After Cappadocia, in the interest of making use of whatever time I have here in Turkey, I thought it was not too smart to be spending the whole day travelling. So next to the region of Nevsehir, is a large city called Kayseri which I could get to in a few hours, and if I am lucky, I can catch an overnight bus to Antakya all the way down south.
7 September 2009:
Kayseri is also called Caesarea in ancient times before the arabs conquered it. I suppose this is the famous Caesarea that I have heard about. No idea what is there but no harm checking it out to know (Ed: Apparently it is not, there is another Caesarea in Israel). Most people I’ve spoken to in Cappadocia were amazed I was going there as it has nothing to see there.
1100hrs: Right on the dot, the bus starts leaving Urgup’s otogar for Kayseri. Fare: 6TL. The next bus to Kayseri is in 2 hours after lunch so it is perfect that I’m here at this time. The bus indicates that it goes to Nevsehir but I was assured it goes where I thought it was going. Along the way out of Urgup it stops to pick up passengers, and soon it is full, about 30+ passengers as my quick estimate puts it. As it passes the local police station, a policeman comes on board to check, possibly visual profiling, but I, being the only asian looking person, was not checked in detail. And in less than 10 mins we are on the road into the Cappadocian desert, dodging the occasional farmer’s donkey and tractor carts that takes up a whole lane on the road. This highway has 2 lanes and bidirectional, and rather devoid of any vehicles, meaning that the bus driver could drive as fast as he wants. Landscape are craggy hills, valleys with poplar trees and farms. Seems like there are plenty of pumpkin farms around. My GPS registers our speed at less than 90kmph.
1216hrs: Arrived at Kayseri Otogar after an hour on the highway. The otogar is made up of a few buildings in the outskirts of Kayseri city and one of the building houses the ticket booths. Saw one with a midnight bus to Hatay/Antakya so I took a sleeping berth, so I think, for 40TL which is about the most expensive bus trip thus far, but it saves the hotel expense so, could be worth it. The girl at the counter thought I was Japanese again, and I learnt from her Turkish for ‘hello’ is ‘merhabah’ (similar to arabic I thinks) and ‘goodbye’ is ‘gule gule’ which I see a lot while driving in the Cappadocian countryside in the last 3 days. This otogar looks modern and has plenty of shops. I see left luggage service too, which I will use to deposit my bags till tonight, and make a trip to Kayseri’s merkezi (town centre)!
I don’t remember which bus number I took, but the stopping point was at Ataturk Boulevard, indicated by the GPS on my phone. This city looks a little more modern compared to the Cappadocian tourist towns, and a short walk later I am at Kursunlu Mosque, a small little place overlooking a park with the statue of Mimar Sinan. After a little investigation later on, I realised that the architect’s birthplace is in Agirnas, not too far from Kayseri. However it is probably too difficult for me to walk Kayseri and also to visit this place.
The center of the city is characterized by a large Mimar Sinan Park. That is where the statue is located, and Kursunlu Mosque is on its southern perimeter. On the south east perimeter is a Hilton, one of the first I’ve seen this trip. And just in the park is a Madrasah whose name I seem to have forgetten, and did not manage to type down. On a hot day, a walk in the park in the shade is just something I need, but there are not too many trees here.
1456hrs: Having late light lunch at a restaurant on the second floor overlooking the Kayseri Citadel and next to the tourist agency. Since it is ramadan season, I’m the only customer today. The time is not exactly lunchtime either. Having the Kayserian speciality, Pastirma, the original pastrami. The dish I ordered: cured bacon, cooked in paper/aluminium wrapping, tomato slices, lemon slice, and parsley. Goes with ekmek bread. Extremely good I tell you.
1600hrs: 20 minutes before prayer time and I am at Hunat Hatun mosque. Seljuk architecture is a little flatter and does not have the massive domes a-la Aya Sofia. The entrances are the same with the high arch and double door and the half dome with stalagtites hanging off it, but the interiors are a lot less space-y compared to ottoman. This is because the massive domes in Ottoman Sinan-inspired mosques allow for large pillarless halls.
Anyway, when entering the mosque, I was asked by the caretaker, an old man who speaks french, to freely take photos inside while a quran recital goes on. So we chatted a little bit in French before I asked for permission to have a portrait of him taken.
