One week is such a short time to explore a new city. This was the challenging assignment as I stepped off the Kamil Koc bus from Istanbul.
Bursa had been recommended to me as a classically Turkish city with less of the Western influence and attitudes which I’d encountered in Istanbul, Izmir and Antalya. An earthy, functional Turkish city, with all the facilities you’d expect of a modern city of 2 million people. Conveniently located between Istanbul and Izmir. With a reputation for its closeness to nature.
Bursa does not have its own airport. But was surprised to learn that İstanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport is only 121km from Bursa. From Istanbul, the options for getting to Bursa are 1) direct bus 2) combination of buses plus ferry. Whilst the ferry sounds more exciting, concept of lugging case and backpack on and off transports didn’t appeal. So Kamil Koc bus it was. Pleasantly surprised to discover journey times recently cut to 2 hours thanks a “new” bridge crossing the Marmara Sea.
Kamil Koc offices are ubiquitous here. Can walk in and make your reservation (bring passport), much easier than trying to use their website (for non-Turkish speakers). Only 43TL (2018) Istanbul Otogar – Bursa Otogar. Istanbul side provided a minibus transfer (Servis) from Kadikoy to the Otogar. Local taxi (<10TL) at Bursa side to get to the city centre.
First thing you notice about Bursa is of course that it sits at the foot of the imposing Mount Uludag (2543 meter high, 40 km long and 15-20 km wide). So it’s a hilly city to walk in. Makes for great scenery, probably not so great for cyclists or joggers. Made mental note – gym membership mandatory here.
Why “Green Bursa”?
I asked the locals. One told me that the city used to be very much nestled amongst the greenery of Uludag forests. Sadly local developments such as apartments, hotels and shopping malls have left the city far less green. Once you escape the slightly chaotic city centre and head for the hills the “green” title starts to make more sense. Another version credits the evocative 15th century Yesil (Green) Cami mosque (and nearby Yesil Turbe tomb), with its serene green-blue ceramic tiles, for this reputation. Bursa also has some lovely leafy city parks such as the family-focused Kulturpark.
Best place to drink tea/coffee? Best scenery?
Koza Han (Silk Market) seems to be a popular, leafy, meeting and cay-drinking oasis in the middle of the old town. Not the easiest place to find for new arrivals, as it’s tucked away in the heart of the old town markets, lanes and alleys.
For spectacular views across Bursa, head up the Uludag Yolu (Road) to any of the tea houses or restaurants which overlook the city. You’ll need a car to get there. Really lovely views across Bursa.
Towards the end of my visit, a local tipped me off about a place called Cumalikizik. It was the first time I’d heard of this place. Amazing. It is a charming, traditional 700-year old Ottoman-style village about 30 minutes (6 miles east) from Bursa City. Minibuses can be taken from a parking lot (ask locals) near Kent Meydani and the Holiday Inn. Only 2.50TL (2018) each way. Lush, leafy tea gardens furnished in traditional Turkish style. Rate this as a Bursa highlight.
Later discovered that this village was UNESCO heritage listed in 2014. Initial euphoria at discovering this hideaway was a little dampened later as I discovered the main street to be lined with souvenir stalls and a convoy of tourists and mini-buses coming and going throughout the day (especially weekends). In this respect, it reminded me a lot of Sirince village, near Selcuk. In both cases, locals told me “you should have come 10 years ago, it was a real village, so beautiful, no tourists”. I returned for a superb 25TL breakfast (kahvalti) on a weekday, so much calmer, nicer.
The trip to Cumalikizik reminded me that there is still much natural beauty and tranquillity to be discovered “off the beaten track” in this country. Hopefully there are still traditional villages out there, yet to be overrun by tourism. Keep exploring.
Do Turks have short legs? A question I asked myself on the dolmus ride back from Cumalikizik. By the time I arrived back to Bursa both knees were bruised and numb from being jammed up against the back of the seat in front. Recommend side-saddle in future. Subsequently strolled around the streets of Bursa noticing for the first time that many local men did, in fact, have fairly short legs and longer torsos than me. J
Osmangazi, the old town area of Bursa is a labyrinth of old world streets, lanes, alleys, markets and tea houses. Got lost and found there many times. On a Friday and Saturday it’s like Oxford Street in there. Hard to believe that the population is only two million. Feels so much larger in this district.
Hear a lot of Arabic being spoken at street level. Very little English. Population seems mostly Turkish and Arabic, not very diverse. I’m told there is a large Syrian contingent here. The feeling is primarily conservative, religious. There is a strong sense of family values, respect and community. Children are adored. Senior citizens are respected. Commuters leap to their feet on public transport to offer their seats to women and seniors. It feels like an exceptionally safe and family-friendly city.
Locals I met seemed perplexed by my presence in Bursa. Those who asked seemed a bit disturbed by my lack of a wife and children. The only local (Westerner) expat I’ve encountered painted a bleak picture of Bursa lifestyle for a “mature” single male yabanci – “nothing to do but sit around in cay houses with other men, drinking sugared tea, staring at the TV, smoking cigarettes and playing Okey”. This was not good news. I hope he’s wrong.
Impressive Selcuk-style Ulu Cami mosque sits at the heart of the old town. Really busy on a Friday. Prayers inside and outside the mosque. Gifts of Turkish delight being dished out from cardboard boxes outside Ulu Cami. Lovely atmosphere, steeped in history, dignity and Ottoman elegance. This mosque was built in 1399.
A whistle-stop tour (by car) of Bursa suburbs whisked me through the buzzy, student-dominated (Uludag University) Görükle district and more upmarket Nilüfer, apparently favoured by expats (not many of these in Bursa) and well-to-do locals. Strangely, I felt more at home amongst the slightly shabby, earthy eastern suburbs, with their more authentic Turkish feel. The shiny chain cafes, stores and upmarket restaurants of Görükle/Nilüfer/FSM just felt a little too Western and soulless for me. In truth, I’d probably be happiest amongst the leafy tea gardens and farmyards of nearby Cumalikizik village.
So much that I didn’t have time to explore this trip. Mount Uludag is apparently one of Turkey’s premier ski resorts in winter, and a hiking hotspot for the rest of the year. The natural waters from Uludag are one of the primary sources of the nation’s bottled water (local brand Erikli) industry (not recommended to drink tap water). There are caves, waterfalls, health spas, hammams, cable-cars, villages, foods and historical sites still to be discovered.
For me, after just one week, Bursa remains an enigma. Cosy but also chaotic (central markets). Modern yet conservative. Crumbling pathways, pot-holes, and broken brickworks alongside pristine Western-style shopping malls. High-tech transit systems (Metro and tram) feeding into ancient markets and mosques. A functional, earthy, very Turkish city with a strong family focus, rather than a cosmopolitan tourist hub.