An important part of travel is the place where you lay your head and rest your feet. After a full day of exploring and adventure, I need to come back to my ‘home from home’, be able to breathe a sigh of relief and just feel comfy and ready to charge my batteries for the next day.
For me, such place is a boutique hotel. More often than not, they have a distinctly local design, so you won’t forget for a moment which country you are currently in. Then there is the attention to detail, from little things like local soaps in the bathroom, to pieces of art in the salons to the staff at reception who just make that little bit more of an effort to help you along and make you feel like a welcomed guest. Not only because you pay, but because they are genuinely pleased, that you have chosen their hotel and not one of the big chains.
As they are privately owned, you get a feel for the taste of the owner and everything is just so much more personal. If you are very lucky, it’s the next best thing to staying in a private home but with the advantage that you can do as you like, use the shower at 4am if you so fancy and don’t have to worry about disturbing or inconveniencing your host with any quirky habits you may have.
For some reason, I seem to have a knack for finding just such hotels, when I start organizing and booking my trips. This time however, I have to thank my friend Christine for the golden touch. For once, I traveled not on my own but with her and we shared the tasks, I got the tickets and she booked the accommodation. Our destination was the city of Eskisehir in Anatolia, half way between Istanbul and Ankara. The hotel she selected is called ‘SRF’ and the term ‘boutique hotel’ could have been invented for this little gem.
SRF Hotel Eskisehir
For starters, the location could not have been better. 2 minutes walk to the tramway stop on one end of the road, a few steps to a taxi rank on the other. Easy walking distance to the center of town, the river and all the places where the action is. Short of hugging us, the guys at reception couldn’t have been more friendly and welcoming. Although normal check in time is 2pm, we arrived in Eskisehir at 8am and decided to just take our chance. At least, we thought, we could drop our bags. But no, the rooms were ready and we could move in on the spot.
I am not a great fan of minimalist design. I find the white on white scheme cold and the sharp edges of metal/glass tables and the hard upholstery of rigid chairs cause me discomfort and the odd banged shin or knee. I want to sink into an armchair and I love velvet, damask, silk and soft leather. Preferably in warm and vivid color. Add gilded mirrors, paintings, chandeliers and plenty of plants and I’m in hotel heaven. As you might have guessed, I am decidedly a Renaissance woman.
The proud owner
One of the smart receptionists
SRF more than fulfilled these expectations. Look at the salon.
The rooms were even better. Dominating color scheme was several shades of purple and the doors were sound proofed with purple velvet. There was enough space to move in, comfortable queen size beds, all modern amenities like TV, tea and coffee making facilities, a mini bar (free of charge) and a bathroom with a Jacuzzi!! Not to mention a working hairdryer and equally working wifi (also free of charge).
Entrance to the lobby
One of many pieces of art
Turkish breakfast was also included, served in the cozy downstairs dining room. Boiled eggs, several kinds of olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, butter, local cheeses ,marmalade, pastries and, and… more than enough to last you well into the day.
Best of all: this treasure trove of comfort and luxury cost all of EUROS 33 per night. We couldn’t have found a better place to stay.
Disclaimer: We both paid full price for our stay. This post reflects my personal, honest opinon.
Posted by inka on Mar 27, 2012 in art
, Travel tips
, Turkey Travel
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.
A touch of Disneyworld too!
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!!!
Pretty at night too
Street art, one of many statues
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.
Posted by inka on Mar 26, 2012 in art
, Day trips
, Travel tips
, Turkey Travel
I get some of my best travel tips from my neighbors on airplanes. The story of Battal Ghazi is one example.
I was on my way from Munich to Istanbul and got talking to my Turkish neighbor. The usual introduction:’ what’s your name, where are you from? Why do you travel to Turkey?’ , lead to talk about travel and interesting places. ‘I am from Eskisehir,” he said. Big question marks appeared in my eyes. “It’s very beautiful,” he continued, “located in Anatolia, half way between Istanbul and Ankara.” Aha, now I knew where it was. But, why was it beautiful? My Turkish just stretched to translate the name into ‘Old Town’, so when I asked him to tell me more, I fully expected a description of ancient sites from Roman, Greek, Hittite or at least Ottoman times. But no, what he came up with was far more fascinating. It was the story of Battal Ghazi.
