A December 2005 trip
to Edirne by Marianne
Quote: The European part of Turkey is mostly overlooked by travellers as they head straight for Istanbul. A 2-day stay in Edirne is more than justified. The city is like an open-air museum, with some 20 mosques, covered bazaars, hamams, and beautifully restored wooden houses.
When Atatürk established the Turkish Republic (1922), a grand-scale population exchange between Greeks and Turks followed. This population transfer was used to resolve the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922). It was agreed that the Turkish inhabitants of Greece moved to Turkey and the Greek inhabitants of Turkey to Greece. This may be one of the reasons why Thrace feels less Turkish.
The highways from Istanbul to Edirne follow Via Egnatia, the Roman road that connected Rome with Istanbul. Rivers had to be spanned, and some Roman and Byzantine ached bridges are still in use.
Edirne is the first city across the Greek border. It is often overlooked because most tourists go straight to Istanbul. If you have time, stop in Edirne and visit its many Ottoman monuments. We liked Selimiye Mosque better than Istanbul's Blue Mosque, because it is more opulent and less crowded, so we could take our time to see it.
The Health Museum in Sultan Bayezid II Complex was one of our favourites. Health Museum did not sound attractive, but it is a true gem. It is in the hospital part of the complex and shows what treatments were used in the Byzantine days. Later on it served as a lunatic asylum, and patients were treated with the sound of water, odorous scents, and music.
Kiyiköy, a village on the Black Sea coast, is the perfect place to stay for a few days. Its beaches are sandy, wide, and beautiful. Before the population exchange, it was a mainly Greek village. Its name was "Midye," Greek for mussels, for which the village is known
Watch the sun set at the Kartal Tea Garden in Kiyiköy. You need not drink tea, as they also serve beer (the only place in Kiyeköy that serves alcoholic drinks.)
Don't visit Kiyiköy in July, August, or September, because it is full of Turkish tourists who spend the summer here. It is impossible to find accommodation if you come without a reservation.
Visit the Karavansaray Hotel in Edirne, even if you don't stay there. Karavansarays were important meeting places for travellers along the silk road. The hotel has been beautifully restored and gives a good impression of what it looked like in the old days.
Have a real Turkish breakfast of red lentil soup, and sprinkle it with lemon juice.
There are no direct buses to Kiyiköy. You will have to change buses in Saray.
There is no public bus from Edirne across the Greek border. You will have to arrange private transport. This is not too difficult once you know whom to ask. Read all details in my special entry, How to Travel from Istanbul to the Greek Border.
The bus from Istanbul via Saray stops in front of Atatürk Parki and the tea garden. Genç Hotel is opposite the bus stop, a three-storey building with blue tiles.
The owner, Mr Genç, speaks good German. He worked in Germany for many years and has now retired. We were here in April. The season had not started yet, and we were the only guests.
It is a large hotel with 20 rooms, all of them different sizes. There are also two family rooms. They consist of two separate rooms, four beds in one room and one (or more if you ask) collapsible beds in the other. All rooms have double glazing so that the call to prayers from the mosque is hardly audible.
Mr Genç showed us several rooms, and we chose a big one, 4x4m, with two twin beds, a table, chairs, and a wardrobe the usual hotel furnishings. The room had recently been painted. I liked the salmon-coloured walls and the new linoleum. The bathroom is tiled from the floor to the ceiling, and the seams in between the tiles were painted pink.
There were plenty of blankets in the cupboard, and we needed them, because nights are quite cold in spring. When we were settled in, Mr Genç brought a small portable television and a gas heater (evenings are chilly in April). Don't forget to ask if he can turn on the hot water, because the first night/morning, he had forgotten and the water was cold, I can assure you.
We paid TYL 30 (18€ or US$22), including breakfast. Breakfast was served in the breakfast room with a view of Atatürk Parki. We had Turkish bread, white cheese, olives, tomatoes and cucumber, honey and butter, and as much tea as we liked.
Room price in the high season (from late June to the middle of September) is slightly higher at TYL 35 (21€ or US$26). If you travel in the high season, you might find the hotel fully booked, as many Istanbul families spend all summer here. There are a few more hotels, but I would not count on them having places in summer.
