All posts by Ruth

İznik – The Home of Turkish China

As an end of term treat, the local council arranged for my china painting class to go on a day trip to Iznik. Iznik (Greek: Nicaea) played an important role in Christian church history as well as Turkish history, even serving as capital city for a few decades in the 1200s (click here for more historical information). Later on it became the cradle of Turkish çini (china), initially taking inspiration from Chinese work, and later developing a style of its own (click here for more on Iznik pottery).

We started out by taking a bus to the nearby ferry (above) and crossing the Marmara Sea to Yalova where we continued for another hour by bus to Iznik. Our first stop was the Adil Can Nursan Art studio. Adil Can was our teacher’s teacher, so we were privileged to get to go around the studio and even see the workshop. Here are some examples:

After our tour of the studio we went to the Aya Sofya (St Sophia) church where the Second Council of Nicaea was held in 787 AD (the first also being in Iznik but not in this church. It should be mentioned that this is not the original as that was destroyed by earthquakes).

Where the Second Council of Nicaea was held in 787 AD (the original was badly damaged by earthquakes, but even the restored builOur tour then continued on to Köfteci Yusuf, a local eatery (with a few branches elsewhere too) specialising in köfte and kaymaklı ekmek kadayıf. Köfte is Turkish for meatballs or rounds of meat looking like little burgers. It’s a dish taken VERY seriously here, and the köfte at Yusuf’s place was fab!

Ayran to drink - this is a salted yoghurt drink and great for hot weatherKaymaklı Ekmek Kadayıf is also a regional speciality (according to my friends). Kaymak is clotted cream and kadayıf is the word used for a sugar syrup and honey soaked pudding. This kadayıf is ‘ekmek‘ (bread) kadayıf as the pudding has a spongy bread-like texture. It’s DELICIOUS, but tooth-tinglingly sweet!

After stuffing ourselves we had a 25 minute walk in the hot midday sun to the Iznik Foundation where pottery is still being made. It’s apparently almost impossible to tour the place, but our teacher managed to get us in (Queen Elizabeth has also been here according to photographs proudly displayed all around the building!). Unfortunately taking photos inside was forbidden, but even the grounds of the place are inspiring, not least after the grey concrete and noise of Istanbul.

After leaving the foundation we walked back to the town centre on another long walk – I thought it was just mad dogs and Englishmen who went out in the midday sun…! We visited the small but nevertheless impressive Iznik museum (below) with some lovely examples of excavated china work, and one huge ceramic jar with a human skeleton inside – euugh! Apparently giant ceramic pots were an early form of coffin! Shame we couldn’t take photos inside the building.

The Iznik museum with stunning pottery examples inside (though no photos allowed)

As you might expect, there are plenty of places to see and buy china in Iznik, and after a MUCH needed stop for tea in a nearby tea garden (below top) we then went to a fine row of teeny boutique shops where local china painters were exhibiting their work (below).

A refreshing tea garden and a well deserved sit down!

We also went to the Medrese, which was historically a place attached to a mosque where young men could be educated in Islamic theology. Now, however, it is a lovely quiet courtyard surrounded by artisan shops and with swallows nesting in the cloisters. I had a coffee and was shown by the lady in the cafe how to make traditional Turkish coffee (actually, I already know, but it was nice to make friends 🙂 ). A real personal highlight was then going to a chinaware shop which instead of ready-made goods sold plain white ‘biscuits’, ie. unfired pottery goods for you to design and paint yourself. I bought some plates and jewellery bases in the hope that I can paint some of my own designs over the summer… we’ll see… (click here to see some of my previous work if you’re curious!)

Finally we took the bus to the edge of Iznik lake and had tea and ice cream overlooking the view. The lake is stunning and there were children swimming and playing as well as rowing boats gliding across the surface in the far distance. Beautiful!

Finally it was time to head back home and we piled back on the coach and settled down for the two hours back to Istanbul. As the ferry was leaving the port a lone stork slowly flapped its way across the sky above us. A real pleasure of a day with many happy memories 🙂

To see more photos click here.

Black Sea Travels – Day 15, Amasra to İstanbul

Mark didn’t fancy breakfast so Ruth went for an early stroll around the town and enjoyed the early morning air and had a look at the village market (lots of fresh veg and home-made jams). On the front next to the Barış Akarsu statue, there were tributes, photographs and even a huge plastic show case containing his motorbike. Back to the hotel via the cake shop to buy a sort of stodgy jam bun for breakfast, and then we made a start on the steep hill out of town. Thankfully due to us starting early, we had a pretty much clear run, so the car made it up fine, and we set off to find the coastal road. Unfortunately we followed a larger road inland for a while (although this made better time) before joining the coast again at Zonguldak. The road came back inland for a while, and we stopped at a food place for lentil soup, salad and a pide, before dropping down to the coast again in Ereğli. From here we followed the sea through Akçakoca, Melenağızı (a gorgeous place for a holiday house by the sea!), Kocaali and Karasu, where the road down to Adapazarı began. The coast here was filled with people looking to spend the day on the beach, with some very pleasant looking sandy beaches too. Bit too hot for us to be on the beach though!


