Although I have lived and traveled in Turkey for some years now, I have to admit that I am not entirely free of prejudices. The word ‘Anatolia’ did certainly not evoke images of utter culture and sophistication but rather of mountain villages, ancient stone houses and the lack of modern amenities. I have to thank a fellow passenger on my flight from Munich to Istanbul to correct that stupid cliché by telling me about the city of Eskisehir.
Had I known more, it should not have come as such a surprise though. For starters, Eskisehir, located more or less half way between Istanbul and Ankara, has a reputation which dates back to the times of the Orient Express. The rich, famous and elegant travelers of the beginning of the past century, made their way from London and Paris by way of the Orient Express to Istanbul. Then they changed from Sirkeci Gare, took the ferry across the Bosporus to the equally beautiful train station of Haydarpasa on the Asian side and continued their journey on the fabulous Bagdad railway. The next important stop was Eskisehir where they often spent the night. The elegance and culture they brought with them, rubbed off on the city.
As usual, I went by long distance coach from where I live on the Aegean Sea and arrived in the early morning, just as the sun was coming up. A few miles out, a huge, blue roofed castle caught my eyes, the sun reflecting off the tiles. It was clearly new and part of an amusement park which, on the spot, I decided to check out later, but Cinderella’s castle by the road set a fairy tale atmosphere before I had even reached my final destination.
The bus terminal resembled more a small airport and I got my first impression of how clean this city is. Sweepers everywhere, removing the eternal cigarette butts as soon as they were dropped. (This is Turkey, mind, where everybody smokes). My friend and I decided to have breakfast in a lovely café in the terminal, at half the price we would have had to pay in the tourist centers of the coastal part of Turkey. Then, we made our way in an ultra modern tramway to our hotel in the center of town.
After checking in, and not tired at all, we decided to go walk about and explore the city. Eskisehir is a university town and it shows because lots of students were around, not attending clases but rather enjoying the fine weather sitting in one of the many cafes and bistros which line one of the landmarks: a river which flows right through the middle. The river is not very wide, but crossed by many bridges with pastel colored railings, which brought about the comparison to Venice. In the summer you can take boat trips and yes, in Venetian gondolas!!!
Yet again, clean and even pavements, flower beds, trees and street art in the form of countless gilded statues. The Parisian flair was enhanced not only by the cafes along the river but also by the many, many book shops interspersed between them. Outside the major cities it’s difficult to buy books in another language in Turkey, but here you can find Hemingway, Steinbeck and Shakespeare in the original as well as French and German classics, not to mention the latest in Turkish.
We loaded up on books and then sat down to have a gözleme, the delicious Turkish thin pancakes, filled with sweet or savory and did as the locals: people watch. What struck me was how utterly chic the women were. Many with blonde hair, wearing the latest fashion and high heels. Even the students didn’t look scruffy, leather jackets and designer jeans prevailed. We could easily have been in a miniature Paris instead of the middle of Anatolia.
To top it all, as far as culture is concerned, Eskisehir has an opera. We only stayed for three days, but next time I’ll certainly want to see a performance. It will be very interesting to watch the Turkish take on an Italian opera. It doesn’t always have to be ancient monuments or breath taking landscapes which make a place attractive and worth a visit. It’s equally important to get a feel for a country by visiting a city which is tourist free and reflects every day life.