Mr Genç's assistant asked us what we had eaten for dinner. But after one day, we realised that he meant what we were going to eat. This was his way of asking if he could prepare us a meal. On the second day, we understood, and he is an excellent cook. We had köfte (meatballs), french fries, and a tomato salad. Don't be surprised to find out that the french fries are COLD, because that's the way they are (often) served in Turkey.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 5, 2005
Edirne , Turkey
To our surprise, hotels in Edirne were more expensive than in Istanbul.
Rüstempasha Kervansaray Hotel, İki Kapılıhan No.57 (right in the centre; no address is needed, as everyone knows where it is), is undoubtedly the best hotel in Edirne. It was beautifully restored and converted into a hotel some 30 years ago. Price of a double room is 85€. (but their website says 80€).
There is a cluster of hotels in Maarif Caddesi (Maarif Street). We had a look at Efe Hotel, with a very average, small, standard hotel room. It was comfortable, but nothing special at 80€. We bargained it down to 60€ (we were here in the low season), but found it still too expensive for what we got.
We then tried Park Hotel, also in Maarif Caddesi, with the same comfort and furnishing as Efe Hotel, but lower in price at 60€. It was impossible to bargain.
Anil Hotel, on Ortakapi Caddesi, the side street off Saraclar Caddesi, is an old traditional house with huge ceilings, huge doors, and creaking floorboards. The owner is an old man who slowly led the way upstairs and said, "Hush! Madame." So we took it that his wife was taking a nap. Our room had seen better days, with flaking paint but fresh-smelling linen. And a cupboard full of blankets (winters are cold in Thrace).
There is no en-suite bathroom, but the communal one was next to our room and very clean, with hot water for the shower. In fact, it was too hot, as the cold tap did not work. The downstairs is like a big family living room. There was a large table with chairs and old family friends sitting around it. We were invited to join them, but unfortunately our Turkish was not good enough, nor was the proprietor's French. We had no other conversation than Edirne güzel. Edirne is beautiful. But we could watch television together, as not much conversation is needed in this case, apart from some approving or disapproving sounds.
If you like to rough it (slightly) and if you like a homely atmosphere, I can highly recommend Anil Hotel.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 5, 2005
Hatuniye Caddesi 4
FROM ISTANBUL TO KIKIÖY
Buses to Turkish Thrace leave from Esenler Otogar (bus station), some 10km northwest of central Istanbul.
We went to the Esenler Bus station by Light Railway and got off at Otogar (not at Essenler).
Kiyikoy is a Black Sea coastal village. There are no direct buses from Istanbul to Kiyiköy. But three daily buses (from Esenler Otogar) run to Saray. When we arrived at Saray Otogar, the Kiyiköy bus stood waiting. The journey took 3 hours, and we paid 12 Ytl (€7.50 or $9) per person.
FROM KIYIKÖY TO EDIRNE
There are no direct buses from Kiyiköy to Edirne. We had to change buses twice, first in Vize and then in Kirklari.
Vize is some 15km from Kiyiköy. This bus takes a scenic route and does not take the main road, but it calls at several villages on minor roads. We drove through pleasant rolling countryside and overtook tractors piled high with brushwood needed for heating in winter. In summer, sunflowers move their flower heads to catch the sun., but we were here in late April. The fields were being ploughed.
After 1 hour, we were in Vize, where the Kirklari bus stood waiting. We whizzed along the main road and met few other cars and buses. A short wait in Kirklari and we boarded the Edirne bus. The complete journey took 2.5 hours, and we paid 12 Ytl (€7.50 or $9) per person.
The Edirne bus station is 2km away from the centre, but there are free shuttle buses. We almost missed the stop in the city centre (the shuttle bus goes to the suburbs beyond the centre), but a friendly passenger told us to get off, cross the road, and walk straight on. He was right; we were now in the centre.
FOM EDIRNE TO THE GREEK BORDER AND ALEXANDROPOULOS
Although the Greek border is only 20km away, getting there is not very straightforward, because there is no public transport.