Outside and across the main road from Hunat Mosque, I come across the main bazaar, almost as big as the one in Istanbul. Shops on the outside mostly sell spices, what looked like chilli powder and curry, and plenty of tomato paste. Other shops sell pastrami and other dried meat and sausages. Strangely Kayseri only. Other places don’t have this.
Between the bazaar and Ulu Mosque is Vezir Hani, a caravanserai in the city. This part of town looks older and my Leica M6 comes out to play here. And around the corner is the city’s citadel that forms the center of the city. The existing wall is what you expect a castle wall to look like. The inside of the citadel looks like a market, but I skipped the inside, preferring to have a look at the other mosques around this area.
1701hrs: Taking refuge inside Ulu Mosque, another with Seljuk styling and almost 900 years old. But in the courtyard where the water taps are, the bricks in the arches are Ottoman looking. According to the sign in front of the mosque, some of the pillars in this building is recycled from roman buildings around Kayseri. So here I am sitting inside the mosque after the 1620hr prayer time, checking out the architecture of this mosque. There is a stairs leading down from the entrance. Style of the interior is very much like Hunat Mosque earlier. What is apparently is that these Seljuk era buildings are less spacious and displaces less air as the ceilling is lower. As Ottoman domes are almost 10 storeys high, or higher, Seljuk ceillings and domes are less than half of that. Architecturally it looks like a box.
1824hrs: Walking down Talas Caddesi and passed Alaca Tomb in the middle of the road. At the junction, turned right into Yogunburc Caddesi and came upon a small bus station with mini buses with a strange model Deustch. They all seem to go to Gultepe, and the drivers are friendly, in an intimidating way, but nothing preventing me to ask them for a portrait of friends in front of their money-earner.
Then it is a walk back Talas Caddesi past an old Ottoman house that is called Gupgupoglu Konagi and a house where Ataturk used to stay when he was in Kayseri. Neither were open when I was there as it is coming close to 7pm. Close to the citadel, I joined the citizens in waiting for the prayers to go off before breaking fast and eating. What most do is to order their fast food and just chat till the prayers start, then in a few minutess they are all out the door, a whole day waiting for this moment to eat. Of course I had a light lunch today, don’t think I could have gone through the day walking Kayseri while fasting.
As it was getting dark, would be a good idea to return to the otogar and wait for my midnight bus to Hatay. The Turkish map I loaded to my Nokia E71 is quite useful. I had the coordinates of the otogar locked this afternoon and all I have to do is to leave the phone close enough to the window and watch my red dot get closer to the otogar. 200m away I just press the bell. At the otogar, I tried out the internet cafe there. Cost 2TL for an hour and while the Turkish keyboard is QWERTY, the ‘i’ seems different. In the usual position is an ‘i’ with the dot missing. That caused me not to be able to get into some websites that required the conventional alphabetic ‘i’. Even after an hour of internet, there is still 2 hours to run, so time for some turkish tea, cay. I doubt 2 hours at the otogar could be eventful, so it should be time to sign off, here in the most islamic city after Konya, and coincidentally both with strong Seljukian influences.
Contrary to what most people say, Kayseri is not too bad. Sure there is the occasional racist here, probably not used to seeing foreigners who don’t look like them. My ipod and sound isolating earbuds go on in crowded places so I can legitimately ignore them. The only english speaking guy tries to lure me into his shop, and you’ve guessed it, to look at carpets. Surprisingly, the friendliest people here ended up as a latent image on my Kodak Tri-X negatives for posterity. I get to practise my French with the caretaker of Hunat Camii, and the cured beef, Pastirma is surprisingly good. I don’t know if I will be back here again. Surely I have not finished yet, there’s Agirnas outside Kayseri, famous being the birthplace of the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, and best of all, there are houses there with his style of design. Too bad it is 30 km out of Kayseri and require nimble bus hoppery to get there, not impossible though. To guage how good this place is, I just wandered the city center and I went through a little more than a roll of film. The DSLR stays in the bag. I like Kayseri, in a special way. Bring the ignorance earplugs if you dont look local, and enjoy the city and revell in its Seljukian heritage and a lone Ottoman Sinan-designed mosque.
Tomorrow I will be in Hatay/Antakya, ancient name Antioch of the biblical fame, playground of St Paul.
Continue to Antakya…