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Published: January 7th 2012
Once we found the right lifts, we had the runs to ourselves.
Traveling and living abroad is a lot about firsts. For my first New Years in Turkey I decided to also make it my first time snowboarding in Turkey. There are several resorts in the country, although the ones that sound really good are in the east, near the town of Van. I asked around at work to see where the other teachers and students go skiing. They almost unanimously voted for Uludağ. (Note on Turkish: the ğ is a silent letter that draws out the preceding vowel.) It’s one of the closest to Istanbul and my students agreed that if I want a place that has more than just easy beginner slopes, then Uludağ is it.
They were right about it being close to Istanbul. It was a fun trip although it took longer than I would have thought by looking at the distance on the map. The bus from Istanbul was only about half an hour, then we boarded a ferry across the Marmara, after which was another half hour or so on the road. The bus was very comfortable, with wide reclining seats and little tvs in the back of the seat in front, like on a place.
Snowboarding the Trees
The trees had a lot of untracked, really good snow.
The movies were all in Turkish, and I didn’t bother with the tv shows, but they did have wifi and games. I played Angry Birds for a while, but got frustrated because the touch screen wasn’t that great. (Yes, I just blamed the equipment for my failure at a simple video game.)
Once the bus got on the ferry I got off to go upstairs for the view and a hot cup of sahlep. The ferry was a lot like the ones I used to take from Seattle to get around the San Juan Islands or over to Victoria and Vancouver in Canada. I never saw sahlep on the Washington State ferries though. It’s a hot, thick winter drink served with cinnamon sprinkled on top. It’s milk based, thickened with tapioca and kind of tastes like eggnog. I bought some at the store so I could look at the ingredients, which includes wild orchid root. I thought I was translating it wrong until I read this New York Times article. http://intransit.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/30/sweet-winter-treat-sahlep/
The closest town to Uludağ is Bursa, which looks and feels small and quaint. When we first arrived it was dark but from the bus station we
New Ski Buddies
Ben and William were a lot of fun to ski with.
caught a city bus to the neighborhood our hostel was in. We walked through narrow cobblestone streets lined with little shops and outdoor markets. After Istanbul the first thing that hit me about Bursa was how quiet it was. I must have gotten so used to the noise of the big city that I didn’t realize it until I was in a quiet little town. Then I found out Bursa has about 2.6 million people. That’s more than twice the population of Idaho. It’s funny how quickly my frame of reference changed after moving here.
After school on Friday I took the bus with Ben, one of the teachers who went on the Kaş trip. Coming from Boise, I assumed that everybody would want to go skiing for New Years, but it turns out not all the teachers at my school are skiers. It ended up being a small group of four, which was easier to organize than the 15 who went to Romania for Christmas. There are several other skiers who couldn’t come this weekend, so I’m sure I’ll get to so skiing with a group again before the winter is over.
Saturday morning we boarded a
We swiped the lift tickets by the screen on each run, until our four-hour passes expired. They let us go on just one more run afterwards.
dolmuş, which is like a van. Dolmuş in Istanbul are in between city busses and taxis. They’re private like a taxi, and you pay the driver who owns the vehicle, but they’re group transportation like a bus. We had something similar in Morocco. In Istanbul they drive around continually and people get on and off when they want. The dolmuş from Bursa to Uludağ only leave when enough people have showed up to fill the seats. There’s no time schedule, but enough people come and go from Bursa that there’s almost always a dolmuş leaving when you want.
The snow at Uludağ was way better than I had expected. Bursa is almost at sea level and it wasn’t particularly cold. It was cloudy, so we couldn’t see the mountains from town, but there was no snow visible on the hills I saw. The road up from town climbs fairly steeply and twists around enough to make me feel like I’m home on the road from Boise to Bogus. It still took a while till there was snow along the road and I thought we might be doing some rock skiing.
When we got up to the resort there
Pay Per Ride
You can buy just one lift ride, which a lot of people do. They ride the ski lift up to the lodge at the top for lunch, then ride the lift back down.
was plenty of snow and it wasn’t slushy or icy. We had really great snow. The ski lifts at Uludağ are a trip though. There are lots of hotels along the bottoms of the ski runs, and they each own the lifts. If you’re staying at one of the hotels, you can ride their lifts. If you’re staying at a cheap hostel in Bursa then you have to buy different lift tickets for each lift. It was one of the strangest systems I’ve ever seen. After trying a few different lifts, each time buying a one run pass, we found a set of three lifts that had one pass for four hours for 30 lira. That’s about $16. The first few lifts we tried were crowded and the runs were easy on the verge of boring. Where we bought the four hour pass the runs were steeper and there was actual tree skiing. At first I didn’t bother with the trees because the snow looked like tracked up crud. After a few runs I found several fresh shots through the trees that were great.
On the not so great side of things, the rental board was beat up and
Mountain Top Lodge
With the fire and beer and snow I almost thought I was in Europe - then I saw the evil eye above the bar.
the boots didn’t fit. I had pretty low expectations for rental boots, so I had three extra pairs of socks with me. I had to layer them all on, but it worked, and at least my feet didn’t get cold. Skiing through the trees I hit a few rocks, which is the one good thing about a crappy rental board. There were so many scrapes on it already they’d never notice one more. We had a near-tragedy after lunch when Ben’s skis were not where he left them. The rest of us were renting, but Ben brought his own skis to Turkey. Luckily, somebody had just moved them, or stolen and abandoned them. It took Ben over half an hour, but he did get find them.