A private minibus to the border costs 30€, but it is not allowed to cross the border on foot. If there is enough border-crossing traffic and the cars are not full, we could try and hitch across the border, as several people told us. But we decided that we did not want to get stuck at the border and paid 50€ for a taxi to Orestiáda. (Journey time from Edirne to Orestiáda is 1 hour and 15 minutes, excluding time spent at customs, which was some 20 minutes.)
The border crossing is at Pazarkule. This is not a village, only the border crossing. It is 10 minutes by car from the centre of Edirne. If you take an ordinary taxi, it will drop you at the border (which is complete with tax-free booths). The driver may promise you to take you to Kastaniés, the first village in Greece, but he needs a passport, visa, and export papers for his taxi, which most taxi drivers haven't got.
Kastaniés is a very small village. (From Kastaniés to Orestiáda, there are eight buses on weekdays, five buses on Saturdays, and two on Sundays.) Besides, there is not much traffic going from Turkey to Greece, so hitching would have been difficult.
What you need is an international bus company. They have minibuses and the necessary papers for the driver.
We rented a minibus from:
ECE (the name of the bus company)
Kervansaray Dükkanlari No 23
Tel: (0284) 225 32 11
It is one of the shops outside the Kervansaray Hotel, just along its wall.
There are frequent buses from Orestiáda to Alexandropoulos (13 buses per day, also on Saturday and Sunday). It costs 7.40€ per person.
When we got to Kiyiköy, the village was even better than it had looked on the map. It is situated on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Black Sea. Once it was a walled citadel, but these days, only two city gates are left.
Kiyiköy is a small village, and in an hour, we had been everywhere. We stopped to admire the old, half-timbered houses, but many are uninhabited and in serious disrepair. These days the inhabitants live in modern, concrete houses.
Next we went to the West Gate and took the road that led down to Kazandere River. We followed it for some 300m upstream and came to the Monastry of St Nicolas, a church carved into the rock of the hillside dating back to the 3rd century. It has colonnaded aisles, a semicircular apse, and tiered seats, all weather-worn and overgrown with moss. The lower floor was the church, and the monks lived on the upper floor. The church was built by early Christians fleeing from persecution by the Romans. It was built in this place because there is a mineral spring. It is beautiful place and very peaceful and has great views.
The best beaches are west of the village, a 2km stretch, with some beach huts and showers. There are two restaurants that serve fresh fish. But we were here in April, and the beach was deserted.
We found Bar-Café-Marina, a good place to eat. We sat outside on the terrace, and the fishing harbour was down below. I have no address, but Kiyiköy is so small that on your wanderings, you will have passed it several times already.
Kartal Tea Garden, next to the West Gate, is the best place to watch the sun set against a backdrop of beach, fields, and poplars. Late afternoon, hundreds of storks settled down in one of the fields. Kiyiköy is one of their migration stops.
We were here late April, and Kiyiköy was very quiet, with no visitors. This is different from June to September, when many people from Istanbul spend their holidays here. They usually stay for 2 months because Istanbul is too hot and polluted in summer.
Start your day with a visit to Selimiyi Mosquein Dilaver parki. This park is easy to find, as it is right in the centre, and beside the mosque's four slender, 70m-tall minarets are beacons from wherever you are in the city.
At the entrance of the park, you will see the statue of Mimar Sinan. He was the court architect to three sultans, and the Selimiyi Mosque, built in the 16th century, was his masterpiece. He wanted to build a dome higher and wider than the dome of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. With a diameter of 31.5m, the Selimiyi dome is just a few centimetre wider, one of the mosque's wardens told me proudly.
Stroll through the park until you get to the entrance of Selimiye Arastasi, a covered market full of clothing and household goods (closed on Sundays). It is one long arched corridor with some 60 shops on both sides and a prayer dome in the middle. Its historical name is Kavaflar Çarsisi, which means "bargain bazaar." The shopkeepers say their prayers under this dome and promise that they will trade honestly. I did not see them pray, but I bought a few things at a fair price.
In the middle of the bazaar, you go up a flight of stone steps. They lead to the mosque's courtyard, surrounded by with red-and-white colonnaded arches, and to the entrance of Selimiyi Mosque.
