ahmet said he had spent some weeks on the rescue and recovery work in the area. There were several quite large "new towns" of small prefabricated houses where people dispossessed by the earthquake were now living. But they were the only visible sign of the earthquake.


Bursa is a moderate sized town nestled below substantial hills, or small mountains. We first stopped in a small plaza to look at the Green Tomb and the Green Mosque. The Green Tomb houses a Caliph or Sultan, if I remember correctly, but I didn't note who, and now I cannot remember. The turban at the end of the sarcophagus denotes that a man is inside. Women have no turban at the end of their sarcophagus, but theirs can be just as ornate.

The three pictures, of the sarcophagus and of the tiling in the Green Mosque, illustrate something of the beauty and variety of Arabic writing. The round medallion above the window in the middle picture of the three is also Arabic writing. It is all done in ceramic tile of very fine quality (perhaps Iznik--which should not be confused with Izmit or Izmir. Iznik tile, for a couple of centuries, was considered among the best in the world).

Bursa. (Left) The little downtown plaza where we stopped. (Above left) The sarcophagus in the Green Tomb. The "green" refers to the ceramic tile that covers the exterior of the tomb. (Above right, and right) Cursive and square Arabic writing in the Green Mosque--also shows the wonderful ceramic tile work.

The next stop in Bursa was the Bazaar, which seemed rather more upscale than the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. I wanted to change some travellers cheques into Turkish cash, because at the little plaza we had wanted to buy an elegant silk headscarf with Arabic writing, but I had not had enough Turkish money. We thought we could buy such a scarf in the Bazaar, and there were several banks there. I tried to change money in one, but after some debate, they decided they didn't have time, since it was only half an hour before closing--would I come back tomorrow, when they could do it? But eventually I did find a change place just outside the bazaar--but none of the headscarves we could find had the writing we had seen earlier. We did have some cash, though, and could buy some wine to have before dinner at the hotel.

The hotel was up a hillslope overlooking the main town. The only reason for mentioning it is that just behind it, further up the hill they were building an overwhelmingly massive extension. When it is finished, it will have a marvellous view of the city and the mountains beyond, but the first sight of it just gave an impression of a sheer cliff of building up above you.

Thursday, May 4.

To Ankara

This was largely a driving day, with a couple of interesting stops on the way. Whereas yesterday had been overcast and gloomy, now the sun came out, increasingly as the day went on. As we started out, we could see snow on top of the local mountain they call Mt. Olympus. I wonder how many "Mt. Olympus" there are in the world?

The drive out of Bursa starts fairly steeply up through a mountain pass to a rolling forested region. Over the forest, there was a wonderful view of a snow-capped ridge of mountains, but unfortunately, there was no opportunity to take a picture. It would have needed a panorama, and one cannot do that from a moving bus. After a while, the landscape changed from forest to moorland, with long vistas and no trees except along the occasional stream course.

Approaching the strange craggy hills. You can see how abruptly the arc ends on the near side. The town of Sivrisihar in the arc of the hills (the patchy sky is reflection off the bus window).

At one point, we passed a town called Sivrihisar nestled in an extraordinary arc of jagged hills in an otherwise almost flat and featureless plain. Sivrihisar means "Needle Castle."

What one could see of the strata suggested the rocks had been uplifted, as if this were part of the rim of a large meteor crater, but only perhaps 1/3 of the full circle was there, and there was no sign of a crater, so these crags are to me a geological mystery. Perhaps they come from a low-angle meteorite strike, perhaps (though it didn't look much like it) from the remnants of an old volcanic caldera. All guesses. Anyway, you can look at the pictures I managed to snap as the bus drove by, and perhaps come to some opinion.

The highlight of the day, and one of the highlights of the whole trip, came after the first of many lunches at highway truck-stops. Lunches often included (or even consisted of) a fine Turkish lentil soup and bread, not because that was all that was offered, but because it was usually delicious and cheap (only half a million lire for the soup). The other food, when we tried it, was usually also very good, at least when compared to what is usually available at similar truck-stops in N. America.

The tomb of King Midas (Gordion)

What was this highlight? A rather nondescript earth mound, at first sight. But it was the tomb of King Midas, who I had always thought to be mythical. It turns out he was a real king of Phrygia, about 800BC, and the tomb, nondescript on the outside, is rather remarkable on the inside. The innermost tomb consisted of a log cabin made from halved thick logs, polished on the inside, looking today as if they had been finished only last week, rather than 2800 years ago. Outside the log cabin, a stone cabin was built, and the metre gap between them filled with rubble stones. The stone cabin was sealed with waterproof clay, and the mound built on top, undisturbed except by erosion until recent archeologists tunnelled into it. Now the modern air and bacteria can get in, I assume that nothing will be left of the log cabin in a century or so. We were allowed in only four or five at a time, to look through gaps in a protective grille at the inside of the cabin, and the tunnel doors were shut, but nevertheless our presence cannot have been good for the tomb.

The tomb of King Midas is near the mound of the archeological dig at Gordion, which was named after Midas's father, Gordias. It is at a major trade route crossing, which is why Alexander came there some 500 years after Midas. It is where he cut the Gordion (not Gordian) knot that symbolized his future conquests into Asia. The physical situation of Gordion and the fact that Midas was the second of the line has led me to speculate about the sources of the legend of the Golden Touch, which you can read about here if you want.

From Gordion, we drove to Ankara. The entry to the city is a very wide boulevard flanked in may places by very large government buildings. Much of the city centre is indistinguishable from a rather clean and well-built N. American city, though there is an old part with castle wall ruins, and more recent but still old housing. The part we mostly saw was very modern looking--but even so, I was unable to buy a battery for the camera anywhere near the hotel.

The Mausoleum of Ataturk

Mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk

Before we got to the hotel, we visited the Mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk, who asked that no such edifice be built for him. He wanted a simple burial, but the State would not give it to him. The mausoleum is very grand, as you can see in the panorama picture below. The big square columnar building is where the sarcophagus is, but Ataturk is actually buried deep below, not in the sarcophagus. The ceiling is tiled in replicas of different regional Turkish carpet designs. The panorama picture shows only about half of the big parade square. At the far end of the ceremonial entrance avenue that you see on the other side of the square, there are two small display rooms or mini-museums, one for geology, one for human history. That avenue is lined with stone lions.

A view of Ankara from the Mausoleum.

Ataturk is treated in Turkey much as I imagine George Washington might have been in the USA in the early 19th century--as a secular saint. I never heard anyone say a bad word about him or his policies. His picture and statues are all over the place, and not just in Ankara. His military genius shot him up through the ranks in the First World War, and after it he was able to stop a Greek invasion short of Ankara, and push the Greeks back off the mainland of Anatolia (though they still hold the offshore islands very close to the mainland). He was able to make the switch from General to effective politician, and to introduce modernizing policies such as secularization of the political structure and religious tolerance, and he introduced the Roman alphabet for writing Turkish, to replace the traditional Arabic (which we were told was unsuited for writing the language). In the mausoleum musem we saw an engraved tablet with the original alphabet on it, but photographs were not allowed, at least not with flash.

A panorama of the Mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk. Click on it to see a scrolling version that gives a better impression of the size of the space than this small picture can do.

Continue to May 5, Ankara to Cappadocia