That night, after a full day skiing we set off to see the town, get dinner and find out what sort of New Year’s parties Bursa had to offer. The area of town near the hostel has lots of pedestrian streets lined with restaurants. The tables inside and out filling the streets were set with beautiful feasts, and signs that said they were reserved. I learned that New Year’s Turkish style means that
New Year Dinner
It wasn't our dinner, but this is one example of the tables that lined the streets in the old part of town.
you reserve a table at a restaurant and they provide food and drink all night, usually with music and dancing involved. We didn’t have reservations, but had a good dinner and then took a cab to another part of the city where there were wide boulevards lined with trees and big restaurants and bars set back from the road. That’s when Bursa started feeling like a city of 2 million people.
The next morning, to start out 2012, I had my first Turkish hamam experience. If you read my Morocco blogs, then you already know that I love hemmams, although the Turks spell it hamam. I’d heard that Turkish baths were different from North African ones, and I’d seen the baths in Topkapı and in Dolmabahçe, but I was still surprised by the hamam in Bursa. It was almost like walking into a house. There was a large central room with chairs and little tables where four women were having breakfast and half watching tv. One corner had a little kitchen and all around the center were little rooms, which at first I thought might be private massage rooms because they have padded benches that look like low massage
I obviously couldn't take photos inside the hamam, but you get the idea. On the right it says "The most famous historical Turkish Bath of the Bursa. At 1894 at the age of Sultan II Murat builded by the police chief Cakir Aga."
tables and the walls are wood panels, like in a sauna. We were given a key to one of the rooms, along with plastic sandals and fresh towels. Then I understood that the rooms were for changing and leaving your things while you were in the hamam.
Some things are the same as a hemmam in Morocco. The building has two separate entrances for the different halves, one for men and one for women. When you go in the bathing part of the hemmam, it is an open room where you, and a lot of other people, can all bathe at the same time. You sit and steam and scoop hot water over yourself and scrub and repeat until you have exfoliated off every skin cell possible.
Within those parameters, there were a lot of differences. In Morocco you bring your own low plastic stool to sit on and your own buckets to dip water from. You fill the buckets at the water spouts on one end of the steam room and sit along the walls so the used water can flow to the center, which is sloped so it drains to the middle then to the drain
The center of this mosque, like the hamam, has a glass dome that lets in light. The fountain is for washing before prayer. Condensation dripped from the dome into the pool below.
at the opposite end of the room from the water spout. You can crowd a lot of people along the walls, depending on how close people want to sit.
The hamam in Bursa had raised marble steps like benches along the walls where you can sit. Instead of buckets, each person is assigned a marble basin, which has two water spouts, one hot and one cold, so you can mix the perfect temperature for your bath water. There were marble partitions between most of the basins, so you had some privacy from the other bathers. I’m not sure that would have worked in Morocco, where the hemmam was such a social experience. The basins had enough space around them I suppose you could share with a friend, but not with your mother and sister and cousins and aunt and neighbors.
The room itself was not built on a slope, but the floor below the benches drained to a deep indent in the floor that snaked around the room and out by the door. On the far side from the entrance, through an open doorway, was another similar room that was smaller and hotter. Next to that was also
If you are in Istanbul and want to go skiing, the route takes you across the smallest sea in the world.
a real sauna with cedar paneling, benches going up to the ceiling and a pile of heated stones to throw water on.
As cool as the marble basins were, the best part of the Turkish hamam is the massage table in the middle of the room. The central bathing room was very well lit by several small sky lights and a large central frosted class dome. Under the dome was an octagonal solid slab of marble, about three feet high and big enough for at least four people to lie on it without touching. It’s heated.
Since it was new year’s day, I decided to splurge and get a massage. I had the option of soap or oil and went with the soap. After I had enough steaming and scrubbing and splashing I laid down on the marble in the center of the room for my massage. I’ve never had a soap massage, which is partly why I chose it. The masseuse had a large cloth bag, similar to a pillow case, that she swirled in a basin of soapy water, then pulled out and shook open to fill with air. She quickly twisted the top closed to make a sort of soft soapy balloon. It was like being massaged by a cloud. I got the usual full body massage too, but the cloud was wonderful. It was also fun being on the heated marble. I thought I would get overheated, laying on hot marble after already being in the steam at least an hour, but the condensation on the glass dome above me dripped down. It felt like cool rain drops, the sort of drops you get sitting under a tree after it’s stopped raining.
Leaving the hamam I got one more wonderful surprise before taking the bus back to Istanbul. Bursa is famous for chestnuts. My first experience with chestnuts was when I was an exchange student in France, near the Grenoble region, which is known for walnuts and chestnuts. They had sweetened chestnut puree that you put on toast like jam. I loved it and bought big tins of it to take home when I visited. Bursa has a chestnut puree almost exactly like the one I loved in France. I’ve already eaten most of one jar. Here’s a recent article from a Turkish newspaper about Bursa’s chestnut tradition
I was tired on the bus back to Istanbul, tired and very relaxed. The sahlep on the ferry just about put me to sleep. It was a fun weekend and a great way to start off a new year.
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