offbeat attractions of Eskisehir including gondolas, giants, cafes and Meerschaum

Eskisehir: Culture and sophistication in the middle of Anatolia Turkey

Never heard of Eskisehir? Not to worry, neither did I, even living for several years in Turkey now. That is, until I got to talking with my neighbor on my recent flight from Munich to Istanbul. He hailed from the city, located half way between Istanbul and Ankara, bang in the middle of Anatolia. I listened raptly to stories about Venetian gondolas on the river, the tomb of a real giant, who was also a famous Muslim warrior in the fights against Byzantine, the times when Eskisehir was an important stop on the Istanbul-Bagdad railway, Parisian cafes, international bookshops, Meerschaum and, last but not least, the chicest women in Turkey outside Istanbul.

Our New Book

It was a totally unexpected picture because I associated Anatolia more with mountain villages, old stone houses and washing scrubbed in the rivers than with culture and sophistication. It's hardly surprising then, that, as soon as I had reached my home on the Aegean Sea, I planned my trip to Eskisehir.

Battal Ghazi's Tomb

The giant and hero in question is called Battal Ghazi. He is a historical figure, although truth and legend happily merge when it comes to his story. He was a charismatic leader of the Arabs against the Byzantines and was killed In action in Seyitgazi, a small town about 40km out of Eskisehir. Until I saw his sarcophagus in the mosque on top of the hill, I didn't really believe that he was some 7 meters tall (an astounding 20 feet), but there is the proof.

The mosque, which includes a medrese (Islamic school), tombs, kitchens and bakeries is a huge complex, built in the 13th century in honor of Battal Ghazi and is one of the first mosques of Anatolia. Perched high up on the hill, it's an impressive sight, more like a castle than a place of worship.

Kulturpark: A Fantasy Theme Park

Already from our coach window we had seen the blue tiled towers of a fairytale castle. This was clearly new and part of an amusement park. Enquiries at reception revealed that this was indeed the newest of three theme parks in Eskisehir, called Kulturpark. Not only does the park feature the Cinderella castle but also a lake and the replica of Columbus' Santa Maria. Who would have thought of finding something like this in the middle of Anatolia? It was the beginning of March and the park was not really open yet, but we were allowed to descend into the belly of the Santa Maria with the most entertaining replicas of everyday life on board ship at the times.

Eskisehir's Venetian bridges and gondolas

From our hotel it was a short walk to the river which flows through Eskisehir. My travel companion on the plane did not lie: the most beautiful wrought iron foot bridges spanned the river at intervals, all painted in different pastel colors. The banks are lined with a multitude of inviting cafes, all crowded mostly with young people because Eskisehir is home to two prestigious universities.

In between, we found bookshop after bookshop, offering works in many languages and reminding me of the West bank in Paris.

In the summer, you can take boat trips along the river and, indeed, some of them are conducted in Venetian gondolas. Glittering butterflies illuminated at night span the river and interesting sculptures adorn the extremely clean sidewalks at intervals.

Meerschaum Museum

Meerschaum is a soft, white mineral which hardens when exposed to heat. It's sometimes found floating on the Black Sea -- hence the name which translated into "foam of the sea", but mostly it is mined in the mountains of Eskisehir. A long tradition of carving Meerschaum has developed in the city. Meerschaum pipes are world famous and very valuable. To our delight, we found a Meerschaum museum with incredible exhibits of Ottoman pipe heads, some so huge that I suppose they could only be smoked resting them on the floor. Right next door, glass blowers demonstrated their art, making tiny pieces like penguins and beautiful vases and sculptures.

The Surprising Sophistication of Eskisehir

Surrounding this area of Eskisehir are some of the most intricate examples of the colorful Ottoman houses with their upper floors jutting out and their black wooden beams contrasting with the pastel walls.

Walking the streets, we were surprised to note how extremely chic and well dressed the majority of the women were. Parisian chic, wherever you looked, just as my neighbor had said. To add to the culture aspect, Eskishir has an opera. I would have loved to go to a performance to see how Turks interpret an Italian opera.

Rounding off a true revelation in the middle of Anatolia was our boutique hotel, called SFR. Absolutely nothing one could wish for was missing, from plush salons and comfortable beds to a Jacuzzi in the bathroom, free (and working) wifi and a lavish breakfast buffet. All that luxury for a totally affordable price.

Eskisehir is an insider tip and a great stop over on the way to the East or South of Turkey.

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Inka Piegsa-QuischotteInka Piegsa-Quischotte is a travel blogger and novelist. She writes her blog and is the author of a guidebook to Galicia and a literary guide to Istanbul. She contributes regularly to online magazines like gonomad, travel generation, off beat travel, allexciting and many more. She is single and lives in Torrevieja/Alicante.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: November 26, 2016

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