Through Ferizli and Adapazarı we then joined the main motorway back into İstanbul and kept going, via issues with the toll road system (which had recently changed and we didn’t know), a pushy driver who was indicating for us to pull over and argue with him after he must have misconstrued something in our driving, and a tricky exit to the coast road which we needed to our house. However, these issues safely navigated, we were finally home and, after unpacking, were glad to hand the car back to the hire guys.

What an adventure!

Black Sea Travels – Day 14, Safranbolu to Amasra

Up late at 8.30 due to there being no light in our rooms to tell us the day had come. A good breakfast, especially the delicious honey again. Then we signed out and headed off to the Kaymakamlar Müze Evi (The Lieutenant Colonel House Museum), which used to be the house of Hacı Mehmet Efendi and his family. He held a position as a Lieutenant Colonel, hence the museum’s name, and the house was laid out as historians imagined it might have been, with joint family quarters, as well as female and male reception quarters for when guests came to the home.


The kitchen area


Sedir – Turkish traditional cushion seating that also doubles as a daybed

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Black Sea Travels – Day 13, Perşembe to Safranbolu

We began our journey by going through Turkey’s longest mountain tunnel (nearly 4km), and then along the coast as before until Samsun, where we turned inland. Although planning on stopping earlier, we eventually pulled up in Osmancık and ate at a picnic table in a little green area opposite a mosque. We realised after a while that there were storks nesting on top of the mosque dome(!), so Mark got some pictures.



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Black Sea Travels – Day 12, Barhal to Perşembe

Breakfast on the terrace again before saying goodbye to Peter, putting all our stuff on the Karahan winch (woohoo!) and sending it down the wire to the car. Back along the scary road to Yusufeli and then back towards Artvin along another ‘under-construction’ style road along a ‘soon-to-be-dammed’ area.


Looking back over Yusufeli

We had previously wanted to take a more inland route following the roads around the back of the mountains via Gümüşhane and Tokat, however, we were sick of poor roads, dry landscapes and getting lost(!), so we decided to partly retrace our steps instead.


The land was hot and parched again through here, and along one road there had been a fresh landslide just before we reached it. Small rocks were still tumbling down across the road as we cautiously drove past. Then up, up, up back over the hills and out of the valley to Artvin, before heading back through tunnels, over viaducts and over the mountain road to the verdant, green, coastal hills we had come to love on our journey here.

Cruisin’ on the Highway

After the bad driving conditions of the last few days, the coastal road felt like luxury. We cruised along to Rize and back to Bekiroğlu’s for lunch (beans and beyti again) before ploughing onwards to familiar beats put loud on our MP3 player. Eventually, after a whole day of driving, we were back at Dede Evi in Perşembe, and delighted to find the room this time even better than the first: wood floor, fashionable paint, and wooden furniture. Rested for an hour watching How to Build a Nuclear Submarine and the headed back over to Ceren for spag bol (again!) and chicken güveç, a kind of baked chicken and vegetable dish in a round ceramic pot. We ate while a man played the saz and sang some traditional Turkish songs, before going back home and crashing out.

Black Sea Travels – Day 11, Barhal

Breakfast at 8.30am after a cold shower. Rose jam made a surprise addition to the usual selection. As Mr Karahan was attending the family beehives while we were eating, we then asked another son (who had prepared the breakfast for us) about beekeeping. We learnt a lot from his first-hand knowledge and were intrigued to hear him comment that the amount of honey you collect is rahmet (‘blessing falling like rain from God’) and that you only need to look at bees and the way they work to prove the existence of God.


P1020038Views from the pansiyon

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Black Sea Travels – Day 9, Artvin to …anywhere PLEASE!

Up early after a difficult night of concern as Mark seemed to have contracted a bad fever. In the morning it seemed to have disappeared though, much to our relief. Headed to breakfast (after moving our still wet washing to the sunlit window sill) which was in the hotel restaurant. The restaurant balcony terrace was filled with sun, so we sat out there, despite the fact that none of the tablecloths were clean…

Back to room, packed, prayed for a good day and bought water before heading off towards Ardanuç with the damp washing laid out on the parcel shelf! Going east from Artvin, the road was far more windy and steep, as though the construction guys had given up on tunnels and decided to go around and over the mountains instead. We were amazed at the speed that some of the Turkish drivers used on this road, although after being overtaken by one van, we later passed it pulled up on the verge with one passenger outside, bent over after being ill… Oh dear. The high roads also gave us a full view of the new dam project this side of Artvin, and a sudden understanding of what a ‘scarred landscape’ really looks like. Everywhere lines in the hillsides and electric wires zigged zagged infront of us, and it actually felt quite devastatingly shocking after passing through so much untouched countryside before.


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Black Sea Travels – Day 8, Ayder to Artvin

Woke up to the sound of cow bells and mooing after a restless night due to our neighbour’s mobile phone alarm going off continuously (ironically until Mark banged our wall and they woke up…). We had heard rumours that at the top of the hills we were on was another yayla town with a better view of the mountains. At breakfast we spoke with the owners and they called a local service minibus for us to take us to the top (we didn’t fancy trying it in our car!). As soon as we had loaded our car with our stuff, the minibus had arrived and we hopped in with some other people making the journey (some hoping to hike over Mt Kaçkar in the following days).



Continue reading Black Sea Travels – Day 8, Ayder to Artvin