“He was a giant,” my neighbor explained, “about 7 meters (20 feet!!!) tall and a great hero. He was a leader of the Arabs in the war against Byzantine and he is buried in a mosque in the place where he was killed, Seyitgazi, about 40km from Eskisehir. You absolutely must visit. It’s one of the oldest mosques in Anatolia and you can see his tomb and sarcophagus. His hand and foot prints too.” ‘ A giant’, I thought. ‘A real one?’ That I must see.
Further research revealed that the figure of Battal Ghazi is a prominent feature in Turkish folk literature. Legend mixes with truth. Supposedly, he raided the Maiden Tower in Istanbul and made off with the emperor’s treasure and his daughter. No historic evidence has been discovered to support this, but he did marry a byzantine princess, who rests in the tomb next to him and is called Eleanor. Turkish movies about the Battal Ghazi are also very popular. Whether this is because of the subject or the extremely good-looking actor, I will leave open to discussion.
But the tale of the saintly giant was enough to send me off to Eskisehir. This time, I went with a friend and we had a great time. Eskisehir is indeed very beautiful, but details of that I will be reserved to a separate post. My foremost obsession was to find the giant.
A local bus took us the 40km and we alighted in the very small town of Seyitgazi. High up on the hill, dominating the town was the most impressive mosque complex I have ever seen. Truly majestic. We figured out how to ascent and after a few steps, found ourselves walking in snow. It was a fabulously sunny day and quite warm down below but getting chilly the further we ascended.
The mosque/castle on top of the hill
Snow in the courtyard
At the entrance to the mosque
The complex, which was built in the 13th century, contains the mosque, a medrese (Islamic school), a room for dervishes and kitchens and bakeries for the population. Within the mosque we looked through a doorway….and there it was, the sarcophagus of Battal Ghazi, really and truly more than 7 meters long. The one of his wife Eleanor hardly reached his knee.
Curiosity satisfied, I couldn’t help but noticing an object, very incongruous with a sacred place: a Hoover in a niche!!! Well, the carpets need to be kept clean.
The carpet needs to be kept clean
Once back down, we experienced an act of Turkish kindness and hospitality which touched our hearts. We had just missed the return bus and had to wait some 50 minutes for the next. There was nowhere to sit, but the sun was still shining and no snow down here, so we just sat on the curb. After a few minutes, we heard huffing and puffing and scraping sounds behind us. Turning around we saw two elderly villagers, carrying a heavy wooden bench for us to sit on. This was followed by two pillows and glasses of tea. This was one of the occasions where I deeply regretted that I couldn’t speak the language more fluently to express my gratitude. But, they understood and we had a very pleasant ending to our successful quest for the Turkish giant.
Posted by inka on Mar 24, 2012 in art
, Travel tips
, Turkey Travel
Over the past couple of days I asked several of my friends if they knew what ‘Meerschaum’ is. Four out of five didn’t have a clue, but when I showed them pictures of my latest find and explained what it is used for and what it looks like, they went: Ahhh, of course! We have seen that. So that’s what it is called.
Let’s life the mystery. ‘Meerschaum’ is a German word which translated into ‘foam of the sea or foam of the ocean’. The name alone inspires the imagination. Also known as sepiolite, Meerschaum is a soft, white mineral, sometimes found floating on the Black Sea. The majority however is found in nodular masses in alluvial deposits on the plain of Eskisehir, a city half way between Istanbul and Ankara in Anatolia. More about Eskisehir in a separate post.
It’s mined there and worked into pipes and cigarette holders. The soft material hardens when exposed to sunlight and warmth and the white or grayish color changes to shades of yellow, orange or amber with use. What makes these pipes, which, at first glance can be mistaken for ivory, such amazing pieces or art is the elaborate carving. Modern pipes are a bit simpler, but, what I discovered in the Meerschaum Museum in Eskisehir, took my breath away.
The pipes on display are antiques and some of the pipes are so big, I suppose they were smoked resting on the floor or a table because you couldn’t possibly hold them up, leave alone between your teeth. The tradition of Meerschaum pipes dates back to the late 1700s and Meerschaum pipes are coveted and very valuable collectors’ items, whether you smoke or not. To give you an idea about the value: the pieces exhibited in the museum are of course not for sale, but the artists will be happy to make you a replica to order: at $5000 a piece!!! Luckily, small and modern pipes are a lot more affordable (and much less elaborate) and a small amount of jewelry and boxes would make a very pretty gift or souvenir.
A massive pipe head
A more manageable piece
Table ornaments if you don't like pipes
..or a piece of jewelery
Maybe a clock..