Its interior is sober and sumptuous at the same time. Sober because there is no furniture apart from the pulpit made of finely carved marble and resembles delicate lace. Sober because the interior is one vast expanse covered a wall-to-wall carpet, all red and blue. The pattern of this carpet is such that it resembles individual prayer mats.
Sumptuous because of its millions of ceramic wall tiles, 12 mother-of-pearl decorated pillars, and calligraphy proclaiming the glory of Allah (but difficult to check for non-Arab reading visitors).
I liked this mosque far better than the Blue Mosque in Istanbul with thousands of tourists each day. The Selimiyi Mosque is more a place of worship and less a museum.
Go back to Dilaver parki and sit in one of the tea gardens. Sip your tea or coffee (ask for Turkish coffee, which is served in tiny cups, and allow the grounds to settle before you drink it).
Two more mosques to visit. First, Üç Serefeli Mosque (three balcony mosque) is easy to spot, because it has four different minarets: one is fluted, one with red-and-white squares, one with red-and-white diamond-shaped stones, and one with a corkscrew pattern. The prayer hall is only 24m in diameter. The courtyard is rectangular, and the four minarets are placed at its four corners. This was a new feature, and many other mosques were built in this style.
Two mosques may be enough for one morning, but if you are a mosque buff, the Eski Camii, or the Old Mosque, is just opposite Selimiyi Mosque. It is the oldest Ottoman monument in Edirne and dates back to early the 15th century. It is multi-domed and has a marble gate and many decorative inscriptions inside.
The best place to sit down for lunch is opposite the Kervansaray Hotel in Antik Park. It is one of the few places where you can sit amidst plants and flowers, but the best recommendation is that the exhaust fumes are hardly noticeable. Most of the waiters speak English, and they can help you choose from the menu. Try green-pepper dolma with rice stuffing and a salad. Dolma means stuffed. Vegetable dolma is prepared in olive oil and eaten at room temperature.
You are now energetic enough to walk the 1km to the Sultan II Bayezid Complex. On the way, you pass two of the many arched Ottoman bridges spanning the river Tunca.
Just past the stone Beyazit II bridge, you will see the multiple domed building, which is very beautiful and a very good photo opportunity.
The Bayezid complex includes a mosque (in the process of being renovated), a medical school, and the asylum. The insane were treated in domed cells. In those days, psychiatrists used therapy treatments similar to those we have these days: the sound of water, occupational therapy, music, and sweet smelling of flowers.
The asylum is now the Health Museum. It has been restored beautifully. There are six rooms and a music hall. Water runs from a fountain in the middle. Wax dolls in the rooms represent doctors and patients, so you will get a good impression of what the hospital/asylum must have looked like.
Walk back to the centre and drink tea from small, tulip-shaped glasses in Antik Park. There are other places, but this is by far the best place to sit.
It is now time to do some shopping, and a good place is Alipasha Kapali Çarsisi, the covered bazaar. It is an old building built by Mimar Sinan. There are six gates and over 100 shops. Don't forget to look up at the vaulted ceiling.
Walk to Kaleçi. This is area west of the covered market and bordered by Londra Aspfalti Road and Saraçlar Street. Wander at leisure through the small streets and alleys and look out for the timber framed houses. They are characterised by broad eaves and bay windows.
Walk back to the Rüstempasha Kervansaray Hotel. This was another building designed by Mimar Sinan. This karavansaray was used by merchants travelling along the silk route. It provided a safe place for merchants to trade and stay the night. Travellers could stay for up to 3 days, and they were catered for and their animals looked after and fed. Karavansarays were built at a distance of 40km, 8 or 10 hours on foot.
The rooms in the Rüstempasha Kervansaray hotel are built around the central courtyards. Each room has its own porch and fireplace. The windows and door frames are beautifully decorated with stone carvings.
The restaurant of the hotel is a good place for a meal. Arnavut cigeri and imam bayıldı, spiced liver and stuffed eggplant, were my favourites. Finish your meal with kazandibi. The translation said: a milk pudding slightly burnt on the bottom. It was delicious!